New Delhi: In his first stint as chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal had exhorted the people of Delhi to do sting operations on all those who tried to bribe them, and had taught them the basics of doing such an operation. His party seems to have taken it too far by recording the informal conversation with a journalist to settle internal party matters. In the process, veteran journalists believe, it has breached the sanctity of the relationship between a journalist and his/her sources and the basic mutual trust involved in the relationship with reporters and political players.

In an attempt to target Yogendra Yadav, a section within the AAP recorded a telephonic conversation with a journalist–without her knowledge–after she wrote a piece that was deemed as a “negative” one by the party. That recording is now being used to build a case against the party leader to boot him out of the National Executive.

The sting is being used to target Yogendra Yadav. PTI imageThe sting is being used to target Yogendra Yadav. PTI image

The sting is being used to target Yogendra Yadav. PTI image

The Indian Express on 3 March reported that the Delhi chief minister’s personal aide had called the reporter of The Hindu (now with the Indian Express) over her article. A portion of the recorded telephonic conversation was made public on 2 March.

Many in the media feel that by doing so AAP leaders have crossed the ethical line which politicians and journalists respect while interacting with each other. If this becomes a routine practice, then it doesn’t mean anything good for politicians or journalists.

“What the AAP has done is highly unethical, and it leads to serious breach of trust. There is a clear demarcation and mutual understanding between the media and the politicians under which a politician shares information with a journalist. The way they have violated this unwritten rule of the game speaks not only of AAP’s political immaturity but its conspiring mindset,” Jagdish Upasane, the former editor India Today (Hindi) who has been closely watching the growth of the party since its formation, said.

“AAP got the largest ever mandate in an election and as a result Arvind Kejriwal emerged as the tallest leader of the party. Instead of building on this success, he’s encouraging this kind activities by his close aides. Kejriwal should kick out this kind of people or else the survival of the party will be at stake,” he said.

Hartosh Singh Bal, political editor of The Caravan, agreed.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable. Is Kejriwal going to record his conversations with senior politicians and bureaucrats next time and use it later to his advantage? Now it’s up to these politicians to justify what they did. It raises a serious question about the functioning of senior AAP leaders and members,” Bal said.

As for the journalist, Bal adds, “The revelation of the source by a journalist is indefensible.”

There are past instances where journalists undertook sting operations to expose scams. Revealing of a source either by a journalist or a politician isn’t usually a practice. According to legal experts, there is no law regarding the disclosure of the source by the media. The only authority which can ask a journalist to divulge a source is a court.

“The Court can compel the journalist to reveal his source if the court deems it necessary, but the courts generally do not do so. And, under an unwritten rule, the politicians, the bureaucracy and even intelligence agencies do not reveal the name of a journalist with whom they interact,” a legal expert said.

Senior journalist Rajkumar Keswani, who bagged the BD Goenka award for sounding alarm bells about the impending Bhopal gas tragedy, said, “In this case, both the reporter and the AAP member have revealed respective sources. These AAP members have basically been using journalistic tools right from the beginning and they are known for these types of activities.”

“But come what may, a journalist shouldn’t reveal his or her sources. There are instances, when journalists preferred to go to jail, rather than revealing sources. It makes one a credible journalist. Sometimes it becomes a matter of life and death for a person, if the source gets revealed,” Keswani said.

Keswani, who also exposed the infamous Churhat Lottery scam in Madhya Pradesh, said despite the case being highly sensitive politically he never had to reveal sources nor the politicians.

Veteran journalist, ND Sharma, who retired from Indian Express said, “It’s absolutely unethical. Not expected from a politician like Arvind Kejriwal, who talks of ethical, clean and honest politics. The reporter herself should have been careful.”

Despite having so many journalists in the party, why did the AAP resort to such a modus operandi?

Former television journalist Shazia Ilmi explained, “The AAP has a strong fascination for conducting sting ops and it’s a standard procedure within the party. They secretively record communication of their own leaders and volunteers. The sting they conducted on the AVAM is a known fact.”

Ilmi, a former member of the AAP’s National Executive and now with the BJP, said,“Whatever the AAP member did in the name of sting, is unpardonable and in future, journalists will be apprehensive of communicating with the AAP.”

An editor with the Special Investigation Team of a national daily said, “The way they conduct sting ops and use it to their advantage to create pressure on others, like this time on a reporter, is nothing short of blackmailing. Off-the-record exchange of information is a common practice, but no other political party has stooped as low as the AAP.”

“It’s a breach of trust. It uses reporters for their own benefit and does selective leakage of information sometimes to create pressure on competitors or on its own members. This incident will definitely have an adverse impact on AAP’s relationship with the media in the long run,” the editor said.

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AAP sting tape: Both party and journalist breached code of ethics