The Press Trust of India put out a story that was carried by most newspapers including Deccan Herald that has an important message to the media-print or otherwise. This concerns the gathering of information and the means adopted by media persons thereof.
Following the sting operations carried out by Tehelka which exposed certain Members of Parliament who were accepting cash from interested parties wishing questions to be asked in the Lok Sabha, charges have been made that action be taken against the media. An MP, Shri Prabhu Nath Singh demanded action against the media, arguing that it has no business to intrude into the homes of MPs with cameras and present a ?distorted? picture of the country'selected representatives. Another MP Shri Mohan Singh argued that the matter involved privilege of the House as any attempt to corrupt a Member was a ?cognizable offence?. ?This? said Shri Singh (SP) ?is an organised attempt to defame Parliament?.
With all due respect to Parliament and Members of Parliament-surely they are all Honourable men-it is important to raise some questions that the public as a whole should attempt to answer. In the first place, if an MP does not want to see a media person he has every right to refuse an interview. That goes without saying. Nobody forces an MP to meet a media person. If an MP suspects a media person of evil intentions, he has surely every right to ask the interviewer to keep out cameras and any other equipment meant for personal intrusion, insisting that any thing said is off the record. Can an MP inform the police and seek their help in this connection? This is for the Lok Sabha to decide.
Can the police surreptitiously watch the media person in action and, in the event of some suspicious activity have him detained ? That, again, is for the law to decide.
The media is not above the law and no one claims it is. The media itself would readily grant, as Speaker Shri Somnath Chatterjee averred, that the Lok Sabha ?is the most important body in whole country? and it is important to maintain its dignity. No media person in his right mind would question that. But Members of that important body also have a duty and that is to conduct themselves as men of probity.
Can the police surreptitiously watch the media person in action and, in the event of some suspicious activity have him detained? That, again, is for the law to decide. The media is not above the law and no one claims it is.
And here comes the rub. For years, suspicions have been aroused about the nature of questions asked in Parliament. Were individual MPs playing somebody else'sgame? It is that, one suspects, which led to the sting operation against a number of MPs. Why, may one ask, did those caught accepting money, receive utter strangers? Why did they allow themselves to be bribed?
According to Shri Mohan Singh, while action should be taken against those found guilty, those giving bribes also should get punished. We can leave the matter to the courts which, in any event are the final arbiters of what is right and wrong. Bribing people, whether they are MPs or anyone else, is a despicable act that deserves strong condemnation.
In the sting operations, the motive was not bribery for the sake of getting questions asked but for checking out the susceptibility of elected representatives. If these gentlemen are willing to sell their souls for a penny, shouldn'tthey be exposed? And how else, may one ask, can they be exposed? Would those inclined to accept bribes admit to their weakness to the media in an act of bravura? If MPs have for years been accustomed to play in tandem with interested parties for some compensation should they not be exposed in public interest? Admittedly two wrongs do not make a right, but what about the public? Should it not have the right to know what is going on behind its back?
At the same time let this be noted. Telephone tapping, for instance, cannot be indulged in, without official magisterial permission. A Chief Minister of a State had even to resign after he was found guilty of breaking the law. The ethical position is that even evil-doers can only be exposed through ethical means; fair ends must be achieved through fair means. Against this background Tehelka perhaps can be sued. But the larger question remains: how long is the public to put up with wrong-doers in high places? If there is no way legally to expose them, do we have to keep quiet and let evil men have their way?
Consider the number of politicians in high places who have cases against them. It takes years and years to get them punished and in the meantime they enjoy all the privileges that go with their jobs. Speaker Chatterjee'ssolution is that ?if there are some self-corrections that are necessary? elected representatives should undergo them.
As he put it: ?We must try to see that the dignity of the House is never affected or prejudiced by anybody whether inside or outside. If necessary, we should do some self-introspection.? Noble words, wise words, words that call for applaud. But what if his sage advice is neglected? Shri Ilyas Azmi (BSP) maintained that while the media was indulging in spying, they were ?also doing their duty?. Exposing wrong doing is the media'sduty, but where does one cross the line? And who is to decide where the line is to be drawn? Questions, questions.
Let us admit that a string operation is, ipso facto, illegal and unethical. Can the media indulge in illegal and unethical means to achieve a noble end? Isn'tit time that the entire nation addresses itself to this question? We live, alas, in a corrupt world. Should the media accept it as just one of those things and devote itself to ?Page three journalism? ignoring life in the raw? What sort of media would that be? Whether one likes it or not, the string operations recently carried out have shown human nature at its lowest. And, but for those operations, one would never have known how some MPs conduct themselves. If reports are to be believed, the string operators sold the result of their operation for Rs 58 lakh. The idea, obviously, was do make the information gathered to as large an audience as is possible in the circumstances. Can one blame the string operators? In this matter there are many rights and wrongs. One can take a high and mighty attitude towards the sting operators and charge them with immorality. But should not one also be grateful to them for exposing those who were elected in good faith and have proved by their action that they do not deserve public respect and are best deprived of their status?
There are many painful decisions to be taken but not just the media and the public but Parliament itself must address itself to the issue involved. For far too long have evil-doers gone unpunished. The recent string operations, in a sense, are a wake-up call to all concerned and should be treated with the care they deserve.