‘Why is cash-for-vote tape not being telecast?’

July 28th, 2008 - 8:00 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) Nearly a week after the MPs’ bribery scandal rocked parliament on the day of the trust vote, there is a growing demand that the tape of the TV sting into the cash-for-vote scam be made public as well as scepticism about the news channel’s motive in not broadcasting it. The CNN-IBN Monday defended its editorial judgment not to air the tape on July 22 as the tapes were “inconclusive and of poor quality” and said it will go by the Lok Sabha Speaker’s verdict as the channel has handed over the tape to him.

“We have taken a purely journalistic call. We could not telecast it at that stage as we felt the tapes were inconclusive,” channel head Rajdeep Sardesai told IANS Monday.

“A full-fledged parliamentary inquiry is on. We have handed over the unedited tapes to the Speaker and we will go by what he says,” he said.

“We reserve the right to telecast it. But let the inquiry be over first,” he said when asked whether the channel was having a rethink on telecasting the tape at some time in future.

Asked about the propriety of withholding the tapes from public gaze, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar told IANS: “It should be shown in full. Otherwise, it would be assumed that the TV channel is not showing it under pressure.”

“Either the sting should not have been done. Now the ball is the public court. People have the right to know what’s in the tapes,” Nayar underlined.

He was reacting to a sting conducted by CNN-IBN TV news channel on a tip-off from three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs that they were being allegedly bribed by Samajwadi Party leaders to abstain during the July 22 trust vote in parliament.

During the debate ahead of the trust vote, the three MPs flashed wads of currency notes and alleged that they had been given bribes to abstain from the vote. They alleged that they were offered Rs.90 million each and given Rs.10 million as advance. The CNN-IBN, which conducted the sting, chose not to air the controversial tape, saying the tapes did not pass editorial screening.

The tapes were later handed over to Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who later set up a committee to probe the sordid affair, which some suspect was stage-managed to influence the outcome of the vote.

“Unless the speaker decides otherwise, the tapes should be shown to the people in whatever form it exists,” said Nayar, who has also served as India’s high commissioner to Britain.

“This is because the issues raised by the bribery scandal are much bigger and impinge on the legitimacy of the trust vote. Let people decide,” he underlined.

“The tapes have to be made public so that the truth of the matter is known to people one way or the other,” K.K. Venugopal, well-known Supreme Court lawyer, said.

“This will clarify whether a false case of bribery was foisted or whether the tapes disclosed an attempt to bribe the MPs and thus subvert democratic norms,” he said.

“As soon as the inquiry by the Speaker is over, the tapes will have to be made public,” Venugopal said while underlining that the tapes should not be shown immediately as it may influence the free and independent nature of the inquiry.

Sevanti Ninan, media commentator and author of ‘Headlines from the Heartland’, said: “It should have been shown. The issue has become so controversial that it’s high time they came out with the tapes.” She said the tapes should be placed in the public domain.

Veteran journalist S. Nihal Singh, however, said that it is up to the speaker to decide whether to allow the tapes to be shown to the public and when, as there are many “complex ethical issues” involved in the operation.

BJP’s senior leader L.K. Advani has written to Chatterjee that the tapes be made public and has contended that any delay would give rise to “grave doubts whether they are authentic or doctored”. He pointed to “a “serious scandal and crude attempts to cover it up.”

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