The Law Commission, the panel that advises the government on legal policies, could recommend curbs on “sting operations”.
The commission has released a consultation paper seeking responses from media professionals, activists, elected representatives, academics and the public by November 30 on sting operations, including its impact on right to privacy and sub-judice matters, particularly where the accused is a juvenile, and whether journalists should enjoy immunity from prosecution for illegal acts committed during such operations.
The media has often been criticised for taking recourse to extreme methods, such as secret recordings and setting up traps, for exposes. Eleven MPs were expelled from Parliament in 2005 after a news channel aired a sting operation showing them accepting bribes. Another sting in 2007 showed a Delhi schoolteacher forcing girls into prostitution. But it was found to be incorrect and the journalists were prosecuted.
There is no specific law to regulate sting operations in India. The Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, has been found to be inadequate. The government has proposed to set up an independent regulatory body — the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India — under a new law.
In October 2008, the News Broadcasting Association (NBA), an umbrella organisation of TV news channels, has put in place a self-regulatory body called News Broadcasting Standard Authority to enforce code of ethics formulated by it. The commission talked of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the UK, which is accountable to British Parliament and asked if India should have an independent body to grant permission, monitor and take custody of materials collected by a sting operation.
“Some recent incidents prove the misuse of sting operations by the media and private entities to increase channel viewership, settle political scores, harm corporate interests, malign reputation, etc,” it said.
However, admitting that sting operations serve public interest, it said: “The records from the world over show that without the use of sting operations, the public would have never learnt about many economic and political wrongdoings.”