The sting op of Mangalam TV channel was meant to deal a body blow to the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government and the Left Democratic Front Party (LDF) in Kerala. Instead of the usual Sunday staple, the newly-launched channel aired an alleged audio clipping of Transport Minister AK Saseendran flirting with a woman.
As the news began to slowly sink in, the minister came forward and expressed his willingness to resign, if found guilty. But by afternoon, he tendered his resignation and in the process has become the second minister to leave Pinarayi's cabinet in less than 10 months in office. Earlier, EP Jayarajan, the Sports Minister, was forced to resign over nepotism charges. This time, the party and the government were quick to action in light of the Malappuram by-polls. The sudden resignation of the minister is seen as a tack to deny Opposition a weapon to target the government and the party in the election.
The sting has surfaced at a time when the Pinarayi Vijayan government is waging a war to check the rising atrocities against women and children.
Many have come out in open to question the authenticity of the audio clip and the credibility of the channel. There are three scenarios to consider here:
Police take suo moto case and launch an investigation under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) if the voice on the other side proves to be of a minor. But that's highly unlikely since the police haven't been able to confirm the identity of the woman.
The woman comes forward and files a case against the former minister.
The minister or the government suspect foul play and in turn launch a probe to clear the air.
Be that as it may, the sting op has cast a long shadow over the 'Peeping Tom Journalism' of the channel.
For many, the charges against the minister do not appear convincing:
1) Because of the way the channel broke the news. The woman in question has not been brought on board to lend credence to the story. It also amounts to an intrusion of privacy.
2) Until the channel releases proof of sexual exploitation by AK Saseendran, the said action will fall in the ambit of consensual sex.
3) While the morality of the minister will be under the cloud, the ethics and professionalism of the channel will be hit by the claims.
Many senior journalists in the state have been vocal against the channel's shameless bid to boost TRP ratings.
"How many of such conversations will your phones and mine have? I have nothing else to say! If the right thing is to stand by the victim, I hereby stand with Saseendran, at least till the complainants, and appellants continue to stay silent," says S Lallu. On his part, Saneesh Elayadath says it is utter nonsense and a crime, not journalism, while Harshan Poopparakkaran thinks it is time to get out of this job, if this is what journalism has come down to.
According to Andur Sahadevan the journalist should have clarified 5 things before telecasting the news:
1) Did the woman approach the minister after bureaucracy failed to help her on an official matter?
2) Did the minister see it as an opportunity?
3) Did the minister misuse his power?
4) Was she exploited owing to the helplessness?
5) Was it the fear that stopped her from complaining?
If your answer is 'Yes' to all these questions, there was an attempt to humiliate her. Then the state has the responsibility to take action against the minister. However, it is the immaturity of the reporter that has kept the society in dark. Above all, it also shows the failure of the "experienced" and "responsible" editor who merely wanted to compete against other channels. If the answer is 'No', the editors and the reporters who handled this particular copy should not be allowed to continue in this job. If the audio was bogus, let the law take its own course. If there is still something else left to be revealed, that is also an offence."
Shahina Nafeesa insists the matter should be investigated. "A criminal case should be taken against the people who have done this, if the woman did not complain. AK Saseendran must file a defamation suit demanding Rs 1 crore and should come back to the ministerial post. His fight is not just for him, but also for many who can't afford to fight against such humiliations and also for the journalists who work sincerely. How does a government, that cave in to blackmail, can stand up against moral policing?"
Manila C Mohan believes Mangalam channel should face law for airing criminal content. "This is not a news telecast, it's a criminal activity mixed with yellow journalism. It's not the minister who shamed the people in the state, but the channel and the anchors," she says.
The government has initiated a probe into the incident. Let the matter be probed and if the minister has not done anything wrong, he should be reinstated. And if the TV channel is the one at fault, god save the public.