Thats how pink floyd would have penned their lyrics now if the ‘Wall’ were to be released in the present era. First it was a once in a year thing, then years became months and months then became weeks and weeks finally ended up becoming days.  Yeah, not a day now passes without some “sting” operation or “caught on cam” news. Though it is clear these so called news channels air them only for TRPs (ratings), there are certain people who would dare to defend them and argue about their “service” to the society. Well, finally they can all shut their mouths tight now. You should be aware by now of the sting-gone-wrong operation, if not, I congratulate you on refraining from current affairs, thereby bringing oodles of joy into your life. I’m just gonna write a short intro here, you can go ahead and read the whole story if you wish. Some days back a hindi news channel aired a sting op supposedly showing a delhi school teacher pushing her students into prostitution. Though it is clear now, that the teacher did not push her students in to flesh trade, the piece did push the channels ratings. On a side note, a mere 100+ people (read Mob) gathered outside the school and started with their usual job of pelting stones, Molotov cocktails, burning scooters, buses and whatever they could find. Others, who dint have time for rioting, nonetheless felt outraged for almost 5 minutes and then immediately switched on to their favorite saas-bahu serials. Though I wasn’t able to watch the original news, I got the full impact of the situation the next day when it made it to the papers. I could just imagine how it would’ve been the day before on the TV. Following is just a mere speculation of the events that might have happend when the story broke out. It would’ve started out as a “breaking/flash news” splash on the bottom of the TV, first just the text, with big bold fonts screaming for attention. Then the presenter would’ve broken the current boring news item by saying, “We take you now to a story thats just breaking…” and would’ve introduced us to the video with the almost compulsory tag-line, “This is a LiveTV exclusive”. And they would’ve kept playing the video over and over till more sponsors called up to fill in the unsold last minute ad secondages, and the rest is a well known story. The reporter would’ve been happy because he got his “story” aired and a fat pay check in his pocket. The network overwhelmed with joy since it has a boiling controversy in its hands now and thus a promised future till …say, next week (after which another couple of more stings would have to do the job). And the public, my dear socially conscious public, would’ve felt betrayed that an “institution” such as a school and a teacher, who is most revered after mama/papa and before god in hindu mythology, have degraded to such lows. Given its normal life cycle, the whole matter would’ve faded from anyone’s memory in a matter of days, but this one case was unlike anyother. Somedays after the sensational sting op, it emerged that the whole story was faked, framed by the reporter, his friend and another individual who wanted to get back at the teacher. I will not waste time in explaining what happened, please read about it here. But then again, come rain or shine, its always spring for the news channels. And now every OTHER news channel had its share of the pie, and those big bright fonts began flashing again on the TVs. The socially conscious public were again angry as they now felt betrayed that they’ve been made to believe a big white lie.

  Now, I have to tell you, i’m no fan of hidden cams at all. To me it is THE most disrespectful tool in the hands of a reporter. There’s nothing investigative in using hidden camera to find out the truth about a person instead of having the courage to fight him/her face to face. The whole practice seems very unethical to me, devoid of the true spirit of investigative journalism. It all looks like a dirty get-rich-quick scheme, except here you get rich by upping your networks rating. People like Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell would be tossing in their graves if they ever come to know about this dishonest and immoral system of reporting. If ever you are going to gain credibility as an honest journalist, your gonna have to do with a mighty pen and a brave heart. This conduct shouldn’t be the enforced at all, but has to be come from within every reporter. I was actually relieved to see the Indian broadcast ministry not take this seriously and try to introduce any code of conduct for journalists, they’ve now infact left it to the discretion of the networks (is this for worse?). The govt seems to have only grown used to all these sting ops after the tehelka tragedy and others that followed. But it wouldn’t be long before the dirty broadcast ministry would happily introduce one if there’s no change in the way networks use sting ops to hunt for ratings. That would only lead to many real reporters and journalists being jailed using the new law for reporting about corrupt politicians. The only way to discourage them is by not watching them, sending feedbacks to the network asking them to refrain from staging stings. I was an avid reader of warfornews(link not working now), before it was closed down by the big bosses of two well know TV heads. I loved the detailed descrption of the drama, the scandals and the stories about what goes on inside a news network, though i dint like the way they published company emails. If only they could have come out of hiding and used ethical practices, i’m sure they’d reached a better audience and would’ve gotten a louder mouth. Anyway why lament about the past? The point is, warfornews detailed how the news networks plan sting ops. They set targets, sit in boardrooms and debate whether it was prostitution week or corruption week. Funny eh? Yeah that’s your news network. I should infact suggest that you go and watch this movie, network,  and see how much of it is relevant today.

