Monday, February 15, 2010


Sting operations by various television channels are a subject of debate over media ethics with the number of news channels increasing day by day, one or other television channel conducts a sting operation across the country. Some target corrupt officials. Some other sting operations chase politicians in power. Some expose the wrong doings of public life. Many such operations invade private life of high and mighty. In an age of sensationalism the sting operations have become effective means of capturing the audience. The myriad hour, multi channel television boom is propelling the phenomenon of sting operations.

The sting operations have thus become part of daily practice of professional journalism. Hidden television cameras, secret operations, trapping the individuals concerned all are part of the game. This has become almost a specialization in television journalism especially investigative reporting. It raises many ethical, moral and professional questions. The Tehelka expose which saw top BJP leaders caught on cameras accepting bribe has become a controversy for alleged use of unfair means in the process of carrying out the sting operation. More recently, the sting operation that unraveled the cash for votes scam raised questions on parliamentary practice. The cash for questions scam brought to the notice of the world how our parliamentarians work. The sting operation that exposed the sex scandal of former Andhra Pradesh governor ND Tiwari revealed how vulnerable even the top leaders to this new journalistic weapon.

The critics of sting operations often accuse this as an invasion of privacy. The critics also point out to the fact that in certain cases this practice is used as means to black mail the rivals. Often doubts are expressed by the victims of sting operations over the veracity of the tapes. And refer to the possible tampering. It is also true that sting operations are many a time result of political , business or professional rivalry rather than a serious commitment to uphold values in society. Highly placed media sources reveal that some sting operations do not reach the audience due to underhand deals an shady settlements .between the media operators and the people who are caught on the hidden cameras. Perhaps, yet an another sting operation is required to expose the media sting operations. There are legal inadequacies in dealing with the phenomenon of sting operations by television channels.

Well, all these allegations can not be totally denied. The corrupt society can certainly throw up corrupt media.

But, sting operations certainly are serving public purpose in many instances. The sting operations have to be welcomed if they serve a public purpose what ever may be the motive behind conducting these operations. Should means justify the ends or ends justify the means. This is a long heard philosophical debate. I think both means and ends should be justifiable. However, it is rather idealistic to think of totally free and fair media independent of any pulls and pressures.

Given this debate, some broad conclusions can be drawn on the arguments and counter arguments over the sting operations by television channels.

First, these sting operations should definitely serve a larger public purpose. People in power can not escape public scrutiny in the name of right to privacy. Parliamentarians cannot get immunity from public scrutiny through media in the name of privileges. Moral and ethical dimensions of media are embedded in the larger public purpose the media operations serve. Sting operations for settling scores or targeting personal lives for sensational purposes or undermining some ones interests can not be acceptable. Strict adherence to public cause and purpose should be the basis for any media sting operations.

Second, sting operations should be sparingly used. It can not become a routine media practice as if covering a press conference.

Thirdly, sting operations should be used only when it is impossible to collect information through normal journalistic practices and the media organization or the concerned journalists should have exhausted these means.

Suitable legal and regulatory mechanism should be in place to prevent misuse of such an effective tool in the hands of media to uncover the shadow society. The media should evolve its own code of conduct and self regulatory mechanism to standardize the practice. Professional methods of sting operations and the ethical edifice of this practice should form part of the training programmes of journalism schools and in-house media training centers. There should be closer and effective scrutiny of sting operations to make it healthier and professionally sound.


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