Know Your Enemy
It's bad journalism that killed Army jawan Lance Naik Roy Mathew
Stinging a soldier is the most cruel form of entrapment.
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I'd like to say this before better judgment persuades me against it - the death of Army jawan Lance Naik Roy Mathew is as near murder as something like this can get. For me, personally, the story of Roy's death is well beyond a terrifying collision of the two worlds I spend the large majority of my time in: journalism and reporting on the military.
It represents a truly frightening mix of negligence, ignorance and the ever monstrous journalistic urge to break ground and news. That's one part of it. The other, is a scary muddle of absolute unknowns that only an investigation can unravel.
I don't wish to dwell on the Army's sahayak system itself. Not just because it is a deeply contentious issue that I have otherwise had my say about, but also because Lance Naik Roy's death has less to do with the system itself, and more to do with what happened after a sting operation was published. It is my continuing effort to keep what I have to say in such columns as brief as possible, so please bear with me as I list them out:
1) As I said in a tweet, I can't think of anything more irresponsible than a news organisation choosing to sting an Army jawan. Soldiers work in high pressure environments even in peace time. They function in circumstances that civilians couldn't possible fathom. Frequently, they don't know what interfacing with the media means.
They are frequently innocent about the stunts journalists pull to get stories. The rigours, constraints and enormously dynamic pressures (both mental and physical) that soldiers live in make them unique in how they relate to the outside world, outsiders' views of them and their environments. Stinging a jawan is therefore, in my view, the most cruel form of entrapment.
2) Technically too, there appears to have been murderous negligence. If such entrapment of an Army jawan was non-negotiable (and I don't believe a sting was necessary for such a story), how could the news agency in question possibly have published sting tapes that permitted anyone to identify Lance Naik Roy?
Unless a person is being stung to establish his or her own activities, what happened to protecting the identity of your subject? In this case, the jawan was an oblivious individual who had no idea he was speaking to a journalist, about a topic that was very much part of his world. Stinging a jawan, in my view, is to manipulate a vulnerability with no application of sense or heart. Cynical, unthinking.
3) Jawans are made of solid stuff. They function in an environment where the chain of command and code of seniority is what they live by. To some, it is therefore hard to believe that Roy could have taken his own life so easily. So was there harassment? Something more? Anything said before a thorough all-angles investigation is conducted, would be speculation. Which is why it is so important for an independent inquiry into every aspect of what happened.
Significantly, the Army has categorically stated there was no question of any action ordered against the Lance Naik simply because it did not know it was him in the sting tapes. Does this put the onus solely on the news agency then? Like I said, all of the attendant questions have answers only an investigation can reveal.
4) Given the fresh controversy over the sahayak system in mainstream media, it is unsurprising (and perhaps expedient) that the Army has turned its prima facie spotlight singularly on the news agency that conducted the sting. Let's be clear: while the news agency's conduct and execution of the sting - including editorial checks and balances - must be a large part of any investigation, inter alia for the reasons listed above, it cannot preclude or sidestep the immediate circumstances that led up to the Lance Naik's suicide.
The Army has rightly said it is conducting an internal inquiry while making itself fully available to civil inquiries by the administration. While the specific circumstances that led up to Lance Naik Roy's death wait to be revealed, there appears little doubt that the reason for his distress and anguish was the media report. So any investigation will necessarily have to begin there.
5) Finally, the death of Lance Naik Roy typifies everything that people say is wrong with the press, particularly electronic. It lobs to the fore the devastating consequences our stories can always have. It violently justifies the exaggerated angst citizens have about journalists. And it makes life infinitely more difficult for reporters and editors who stick to the rules and go about their work within frameworks of ethics, sensitivity and discipline. The reporter who stung the Lance Naik got a "scoop". Roy got death.