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Dodging the real news

The warrants against CNN-IBN?s Rajdeep Sardesai only show up poor state of UP politics. The courts should pay heed to this before hauling up journalists, writes Suhel Seth.

india Updated: Oct 20, 2006 02:10 IST
Suhel Seth
Suhel Seth

The venerable judiciary has done it again. They have deemed that most sting operations are money-making rackets — which they may well be. They have also said that sting operations, if in public interest, are good. Here, then, is my concern.

Should I, as a citizen of this country, be concerned if those elected to office in assemblies and Parliament are crooks; if they are law-breakers; if they are willing to be drug traffickers for the right price; if they are murderers and rapists and if they are willing to sell their mothers for petty gain?

I believe I have every right to know, which is what CNN-IBN also believed as far as the UP Assembly is concerned. To haul up Rajdeep Sardesai before the UP Assembly in police custody is stretching matters too far. What crimes did the politicians commit? They got the CNN-IBN channel vehicle burnt right outside the Assembly. Till date, there has been no investigation. The driver of that vehicle escaped with his life, but then, who cares, for he is only an ordinary bloke. The CNN-IBN reporters went to the Assembly and submitted all the evidence they had against the minister at the time, Mehboob Ali (who had offered to carry drugs in his car). The minister was sacked. For the UP Assembly to now invoke a false sense of pride through privileges is nothing but disgusting.

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are right when they say that Uttar Pradesh has become a basket state. The rot within the state is something that the Supreme Court should be making note of. There is a broader issue of the freedom of the press and, more importantly, the respect that the media must be accorded. Of course, there have been times that the media have been irresponsible in reportage and perspective. But fact remains that the UP Assembly, with its track-record of despicable behaviour, is no arbiter of ethics and transparency.

How can we ever forget how legislators flung microphones at each other and heaped abuse in a session of the same Assembly where Sardesai may well have to be present? I remember how shattered and scared (rightly so) Sardesai was, about three weeks ago, when he took shelter in my house because there were non-bailable arrest warrants out against him in this case.

Why is the judiciary unable to control the cancerous spread of hoodlums in governance today? You can’t shoot the messenger — for the malaise is much deeper. It was this newspaper, which, many months ago, exposed the complete breakdown of law and order in the state today known for its two As: anarchy and Amar.

Having said that, one must be fair to Amar Singh, for he was truly concerned at Rajdeep’s plight. But then Amar Singh cannot control yet another A in UP politics — Azam Khan. Khan is known more for his wayward ways than any attempt at being honourable.

I have earlier argued for media self-regulation in sting operations. More often than not, they are tools to score television rating points (TRPs) rather than catalysts to cleanse the system. But, for every sting operation that is horribly wrong, there are several that are necessary, if only to unleash a wave of probity in public life. The horrible bit about public life is that we are attempting to shackle media only because we believe the methods they employ are incorrect: not once have I heard people castigating the problems that exist beneath the surface. That is cause for greater concern. We cannot throttle the very edifice of democracy: free speech and free expression. The enduring tragedy is that, here, you have an Assembly of legislators who have, among them, criminals and dubious characters who now wish to debate their character assassination by hauling up a journalist. Theirs is not an attempt to protect democracy. Theirs is an attempt to issue a veiled threat to every courageous journalist to think again before taking up cudgels on behalf of the common citizen. That is the problem we need to solve.

Should Rajdeep Sardesai be produced in police custody before the UP Assembly on October 27 is a question that must concern every citizen and not just the media. It will, of course, help CNN-IBN once again in their ratings. But do we really need to make a martyr out of Rajdeep or for that matter any right-minded, right-thinking individual, just because we know how to bend the system to vicious use and abuse? The question that, I hope, the judiciary will be seized of is the balance on the scorecard of public probity and public scrutiny. In the ultimate analysis, comparison will have to be made between the greater good and the harm that sting journalism, perhaps, has delivered. We cannot lose faith in the entire system only because of some aberrations.

This is the logic that needs to be employed while debating the merits of sting journalism.

In the meanwhile, the UP Assembly can continue to be seized of matters that are far removed from governance. But who cares? Real progress nowadays is determined by the number of full-page advertisements which extol the achievements of a Chief Minister. And if that were to be believed, very little is rotten in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Suhel Seth is the Managing Partner of

First Published: Oct 20, 2006 02:02 IST