The Supreme Court’s observation on the outsourcing of sting operations by television channels is valid. Fly-by-night channels, and even more shady suppliers, have given a bad name to a method of journalism which is itself not particularly commendable. Recently, Union Minister of State for Home Manikrao Gavit, was targeted by such a sting operation which wrongly claimed that he was trying to help a jailed gangster. Yet, there are legitimate outcomes which can only be worked through sting operation such as the infamous cash-for-questions scandal. That some members of Parliament took money for questions was no secret in the country’s capital, but it took a covert video recording to get Parliament to act against its own. Likewise, Tehelka brought out the extent to which the defence procurement system had been corrupted, a process that could not quite have been accomplished by traditional journalistic methods. This said, we still believe that sting journalism ought to be a method of last resort and the media organisation in question must have total and strict editorial control over the process, rather than outsource it to dubious operators.
Television channels, much as individuals and institutions must operate within the bounds of the law. Additionally, they must live up to the journalistic credo of reporting fearlessly and with utter integrity. Above all, they should give the impugned party an opportunity to put across its point of view. Anyone guilty of using journalism as a means of blackmail or libel ought to face the law of the land and be ostracised by the genuine media fraternity.
The government’s Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill ought to remain on the backburner for the time being. Regulations of any kind relating to the media tend to tempt governments into trying to exercise unconscionable influence. Yet, given recent incidents of misuse, especially by TV channels, we think there is need for the media themselves to clearly outline the kind of checks and controls they have in place to ensure that stings do not degenerate into voyeurism, or worse, blackmail and libel. There is a middle path in all this, and all sides would be well advised to stay on it.