Sting journalism is controversial and ethically instable. It is controversial because it is the most potent weapon in the hands of a journalist to bring truth out in the public domain. There is a deep ethical concern and objection here: people are fooled into being witness against their own self.
The ethical objection can only be satisfyingly addressed if, and only if, sting journalism is used as a last resort, when all other conventional methods of journalism fail to bring the truth of the matter out.
The whole process has to responsible. And to me responsibility in the case of sting journalism is not some amorphous concept; it is clear and precise: it should be carried out in the public interest, in public spaces, never enter into anybody’s bedroom.
The third issue is that of impartiality or non-selectiveness in its use. It is incumbent upon the news agencies that do sting operations to make sure that it is issue based and not personality based. And they should not be even seen to be deploying this potent weapon selectively, or targeting, against a certain political outfit, individuals or even ideological incompatibles.
The moment sting journalism is even perceived to be used selectively against certain inconvenient outfits or people; the moral right to use of sting operation is lost forever.
So, there are certain unequivocal NOs as far as sting journalist is concerned to me. If these certain NOs are practiced, and it passes the quality test of responsibility and impartiality, sting journalism will never become voyeurism.
It is not so easy to be clear on these counts when in the field. But, as a sting journalist, I can tell you, you always know that a cause is worth a sting operation or not.
It is also a concern that since you are risking your life to do a story, after all it is just a story, a big story, it should serve some larger public interest, in the interest of justice, a harbinger of change for better in the way we deal with issues, but not to settle scores with somebody.
I am glad that sting operation was used to fix responsibility of the Gujarat government's active role in fomenting the violence against Muslims in 2002 and to secure justice to Jessica Lal, who was murdered by Manu Sharma, son of an influential industrialist-politician from Haryana.
But, I fail to understand, it could not be a mere coincidence, why similar stories were not even attempted to expose 1984 Sikh carnage in Delhi, 3,000 Sikh men were killed in three day as a retalsiation to Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her ‘Sikh’ bodyguards, when it is open secret that the youth Congress leaders of the time (now some of them are senior ministers in the present government) were actively involved in instigating the carnage with the help of active inaction (which makes it connivance) of the police. Similarly, in the case of Aarushi murder, why sting option is not explored.