Right to sting


The Supreme Court’s endorsement of sting operations as a legitimate tool of news media will help clear many legal, ethical and professional doubts raised about it in the last few years. The court’s observations about the value of sting operations came as part of its judgment upholding the Delhi high court’s conviction of senior lawyer R K Anand of contempt of court for attempting to influence the trial in the BMW hit-and-run case. Anand, along with the then public prosecutor I U Khan, had been caught in a sting operation by a news channel trying to influence a witness in the case. The court has found that the operation, instead of interfering with the judicial process, actually rendered ‘valuable service’ in protecting the course of justice. It also rejected the contention that sting operations amounted to trial by media.

Sting operations have been effective in exposing corruption at high levels, misconduct by MPs and other public personalities and false claims by governments. They have a value in journalistic investigations as long as they are conducted in the service of public interest which the media is competent to judge. This is what the court affirmed when it felt that any attempt to regulate the media from outside would do more harm than good. The argument that sting operations are a violation of the right to privacy of individuals is not valid when the private life of public personalities is circumscribed by their official or social responsibilities. In the BMW case, the court rejected the argument that permission should have been taken by the media to undertake the sting investigation, because that would have amounted to the court taking the assistance of the media in its functions or the media becoming a tool of the court. That would have shown both the institutions in a bad light.

Sting operations have to stay as part of media investigations because of the increasing opaqueness, lack of accountability and social purpose in public life. Along with the law on right to information, they help the media to discharge its function as a watchdog of society. When there is misuse of the rights of the media or violation of norms, the normal laws of the country can take care of the excesses or illegalities. The Supreme Court’s views are yet another acknowledgement of the importance of freedom of expression and the evolution of the media in response to new challenges.

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