Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Face-Off

Are We Better Off Sans Sting Operations?

My entry, published in today's Economic Times:

We have been witness to two distinct versions of sting operations in the past couple of years. The Tehelka expose and Operation Duryodhan fall in the first category. They unveil the venality of the powers that be and bring to light corrupt practices that directly affect me as a citizen and voter.

When I watched the Gwalior MP accepting bribes for asking questions in Parliament, not only did it shake my belief in the system but also pinched my pride. Why, after all, should I pay taxes when those who are supposed to use them for the greater common good show no restraint in surrendering to their baser instincts whenever the carrot is dangled before them? To that end, a sting operation is a justifiably effective tool in the repertoire of today’s journalism.

But there’s a sting in the tail. There is this other kind of spycam booby trap, which may be placed broadly in the Shakti Kapoor category. Do the shenanigans of an erstwhile screen villain figure in your or my scheme of things? Is it even an issue in a country that has no dearth of them? Who did the sting operation, masterminded by a news channel help? Casting couch is an open secret in the film industry — who cares if Mr Kapoor is obliged by one woman or 10? With what intentions did the channel frame him? I doubt it had anything to do with restoring public morality. Notching up handsome gains in the TRP stakes seems more like it.

There is a very clear demarcation between situations that merit the use of the hidden camera versus those that don’t. A sting operation, such is its nature, attracts eyeballs. People enjoy seeing the high and mighty with their pants down. It gives them a vicarious thrill and exposes the latter’s commonness.

Let not journalists exploit the voyeur in the viewer to spurious ends. That will only serve to lower public faith in the efficacy of sting operations. Let it remain a weapon of truth and conscience. Only then will the bite in such operations sustain for long.

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