May 6, 2010
In the recent past there has been a series of sting operations and sensational stories feeding the television viewers with enough sex and sleaze. Some of these stories had real ‘sting’ including the sensational Swami Nithyananda incident (which is not the result of sting operation) actor Aman Varma sting and the N D Tiwari episode. However, some other so called sting operations proved to be a hoax carried out to titillate the television audience and increase the TRP ratings of channels by journalists who have least regard for ethics and morals, in inventing or concocting such incidents in a very competitive market. The infamous Uma Khurana case of Delhi, the Shakti Kapoor sting and the concocted Gokarna temple seer incident are some of the recent examples where sting operations have gone totally wrong. This goes to prove that all this has been the result of what can be called as crass or insensate reporting.
Some TV journalists have been accused of shamelessly inciting self-immolation to record a live video clip including the Varanasi episode of 2007 when five out of 11 physically challenged shopkeepers protesting an anti-encroachment drive allegedly consumed poison on the instigation of camera-holding media persons. Police investigations revealed that the shopkeepers were provided poison by the journalists, who got live footage. This again goes to prove that reporters/journalists can stoop to any level to feed the television viewers with sensational news, which has assumed the role of a huge entertainer in the last few years. Fed on a diet of sensational news intermittently people’s appetite for such melodrama has been insatiable and they keep getting more and more.
The partners in this crime of such stings are the modern gadgets which come in all shapes, sizes, convenience and features to suit to such clandestine operations to be carried out by intrepid journalists or even by ordinary citizen journalists. One cannot forget Tarun Tejpal and his Tehalka team which in fact introduced sting operation in Indian media a few years back. The Tehelka team employed latest recording gadgets available in the market, especially miniature cameras. Since then cameras hidden in handbags and pockets or camera pens or latest mobiles with ultra-modern recording facilities have intruded the private lives of the rich, famous and the powerful, especially the politicians and corrupt bureaucrats and people who matter in public life. People who have fallen prey to some of the the daring acts of journalists include cricketers who fixed matches, defense personnel who succumbed to the greasing of the palm or bollywood heroes exhibiting their weakness to the opposite sex.
The Nithyananda Swamy episode in Karnataka is still fresh in the minds of the people. His downfall has been the result of use of modern gadgets to catch the so called sexual escapades of this religious guru who has now fallen from the high pedestal he had managed to put himself in. But for the proof that came out in the recorded form Nithyananda Swamy would have continued to hoodwink the gullible women and with his criminal activities.
Equally sensational has been the latest incident involving Karnataka Minister Hartal Halappa and television channels have been beaming the footage of the so called ‘rape incident’ 24X7. In this case it is the mobile recording of the incident which has proved to be the undoing for Halappa. The Halappa episode has enough ingredients to make into a full length feature film and there are enough indications to show “all is not well”. But it is too early to say anything about this unpleasant incident and pronounce judgment as to who is right or wrong.
These incidents have provided the public in the state with enough fodder and they satiate their thirst by getting peep into the private life of people in public life. It is this public hankering for such news that entices journalists who are on the look out for such sensationalism, leading to exposing private lives of public figures and private lives of private figures. Journalists and citizen journalists have now become peeping-toms, invading even the bedroom privacy of individuals, courtesy hidden cameras and high-tech surveillance gadgets. The worst part of this sordid deal is the tendency of the unsuspecting viewers to believe what is being fed to them in the pretext of sting operations and serving public interest. In fact gullible public fail to realize the ‘hidden agenda’ of the journalists or people who have an axe to grind and whose intent is anything else other than public interest.
The nasty sting incident of the famous Gokarna temple is a perfect example of disgruntled elements (mis)using gadgets or technology for their nefarious activities. In this incident, 14 priests of the famous Gokarna temple hatched a conspiracy to tarnish the image of its pontiff of Ramachandrapura Mutt by trying to show the seer in a compromising position. However, they could do any harm and put the video footage in public domain they were taken into custody by the police thus averting another catastrophe involving a seer close to the heels of Swami Nithyananda’s episode.
The Shakti Kapoor sting by India TV is also another example of sting journalism going astray. A young female journalist pretending to be an aspiring actress recorded the celluloid villain on camera as he turned mushy. However, it was later found that this young journalist had pretended to become very close to the actor and compelled him to utter certain things and even the questions asked were framed specifically to obtain specific answers even as the entire episode was recorded and later aired on television.
Technology or gadgets keep improving and sadly it can be both used and misused. With the help of modern technology, now images can be morphed or digitally manipulated and moving images and sounds can also be cleverly maneuvered. Smart edit technology and doctored sound tracks and images can be blurred by using filters of varied degree to produce a final product which is made to look authentic.
Not long ago in Mangalore mobile phones were used to circulate the so called ‘Mysore Mallige MMS clippings. There were also incidents of high tech mobiles increasingly used to clandestinely record images of girls without their knowledge for circulation. Again the police put an end to the menace by acting swiftly and courageously. Of course there are those who claim that a clear distinction must be made between sex-laden MMS clippings taken on the sly or catching the video footage of the likes of Shakti Kapoor or Aman Verma or corrupt officials taking bribe or even the sexual tomfoolery of the lecherous men masquerading as swamis or gurus.
Gadgets are powerful instruments which have been useful for humankind in many ways. The miniature camera or a pen camera is a powerful gadget in the hands of anyone who is genuinely interested in the welfare of the country or in carrying out a crusade against social evils or events that have a larger bearing on the society or events that threaten the security of the country. But the same gadget in the hands of an unscrupulous journalist can be dangerous and cause more harm to the society than good. Recording pictures or taking video footage without the person’s knowledge is against journalistic ethics or breach of faith.
We are well aware that nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue states pose serious danger to the entire world. Similarly gadgets need to be used for purposes that serve the larger interest of the people and the society. Indian journalism is replete with enough evidences to show that one need not resort to sting journalism to expose or investigate. It can do it without hidden cameras. One must also remember that people either private or public have what is called privacy. Journalists will do well to give them this privilege.
The government’s decision to form a task force to introduce a regulatory regime to put a curb on unethical journalism is a welcome step. But journalists will do well to have a self-regulatory mechanism rather then depend on the government to impose regulations.
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