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An ode to spycams

IF 2005 was the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese calendar, it was the year of the wake-up call through ?sting journalism? for India.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2005 12:08 IST

IF 2005 was the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese calendar, it was the year of the wake-up call through ‘sting journalism’ for India.

Sting operations, of course, became news four years ago with Operation Westend exposing grubby hands on hidden camera. This year, however, Operation Duryodhan, which led to the expulsion of 11 MPs from Parliament, was just the cherry at the top of the cake.

For 2005 was not only about corruption in high political places, but greasy palms at relatively lower repositories of power.

If it wasn’t a TV news channel airing a sting operation involving a policeman willing to hand over the body of a suicide victim to his family only after he gets his ‘cut’, it was another TV channel which was busy conducting stings on ‘massage parlour employees’.

In March, Shoiab Ilyasi, of all people a TV serial producer once accused of killing his wife, ‘exposed’ the sleaze of Bollywood’s notorious casting couch by ‘stinging’ Shakti Kapoor for seeking sexual favours in return of giving a woman a break in films. And just a few days ago, it was RSS man Sanjay Joshi who was ‘outed’ as a ‘sexual pervert’, courtesy the hidden camera.

One major difference in sting operations conducted in previous years and in 2005 is that it has become more credible.
A large bit of this “credibility” gap has to do with technology. A $349 Pen Camera Colour provides much clearer pictures than the grainy images that exposed Bangaru Laxman.

The other difference is in the reaction. Of course, denials in the form of “It is not me” and “It’s a conspiracy” still ring out. But politicians and the public have come to accept that what they see is likely to be true.

It is the reaction of a large section of the journalistic class to “sting journalism” that has taken a new turn. The hurrahs that accompanied Operation Westend a few years ago, seem to be replaced by more philosophical debates about the ethics and professionalism of the “sting”.

Carrying a hidden camera and recording Members of Parliament accepting cash is, after all, not quite Pulitzer Prize-winning, “All The President's Men” kind of journalism.

In fact, for many “serious” media-hands, it is the equivalent of a quick-fix, target already identified demolition job pretending to be investigative journalism.

What is the work, the thrill, they ask, if someone had just caught a Mr Jain talking in hidden-camera about the full names of the initials in the diary?

The problem — if one sees it as a problem — is the supremacy of the image over everything else. If there’s a step forward that “sting journalism” will take in 2006, it will be pointing the lens at every possible suspect—and maybe also you.

So why does it work? Because the “sting” seems to be righteous — and it is always entertaining.