At least eight journalists and one management representative of the recently launched private channel Mangalam TV were on Friday placed under formal police investigation in connection with the alleged attempt to “defame, vilify and cause the resignation of a Minister” over a sex tape.
The contents of the First Information Report (FIR) filed against the suspects at a magistrate court here largely remained secret.
The sex tape, apparently recorded on a mobile phone, featured a sordid conversation between an unknown woman and former Transport Minister A.K. Saseendran. The State Police Crime Branch has confirmed that they had filed separate cases on the basis of at least three complaints forwarded by the State Police Chief Loknath Behera. The agency was unwilling to name the suspects at this stage or elaborate on the sections they have been booked under.
Investigators said the complainants had accused the channel of conspiracy, cheating, violation of the IT Act and broadcast rules that entailed a punishment of minimum six years of imprisonment and fine.
The channel had grabbed public attention on its inaugural day on March 26 by airing an edited version of the steamy conversation as an example of sleaze in high office.
It initially claimed that the woman was a petitioner and implied that the “housewife” was forced to put up with the Minister’s “unsavoury advances” to have her grievances heard.
The government ordered a judicial inquiry after Mr. Saseendran quit office to “facilitate an independent” examination of the affair.
Soon, the channel came under criticism from civil society for peddling the private sexual peccadilloes of a Minister as news. Media leaders commented that they saw a pre-meditated and unethical entrapment of the politician using a woman staffer of the channel to further the commercial interests of the broadcasting house by garnering a huge viewership during launch stage.
They said the “expose” served no public purpose other than the channel’s commercial interests. The woman’s voice was masked in the broadcast and she was yet to lodge any complaint.
The government succumbed and ordered a Crime Branch inquiry on Thursday, forcing the channel to backtrack on its earlier statements. It said the broadcast was the result of a sting operation and admitted that more caution and editorial judgment would have been in order
Inspector General of Police Dinendra Kashyap is heading the probe.