BY VK SHASHIKUMAR
A hidden camera, when used in public interest, exposes a truth that’s openly known but difficult to prove. In leaky democracies when confronting those in power with the truth is risky, the hidden camera is a powerful instrument to validate intuitive truths about corruption that citizens accept as a matter of course.
Some of our politicians are unethical in their willingness to accept cash and gifts. A hidden camera, when used for the purpose for exposing the machinery of corruption, is the only way a citizen can ring the alarm bells.
So let’s stop pretending that ‘sting’ operations are morally indefensible when it is carried out in public interest.
In Narada News Sting, Message More Important Than Messenger
The sting carried out by Mathew Samuel’s outfit, Narada News, has exposed an essential truth – corruption is the biggest threat to India’s economic security and sovereignty. In 2001, he had planned Indian media’s first sting, ‘Operation Westend’, which dramatically exposed that corruption and kickbacks do exist in defence deals.
Several allegations have been raised about the integrity of Mathew Samuel and his outfit Narada News. There is talk about vested interests in Dubai allegedly funding this outfit. Let’s for a moment assume that Mathew Samuel may be fronting vested interests aiming at political subversion in India. What if such allegations are true? Does that mean there’s no corruption in India or that some of our politicians aren’t corrupt.
Finally, the tapes showing TMC politicians taking money is not about Mathew Samuel’s integrity. It is quite possible that Samuel, as some allege, might have questionable integrity. But the point really is about TMC politicians on tape gladly accepting money.
One of the most iconic rock bands, Bad Company, got it right when they sang: “Oh, there’s no smoke without a fire, and there’s no heat without a flame.”
External vested interests playing subversion games with some Indian politicians is not the issue. The issue really is about the propensity of some Indian politicians to sell their soul. The corruption standards they set is followed by the bureaucracies they run. Their corruption is the biggest threat to India’s national security because they undermine us – the citizens of India.
Exposing the Truth We Know
The Gandhi family will never be able to erase the stain of corruption of the ‘Bofors Deal’, just as the BJP-led government of 2001 will never be able to escape the embarrassment of targeting Tehelka for exposing how easily the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defence could be subverted with cash offerings. Long before the sting operation visually exposing the sordid reality of corruption in defence deals, Chitra Subramanium’s iconic reportage for The Hindu had firmly exposed corruption in the ‘Bofors Deal’.
So how are sting operations different from traditional investigative reporting?
Sting operations assume criminality if they are used as a deliberate tool to invade a person’s privacy, or to blackmail an individual or institution.
But sting operations are valid when it is used to expose the greedy hands of some of our politicians when they reach out willingly to grab cash to dole out favours. It is of no consequence whether favours were actually done or not because the idea is not to prove that fact.
The idea is to prove the fact that such behaviour exists – that politicians are willing to sacrifice their integrity for money and the extent of their willingness to dish out favours is directly proportional to the money offered.
Hidden Camera Ensures Safety
Since the Right to Information (RTI) Act was enacted in 2005, at least 45 right-to-information users and activists have been killed and over 250 assaulted, harassed, or threatened, according to local groups. Police often fail to investigate the attacks, under pressure from politicians and contractors with vested interest in keeping the information from becoming public. – Statement by Human Rights Watch, September 2015
In India, exposing corrupt politicians and officials often ends in death. We don’t need a hidden camera to prove that. We need the hidden camera to ensure that we keep this in the spotlight of our public discourse.
It isn’t surprising that the Delhi Chief Minister suggested that the city’s denizens use their phones to transform themselves into corruption watchdogs. He encouraged them to record instances of corruption and share the audio/video recordings with his government for action. The fact that thousands of citizens could potentially transform themselves as digital warriors against corruption forced the corrupt bureaucracy to fall in line.
So let’s stop pretending that stings which expose corruption or even the willingness of a politician to be corrupted as ‘entrapment’.
(VK Shashikumar is an investigative journalist and led CNN-IBN’s Special Investigation Team from 2005 to 2009. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)
(Note: The article was first published on The Quint on March 18, 2016. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author)