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5 April 2017 Editorial


5 APRIL 2017

Sting in the tale

Kerala minister's exit spurs privacy debate

A Kerala minister's exit after a ‘sting' operation spurs a debate on privacy vs public interest

The matter is now under a judicial inquiry, but the resignation recently of a minister in the Kerala government turns the spotlight once again on the tricky journalistic terrain of the sting operation. A new Malayalam television channel, Mangalam TV, had debuted on March 26 with a splash. It broadcast an audio recording allegedly of the then Transport Minister of Kerala, A.K. Saseendran, purportedly seeking sexual favours from a woman who had come to him for assistance. Her end of the conversation was not put out, and the channel reported that it had got the tape directly from the woman. Mr. Saseendran put up a defence imputing that all was not what it appeared on the broadcast - but in the ensuing storm, resigned. Four days later, on March 30, the CEO of the channel went on air to render an apology, presumably for misrepresenting matters, though we must await the inquiry report to get a final picture of what transpired. The CEO, significantly, admitted that a woman journalist with the channel had conducted the sting, suggesting this was in reality a kind of honey trap. As things stand, the CEO and eight other Mangalam employees have been booked under sections of the Information Technology Act and the Indian Penal Code. Mr. Saseendran, who had been the lone minister from the Nationalist Congress Party in the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala, must wait out the inquiry process before making a bid to regain his portfolio.

The ethics of sting operations is among the most fiercely debated issues in journalism. And while different jurisdictions and media groups around the world have varying guidelines on the subject, some things are generally agreed upon. Any such operation that uses false pretences, with its necessary violation of the interviewee's trust and privacy, must serve a larger public interest that far outweighs such violation. It also must be used as a last resort, when there is no other means of acquiring the information sought, and must be the outcome of considerable editorial deliberation. Stings were never intended to entrap or induce people into committing wrongdoing or, as seems likely in this case, embarrassing themselves badly. Stings are an ethical minefield and it is imperative that publications and broadcasters explain the vital public interest for conducting them. Journalists count on the readers' - indeed the public's - goodwill to evade the establishment's potentially vindictive response to an exposé. A sting cannot be an excuse to grab eyeballs with prurient (and essentially private) content, or a shortcut to make a point merely by shocking the reader or viewer. Doing so risks eroding that goodwill and leaving journalists facing harsh charges, often deservedly so.


The IPL at ten

In an ironic, yet vivid way, the Indian Premier League has held up the mirror to cricket

A week after India clinched the Test series against Australia at Dharamsala, the memory of both the fine victory and the bad blood that marred those matches can be pushed to the sidelines. Such is the nature of frenetic cricket calendars that the Indian Premier League has already rolled in, its tenth edition commencing with the match between the defending champion, Sunrisers Hyderabad, and last year's runner-up, Royal Challengers Bangalore, on April 5. Spread over 47 days and featuring 60 matches, the IPL has over the years blended the instant gratification of the Twenty20 format with a sense of longevity, having prospered since its inception in 2008. On the field, suspense and sixes, upsets and consistency, flair and acrobatic fielding have all combined to energise the league. The inaugural event witnessed a classic reprise of David vs Goliath. Unheralded Rajasthan Royals stunned the fancied Chennai Super Kings (CSK), and ironically both teams are currently serving a two-year suspension, a just punishment following ghastly violations that negated the spirit of the game. If S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan's alleged forays into spot-fixing dented the Royals in 2013, further damage was caused to the league when CSK's Gurunath Meiyappan was deemed guilty of betting. Even Rajasthan Royals co-owner Raj Kundra fell in the same category, and tragically for the IPL, the thrills on the ground were marred by the problems that shadowed its fringes.

Ironically, the IPL has actually held a mirror up to and drawn more scrutiny into the affairs of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) than have the game's longer, more traditional formats. The cosy-club atmosphere that sullied the richest cricket board, the nepotism and an indifference to probity, all came into full public view, with the Supreme Court sitting up and taking notice. The repercussions of the 2013 spot-fixing and betting controversy are even now felt as it sowed the seeds for the wide-ranging reforms suggested by the Justice R.M. Lodha Panel, and now the Committee of Administrators appointed by the court has its hands full. A summer sporting carnival, a domestic tournament with an international flavour, as Rahul Dravid described it, had inexplicably gone beyond its pulsating cricket and virtually prised out the BCCI's heart. The IPL not only changed the way cricket was played, increasing the tempo and adding big bucks to the players' kitty, it also inadvertently ushered in a course-correction for the BCCI. Surely, the league has come a long way since it started with a leg-bye when Kolkata Knight Rider's skipper Sourav Ganguly squared up to Royal Challengers Bangalore's Praveen Kumar in the first match in 2008 in Bangalore. It was the lull before the storm unleashed by Brendon McCullum's savage unbeaten 158 off just 73 balls. There have been many other storms since and as for what will happen this time around, no one can hazard a guess.

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