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Sting Operation: A necessary evil
In one of my articles, I wrote about a former Director General of Odisha Police, who urged in a national seminar held at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Dhenkanal, that sting operations should be banned immediately. Now, I want to discuss some pros and cons of stings.
Stings are now being treated as eyesore of people, especially who belongs to politics and administration. His (the former DGP) argument was that it is being misused for earning money by blackmailing trapped people.

Will you throw all the mangoes out of the basket if one of them has rotten? Sting, if it is being misused, has been useful too. It has, several times, exposed corrupts and evils. Hasn?t Tehelka exposed Bhartiya Janta Party leader Bangaru Laxman taking bribe for recommending a fake arms dealer for supply of hand-held thermal imagers for the Indian Army?

Hasn?t a sting by Cobrapost exposed 23 banks and insurance firms, facilitating money laundering? Hasn't 11 members of the Parliament been caught accepting bribe for asking question in the Parliament because of a sting operation? And the list goes on.

Yes, there were some fake stings which lowered the reputation of media organisations. A sting sometime gravely violates principles of Journalism. For instance, Uma Khurana, a teacher, was trapped in a sting showing her luring school girls in prostitution, which finally came out as completely fabricated. This has lowered the reputation of media later, first it had destroyed the life of that teacher.

Recently, a prominent news channel was trapped in its own entrapment over a sting operation against Aam Aadmi Party. There are several more examples of fake stings that show a complete failure on part of the media. But does it mean that all stings are fake and morally incorrect. Sting has caused havoc in the hearts of wrongdoers. They fear every next minute while doing something wrong and many a times they do not go for the deal if they smell something fishy.

Media organizations need to come out with a code of conduct or guidelines of its own related to stings. Stings do violate the right of privacy guaranteed by the constitution in Article 21 as the person being filmed in the camera is neither aware of the camera and nor has given his consent to be shoot.

In India, sting generally targets public servants. The official work of the public servants should be transparent and open to all. Courts have also held that Right to Privacy does not apply to official works. A typical sting should have a law-enforcement officer who remains all through the operation to collect evidence of the suspect's wrongdoing.

The 'lured sting operation' in which media themselves plans and set up an entrapment and becomes a part of it to catch the guilty and collect proofs against him/her weakens the sting. A case cannot be filed in the court with those recorded tapes, audio and video as evidence or proof because courts do not consider theses as credible evidence and proof.

So, what media does, it starts a trial by itself by broadcasting the audio, video or photos gathered during the sting. And many a time we find them conducting media trial. Media, many a times crosses the limit of freedom of expression guaranteed to it through Article 19 (1) of the Constitution. It forgets that freedom given to it has several restrictions [Article 19 (2)].

Supreme Court in R. Rajagopal and Another v. State of Tamil Nadu and Others had reminded of the limits of freedom of press with respect to the right to privacy:

?A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, child bearing and education among other matters. No one can publish anything concerning the above matters without his consent - whether truthful or otherwise and whether laudatory or critical. If he does so, he would be violating the right to privacy of the person concerned and would be liable to action for damages. Position may, however, be different, if a person voluntarily thrusts himself into controversy or voluntarily invites or raises a controversy?.

In another development, the Apex Court has observed about sting operation that (i) it is done for monetary gains, (ii) it violates right to privacy and (iii) it is cowboy journalism and no seriousness is associated with this.

Sting operation can be used to disclose countries' internal threats, terrorist plots etc. It should be in public interest rather than private. Yes there may be corruption and unethical practices across media but we have various laws against corruption and unethical practices can be challenged in courts.

And for media, self regulation and self censorship is best way to get on right path. Empowering Press Council of India with some legal powers to punish the wrongdoers within media may also help. Banning sting operation is not a solution.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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