The one thing good about hidden cams is that, in a socialist and corrupt country like India, it could be a powerful tool in the hands of an individual (the reporter is exempt in this case, since he has special powers granted by law that the ordinary individual doesnt have, though press freedom in India is now where close other coutries). But, if the individual does manage to record his ordeal on a cam, to whom does he go? To the network? Who’d gladly pay for the rights to his tape and then use it to pump ratings*. May be he could publish it in his blog or something, but how many people here have net at home, and how many read blogs other than check mail and orkut. So the bottom line is, “Is there any real use for hidden cams then?”

*NOTE: Pumping ratings is nothing bad at all, actually speaking I would like to see people bring down ratings of sting ops instead of the network somehow magically refraning from this unethical pratice. Hey if it sells, they will always keep selling it, nothing wrong with that at all.

Bribing our way out

July 27, 2007

It happened again, though after a long time, I jumped a signal and landed right into mama’s arms. He was ready waiting for me and at once snatched the keys off, a grandiose violation of my property rights.  Clearly I misjudged that I could somehow push myself through the last few seconds of the singal. I really have to tell you the about at the amazing speed, efficiency these mamas work in extracting the bribe. Last time I was caught for jumping a signal it was around close to a year and half ago. Back then it was just a single mama who in my opinion was a bit less experienced. He let me off with just a warning that warning proved to be useful for a whole year and a half. But yesterday was different, this was a major signal, there were 4 mamas, a sergeant (the one with white cap), two of his henchmen, each posted at different signals of the junction, and finally the one who does the actual talking and the collection work. The first act, as you know, is that the guy snatches your key away, which is something they are clearly not authorized to do. After that he sends you the collection agent and he proceeds to fish for another victim. Now I have to tell the guy who he sent me to was a professional. No wonder he got assigned to this major signal (I heard that there’s a lotta competition for main signals). He proceeds to write something in a big file sheet with zillions of coulumns. In one of them he writes FSS. That was, I guess, intended to tell me that he is bent on booking a case. Now I dont know what it stands for but I’m sure it is not even remotely connected to my identity or identifies my vehicle or anything like that. We move on to the first major phase. This guys talks fast, you can see that he’s no amateur, this guy has done his time, honed by several such cases. He wants to waste no time. I thought I was gonna end up paying some heavy amount. He then asked for my license, though I’m a license carrying bike rider, I dont usually give the license to the mamas when they ask for it, for it is the license that identifies you. Once your license it is in his hands it’s almost over, your in his pockets. So I plead with him, yes I did. “Please sir”, those were the only two words that I kept saying. You could say I am someone with no self respect, but neither was the mama. If it was his job to lure me into bribing, it was my job to beat the system, no matter what. So I had to “please sir” him for a while, it dint hurt me a bit. What would’ve hurt me the most is paying 100 bucks or more to him as bribe. It would’ve arose a great deal of guilt in me because,

a. It is an amount of Rs.100 which is of great value to me, hell I can get a happy meal (beer+biryani) with some change left.

b. It is an act of bribery, why should I pay 100 bucks to some unknown prick who is supposed to keep the road safe.

