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The 'dark art' of sting operations
'Operation West End' is considered to be one of the biggest sting operations ever conducted by any Indian media. It was Tehelka's first major sting operation, where two reporters posed as arms dealers and filmed defence officials and politicians taking bribe. Ever since, the popularity of sting operations has multiplied, exposing the wrong-doers. But, sting operations always borders around the ethics of journalism.

Irrespective of whether it is ethical or not, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has urged the people to eliminate corruption, asking them act as anti-corruption inspectors. He suggested that the people should use their mobile phones as a weapon – record video or audio and inform the anti-corruption department.

But, one needs to understand that the task of sting operation is a daunting one with lots of ethical issues involved.

Dangers with sting operators

String operation can be considered as a tool used to reduce corruption in the country, if not eliminate them. But, there are a number of dangers associated with it as well. Consider the situation with RTI activists, who play an important role in exposing the wrong-doers. In the last eight years there has been a number of attacks on RTI activists. Maharasthra tops the list with 53 attacks, followed by Gujarat with 34 along with other places such as Delhi, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh etc., also having several attacks reported. Several activists also died in the process. So, there are chances that sting operators might also be attacked like the RTI activists.

Subhash Chandra Agarwal, a prominent RTI activist has welcomed Delhi CM's decision of sting operation, stating it as ''motivating.'' But, he does not consider sting operations to be very risky in Delhi. He said, ''There are risks and dangers associated with it, but not of serious nature. May be in rural areas, it might be dangerous, but not in Delhi. In states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, such stings may not be easy as there is a huge nexus of mafias, politicians, criminals, etc.''

The way Kejriwal is putting his best feet forward to use his broom in eliminating corruption, such measures will create fear in the minds of corrupt, which in itself is a victory for AAP. Agarwal further added, ''There will not be too many sting operations that would be conducted by people. But it will definitely create a psychological fear amongst the wrong-doers, who will have to change.''

Are sting operation materials considered as valid legal proof?

''Electronic proof is a proof, if it is not edited, '' said Imran Ali, an advocate with Supreme Court.  Once an electronic proof is provided, it is first sent to Forensic Science Laboratory to check whether the recorded material is original or not. If the material has been tinkered, then it is rejected as a dubious copy. There is no law, nor any kind of norms or provisions for sting operation in India.

Sting Operation Vs Human Right

Many critics point out that it is not right to film someone's private life. But, there in no law for right to privacy in India. Though, Article 12 of Universal Declaration of Human Right states, ''No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.'' This does not legally bind upon India.

Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer considers privacy of an individual to be very important. She said, ''I am not a great supporter of string operations. The law of privacy is very important. Even if it is conducted, it has to be done with lots of caution and care. The answer to corruption is not sting operation alone.''

Are sting operations ethical?

With sting operations, the basic ethics of journalism have come to the forefront, primarily after journalists creating a big name for themselves as well as the organisation's with their so called ''breaking news.'' Tehelka as mentioned above, came into the spotlight with some breakthrough sting operations. On the contrary, there have been instances when TV news channels and print media  organisations conducted false sting operations as well - an invitation for critics to slam the concept of sting operations.

On hindsight, this concept induces fear in the minds of the people. Vinod Sharma, a journalist with Hindustan Times does not support sting operation. He said, ''The concept is in fact driven by fear. No concept driven by fear is a long term solution. The society has to change and it can only be achieved by changing the mindset of the people.''

It is very difficult for one to consider sting operations ethical when one's private life has been recorded without any consent. When  sting operations are primarily conducted, journalists have one simple agenda – to expose the corrupt, where they try various means to achieve their goal, even if it means manipulation. There is a very thin line between sting operations being ethical and unethical.

It is not the role of the journalists to perform such acts, but the work of detective agencies, police etc. But, they do not seem to be doing their job in a fair manner and even when they gather courage to pursue such cases, pressure groups and tactics fail them. It is at this juncture, where string operations, if conducted diligently springs a ray of hope of revealing the truth.

But, not everyone considers sting operation to be unethical, if used in the right manner. ''Per se, I don’t think it is unethical to conduct sting operations unless you have a hidden motive. If you are doing it for public good, then completely fine. Exposing corrupt officials holding public offices through a sting operation is justified, but doing it to avenge personal enmity is unwarranted,'' says Wahid Bhukari, a journalist working with Cover Asia Press in Delhi.

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