Two young journalists caught attempting to carry out a sting operation against a senior minister in the Karnataka government, at the instance of the local head of the channel Mahendra Mishra, were part of an elaborate pre-election strategy by the local edition of the TV9 channel to catch senior politicians in the act of receiving money for election purposes.
The minister concerned D K Shivakumar, a controversial politician whose entry into the state Congress cabinet was delayed for months on account of pending corruption cases against him, claims he was aware in advance of the sting operation against him and played along before informing the Home minister and police authorities to lay a trap for the journalists.
The sting gone wrong brought into focus dubious strategies used by the media outlet over the years to target people into submitting before them and has resulted in two young journalists being imprisoned for the last couple of days while the channel head has himself gone underground.
A counter complaint has been filed against the supporters of the Energy minister D K Shivakumar by the channel for allegedly assaulting the two journalists — a 28-year-old woman and a 24-year-old man — after they were caught by the minister and policemen in plainclothes while handing over cash of Rs 5 lakh disguised as a gift for the minister.
Cameras hidden in glasses worn by a 28-year-old woman journalist, who is a newcomer according to TV9 insiders, cameras tucked into coats worn by them and in the phones held by the journalists, and the cash of Rs 5 lakh that was handed as a bribe have been seized by the police in the course of the filing of bribery cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
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The plan behind the sting operation that had been in action for over 10 days was to send two well attired journalists claiming to be representatives of a British energy company called EnergoPower that was looking to set up a 12 MW solar power generation facility in the state, that was seeking clearance for the project from the energy minister. An elaborate front including a website had reportedly been created to trap the minister.
According to a press statement issued by TV9 following the arrest of its journalists the sting operation was planned “after receiving several complaints from people and businessmen in general’’. According to TV9 the energy minister demanded a bribed but later after sensing the sting operation “denied having demanded any such bribe’’.
According to the Minister D K Shivakumar he was aware of a sting being planned against him and had placed the two journalists under surveillance after he grew suspicious of their insistence on a clearance for the project despite no official files existing in the energy department for EnergoPower.
“We have our own intelligence systems and we had information that this channel was planning a sting. These two persons approached me wearing suits and said they had a solar energy project proposal to be cleared. I told them nothing could be done at election time but they kept insisting and we decided to watch them. We found out they were not who they claimed so I informed the home minister and the police and got a trap laid for them for the evening of March 10,’’ Shivakumar said.
“Though I was refusing the money they were offering as a gift. They kept insisting that I would need it for the elections. I directed them to handover the money to a policeman who was waiting in plainclothes,’’ the minister claimed.
The energy minister claimed that the journalists initially did dummy runs without their recording equipment and then in later meetings brought along recording equipment. He claimed that CCTV cameras at his office and home had captured all the interactions. He said the sting operation was a means to carry out extortions.
Shivakumar said the journalists following their arrest had stated that their channel was planning a series of stings on Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s son, PWD minister H C Mahadevappa, urban development minister Vinay Sorakke, irrigation minister M B Patil and information minister Roshan Baig. A police official however claimed that he was not aware of such a statement.
TV9 countered the minister’s claims with a statement that said: “We at TV9/News9 had conducted a sting operation to expose corruption in Karnataka. Our team posed as owners of EnerGo Power and met the Energy Minister of Karnataka, Mr DK Shivakumar, who demanded a hefty bribe for sanctioning a solar power plant. On Monday, our undercover reporters, comprising of a team head and a female journalist went to meet Mr DK Shivakumar with Rs 5 lakh. But Mr Shivakumar sensed it, and caught our team,’’ TV9 said in a statement on Monday.
According to insiders the male journalist, a reporter who was heading the sting operation had some relative experience in carrying out sting operations but the woman journalist, an associate programme producer, had not done field work at all. “They were quite amateur and may not have looked the part they were claiming to be,’’ sources said.
Insiders in the Shivakumar camp said the duo did not behave like business persons at all raising suspicion in the camp. “More than wanting to push their project through they were insistent that the minister meet them,’’ sources said.
A bail plea of the two arrested journalists is scheduled for hearing on Thursday.