CNN-IBN clarifies on role in cash-for-votes sting

Caught in the cross-fire in the cash-for-votes scandal that rocked the trust motion in Parliament on July 22, Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, has issued a statement on the channel’s purported role. Below is the full text:

“In the last week, there has been speculation over an alleged ‘sting’ operation conducted by CNN-IBN to expose allegations of bribery in the run-up to the trust vote in Parliament. Since the speculation is based on hearsay, conjecture and mere guess-work, we at CNN-IBN feel that it is necessary to set the record straight.

“As a journalist-driven organization, we value our credibility and independence above all else. We have always striven to raise the bar of journalism, to ensure that the highest standards and procedures are followed at all times. 

“The ‘sting’ operation conducted by our investigation team was part of  this commitment to ensure that the public interest is enhanced. Our team had begun the investigations at least a week before the trust vote [on July 22] and the ‘sting’ was to be part of a wide-ranging investigation across the political spectrum into allegations of  horse trading.

“Moreover, the ‘sting’ operation we conducted was unique in that neither were we participants, nor were we engaging in ‘entrapment’ by offering cash, nor were we under a false identity. We were, as is accepted in practices in the international press, ‘flies on the wall’, simply recording an alleged bribery operation, without interfering in it at any stage.  

“Why have we not telecast the story so far?

“Quite simply, we have chosen not to telecast the story yet because we did not feel that the story was complete. Credible journalism is based on accuracy not speed, facts not sensationalism, reportage not allegations and assumptions.

“Our rigorous editorial protocol demands that even a hidden camera shoot is absolutely water-tight. In this particular story, there were many loose ends that needed to be cross-checked, corroborated and investigated further before the story could be aired.

“As it transpired, even before we could complete the process of  investigation, three BJP MPs made allegations in Parliament of having been bribed and displayed cash in the House. In the politically surcharged circumstances, we felt that the more appropriate step would be to provide the recordings we had made till date to the Speaker of  the Lok Sabha as the appropriate constitutional authority.

“All the raw, unedited footage was placed before the Speaker within 24 hours of the parliament fracas. Not a single frame has been edited in any form. The Speaker has subsequently ordered an inquiry, which media reports suggest, is to be completed by the 11th of  August.

“We will fully co-operate with the parliamentary panel and provide them all information available with us. At the same time, as we have informed the Speaker’s office, we reserve the right to telecast the story as and when we believe we are in a position to do so. 

“As part of the process of due diligence, we also consulted several constitutional experts, including the country’s former solicitor-general and leading jurist Harish Salve. Mr Salve has strongly validated our editorial call in a written opinion.

“He writes, and I quote:

“‘I have reviewed the tapes as also a transcript created from the tapes. I would not like to describe in detail what I have seen, since the matter is pending investigation, but in my considered view the investigation was incomplete and therefore airing the tapes at this stage would necessarily involve arriving at some ‘inferences’. The investigation by the channel was not ready for telecast in the sense to be a cast iron story (which such stories should be), it did require some more enquiry into certain matters, which could have been done but was rendered impossible by the fact that on the afternoon of 22nd July itself, the three MPs raised this issue in parliament and then went on to make public the fact that this has been recorded by CNN-IBN. Obviously, after this fact became publicly known, all sources of information dried up’.

“Mr Salve adds:

‘The question to be considered is should the channel air the tapes as they are, without suggesting inferences, so that the unnecessary gossip as to its contents (as well as the innuendo as to the motives in not telecasting the tapes) is quelled, or should the channel await the completion of  the enquiry under way by the parliamentary panel set up the Hon’ble Speaker in response to a complaint received by him. In my view, the channel should await the results of the enquiry, atleast until a period of a fortnight or so is over… I believe that the Speaker has requested the panel to conclude its enquiry within a fortnight or so. If the report is received within the expected time, the matter would again be in the public domain and the channel can then review the situation and decide whether to telecast the tapes’.”

“We would like to reiterate that at CNN-IBN we remain committed to quality and independent journalism. Our commitment is to the truth. Truth that cannot be partial, inconclusive or sensational, but one that must adhere to exacting standards of fairness and accuracy.”

Also read: Was CNN-IBN right in not airing Amar Singh sting?