A crime to possess a sex clip?

For a journalist, it is his or her job to go through confidential and incriminating pieces of information in all formats. A mature democracy needs to understand this

Photo courtesy: YouTube.com
Photo courtesy: YouTube.com

Uttam Sengupta

Vinod Verma cannot be the only Indian journalist to have received a sex clip involving a public figure. Most of us in the business have received or seen such incriminating clips. The controversy in the wake of the senior journalist’s arrest reminded me of an elderly uncle who always scoffed at my chosen profession which, he said without mincing words, put me at the same level as ‘drain inspectors’.

In a way he was right. Journalism often required us to look closely at the dark side of society, interact with killers and scamsters and generally dredge the surrounding drains. Besides audio and video clips, journalists routinely receive confidential correspondence, reports and communication from within the Government, PSUs, corporates, academia and the judiciary. They come from whistleblowers and also dissatisfied and disgruntled elements. They receive underground literature which sometimes advocate the overthrow of elected governments or lay down the steps towards a bloody revolution.

There are people, mostly bureaucrats and police officers, who believe that journalists have no business to possess such stuff and, worse, provide oxygen of publicity to them. The opposition stems largely because of the fear of disruption, erosion of faith in the state and a deep desire to maintain status quo.

The political establishment and the judiciary have rarely been able to appreciate that this could actually be part of the journalists’ job. Journalists routinely weigh such material, check their credibility and assess the extent of public interest involved. The decision to publish or air such material is a decision rarely taken by the lone journalist. A group of editors take the call, often after taking legal opinion and after taking the management into confidence.

But police, again almost as a routine, seem to believe that possession of such a clip or underground literature incriminates the journalist in question. Anyone with Maoist literature, for example, is dubbed a Maoist sympathiser, collaborator or a conduit; in case the journalist has literature advocating autonomy for Kashmir, he becomes a traitor. Not surprisingly, therefore, a large number of journalists shy away from such incriminating material, subjects and contact. But in order to understand a movement, popular discontent or nature of governance and of the rulers, there is no escape from examining such material.

Police officers, I suspect, pore over a lot more incriminating sex clips than any journalist. Intelligence officers similarly go through a lot more of incriminating and confidential correspondence, read a lot more subversive and underground literature, listen to a lot more conversations that are supposed to be confidential than any journalist. But in their case it is a call of ‘duty’ of course !

But why isn’t it a call of duty for journalists? Like a number of other journalists, I too have travelled to remote areas to establish contact with Maoist rebels, to listen to them and understand their point of view. Once our reports were published, as it happened always in my case, the journalists would be visited by friendly police or Intelligence officers who wanted to know more. It was up to us to decide how much to disclose without compromising our hosts and guides and maintaining the line of professional ethics. It was never easy.

I have always argued that the state can never have a full understanding of undercurrents in society unless journalists, research scholars and activists enjoy the full freedom of travelling, exploring and meeting people who could be criminals or even enemies of the state. A scholar, journalist or an activist cannot have the luxury of interacting with only ministers and saints. Indeed the government and the society can get a rich insight and understanding of undercurrents from media and academia, if they are given a free hand.

For most journalists the easier option is to swim with the tide. Currying favour with powers that be comes more easily. Therefore, those who oppose the powers that be deserve the liberty to have their say before people condemn them or give them the benefit of doubt.

More guilty than Verma ?

  •  Surya India in 1978 published a dozen photographs of a nude Suresh Ram and a woman engaged in sex
  •  India TV aired for hours sex clips involving half a dozen MLAs belonging to opposition parties in 2003-04
  •  In 2005, a section of the BJP allegedly led by Narendra Modi distributed a sex clip featuring BJP leader Sanjay Joshi, a political rival of Modi then. The clip destroyed Joshi’s political career
  •  A regional channel in Chhattisgarh, IBC 24, broadcast two sex clips, one allegedly doctored, on October 28, 2017

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