Sting Operations: Ready, Steady, Sting

Posted on January 31, 2010 in Society, Specials

Anahita Thukral:

Okay, so the camera is ready, the actors are ready, the set is clear…lights, camera, action! I ain’t talking of a movie set here; I am talking of the scandalous and extremely popular sting operations. Sting, as the word suggests, is an injection of a poison via stinger by an animal causing intense pain to those stung.

They have been in existence since the advent of journalism, but it was with operation West End, aimed at uncovering the corruption underlying India’s large defence contracts reported by Tehelka that drew the attention of the citizens in large numbers. The recent code of conduct, which the government proposes to introduce in the monsoon session of the parliament, is about imposing a ban on such sting operations. So, the real question here is, how much privacy can one be asked to compromise on so that we can reach to the “truth” based on position and power?

During the rule of Nazis in Germany, Hitler had a secret service, the Gestapo, to spy on the citizens, bureaucrats and identify the “Enemies of State”. Anybody considered to be a political threat was arrested; those who made jokes about the Nazi Party were also arrested; the “work shy” were also arrested. The Gestapo became a law unto themselves. This non-uniformed branch of the SS became justifiably feared just as the visible presence of the black uniformed SS men did.

Well, let me get to my point here. The media today has been choreographing multiple sting operations for any reason they could conjure much like the Gestapo. Match-fixing, Defence land scams, even for school teachers. When Tehelka started, the intentions were sincere; they wanted to catch the culprits red-handed. But with advent of technology, every tom, dick and harry is carrying out sting operations in the name of truth, and TV news channels are selling it like hot cakes.

In Nazi Germany the police were allowed to arrest people on suspicion that they were about to do wrong. This gave the police huge powers. Similarly today, the people, or rather the mob has been given immeasurable power to frame, prosecute and punish almost anyone based on such operations, giving rise to complete anarchy in the state.

The sting operation on Uma Khurana stands out as one of the most disturbing. According to the sting, Uma Khurana, a mathematics teacher at Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Delhi, was pushing her students into prostitution. The sting, aired on LiveIndia, led on a large-scale riot on Asaf-Ali Road. Uma Khurana was almost lynched by a violent mob.

Eventually, as it turns out, the sting was a frame-up allegedly motivated by a petty grudge between her and a businessman, Virendra Arora. Arora’s friend Prakash Singh, a journalist with LiveIndia masterminded the whole sting. He, infact asked a friend Rashmi Singh, to pose as a student who was pushed into prostitution by Khurana. The whole sting was motivated by petty revenge on the part of the businessman who gave the journalist a tip-off and a desire for cheap publicity on the part of the channel. The operation focussed on bringing out the glamorous bits to raise TRP’s than say corruption in the education system. Seems like they derive inspiration from today’s reality TV shows, which wash others’ dirty linen in public, giving the rest of us a chance to engage in schadenfreude.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I do not oppose transparency, but what the media presents today is minimal fact adulterated with a lot of fiction, for which they are never held accountable. Also, while the channels are sting-happy, hopping from one operation to another, the issues they set out to address seem lost as soon as the buzz dies down. Follow ups mean a small story covered a few months down the line. Where has the idea of a proper closure to the story gone? Whatever happened to the conventional form of reporting and news presenters before news shows began to sound like the latest episode of an Ekta kapoor serial or a reality show? Must we all look out for hidden cameras over our backs now, constantly feeling watched?

As a citizen of an independent, democratic nation, I find it rather alarming, don’t you?