  Anyway I kept playing along. After tired of trying to get hold of my license, he finally gave up and moved to phase2. This is the extortion phase, the first being the terrorise phase. But before phase1 and phase2 the guy gave me sometime to move the money in my wallet. That is the first thing you do, get all the money in your wallet to your ticket pocket (sometimes you would be asked to empty your normal pockets, so it’s safe to push it in the ticket pocket). What mama did next amazed me. He took a xerox (photocopy) of news item from some Tamil newspaper and showed it to me. It read ‘Jumping signal will cost Rs.1000 fine from now’, in Tamil of course. I know it to be as a newspaper from its layout and font, no government circular or memo looks that way. The guys tells me that I will be fined for Rs.1000 and asks “is it ok?” I told to myself “c’mon what is he doing? Bargaining the fine amount?” In fact he was indeed bargaining the bribe. I said I dont have any money and showed my wallet with 10 bucks plus change in it (never completely empty wallet, they might not believe you). So he advises me to get 100 (or 10% as he says) from friends family etc. I replied that I’ve come from far away and that’s the only amount I have. He gives the sergeant a look. The sergeant signals back that I’m just a waste of time and that he should move on. The guy then proceeds to coolly take the only 10 rupee note from my wallet and hands over my key. Just to make it look like they are not fucking scavengers haggling for a mere 10 buck, he orders me to get 40 bucks more soon. We both knew that I wont be returning, but he had to say that to make sure I dont think low of him. So I was off, for a mere 10 bucks. I wouldn’t exactly call that a victory, I did actually give Rs.10 to him, but I did beat the system. I dint pay the hefty fine.

 The thing is that I’m not a socially irresponsible citizen for not paying fine. It’s actually got more to do with the fact that the fine for jumping a signal is just too much. Too much that no one would actually want to pay them, and they will finally settle with bribing the mama for a lesser amount say, 10% (mamas talk in % these days). That’s where the system fails miserably. It was actually thought that raising the fine amount will increase traffic discipline, but the fact is the traffic violations remain the same because most of them are just accidents, acts of negligence. What happened to me was that I jumped the signal accidentally, yes it was my misjudgment, and I would gladly pay the fine for that, if it were within the limits. I just cant pay Rs.1000 for mere misjudgment, no one was hurt, nothing serious happened that demanded 1000 bucks from me. So I had to talk my way out of this situation. You could argue that to prevent them from taking bribe the govt could imprison whoever gives or takes bribe. Valid point, but the funny thing is that such a law actually exists and the fact that it is still not imposed strictly speaks for the very fact that such a law cannot be imposed strictly at all. It will only lead to corruption at a higher level. Suppose me and mama were arrested by the vigilance squad at that very moment he took the Rs.10 note, we both would have to end up paying the vigilance squad a bigger amount to get off. How can you be sure that vigilance will not accept bribe? If the people assigned to protect and serve people take bribe, it is only natural that people assigned to tackle corruption will themselves take bribe. Also it will prove very difficult for those people to be vigil everywhere and every time. What are they? the omnipotent God? None of this can happen. The only way to beat corruption is not by imposing penalties or imprisonment but only by NOT GIVING CHANCE for it to exist. Imagine if the fine was 50 or 100 bucks, it still is a considerable amount for most folks but they would indeed pay it and stick it to the mama. No one really wants bribe the police if the fines are reasonable. Most folks hate giving money to police or any authority for that matter. Paying 50 or 100 as fine for jumping a signal will definitely raise a flag in my brain, so the next time it will judge more carefully in trying to pass a signal during those last few seconds, thats how you do it. Instead, now I’m pretty confident that the next time any mama catches me for signal jumping I would be able to talk my way out of it. Well I could only hope the govt recognizes the extreme stupidity of its laws and did something about it, until then people like me and you will just try to bribe our way out.

 Note:For who are not from chennai, mama=Traffic police and that stuff about omnipotent God, that was just a joke. God is not omnipotent, he’s just your imagination.