Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Fake `sting ops' on the rise as Indian media hunt ratings


In India, it's the season of the fake sting.

The report was sensational: A math teacher in New Delhi turned her classroom into a brothel, forcing high-school students into prostitution.

A TV reporter set up a sting to expose her, posing as a customer and secretly taping a conversation with the teacher. A young woman who said she was one of the teacher's students described her ordeal on camera.

After the report aired, a mob attacked the school, dragged the teacher outside and beat her. Protesters set a car on fire and stoned passing traffic. Police arrested the teacher "solely on the basis of the sting operation," Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told the Hindustan Times.

But there was one catch: Police now believe it was all made up.

Rashmi Singh, the young woman posing as a student-turned-prostitute, was neither of those things, police said, but appears to have been an ambitious reporter looking to make her mark.

The reporter posing as a customer, Prakash Singh, was allegedly working with someone whom the teacher owed money to, authorities said.

And the teacher, Uma Khurana, who was fired from her job and spent 10 days in jail, was "more of a victim than an offender," judge Alok Agrawal said when he ordered her released on bail on Monday.

She was not the only victim: On Monday, three men were arrested for posing as journalists in an attempt to blackmail a member of parliament.

The three men tried to bribe parliamentarian Rameshwar Oraon -- then announced they were conducting a TV news sting. They told him they would quash the report if he paid them.

Oraon did not fall for it, and the three were charged with impersonation and extortion.

In the school-prostitution sting, Prakash Singh and Rashmi Singh have been arrested on criminal conspiracy charges, along with the man to whom the teacher owed money.

That fake sting operation -- dubbed "Stink Operation" by local newspapers -- was a glaring example of the dishonesty some say is rife in India's hyper-competitive media world.

Less than a generation ago, newspaper reporters had only one another to elbow aside, and India had just one TV channel, the state-run Doordarshan.

Today, there are more than 100, 24-hour news channels.

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