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Mahesh Vijapurkar

Mahesh Vijapurkar likes to take a worm’s eye-view of issues – that is, from the common man’s perspective. He was a journalist with The Indian Express and then The Hindu and now potters around with human development and urban issues.

How TV caught Porngate: It was a self-inflicted wound

The three Karnataka ministers who had to give up their jobs actually gave themselves away. But for their own fear of being caught in the act of surreptitiously watching pornographic clips on their mobile phones, they would have remained undetected. They could have continued holding their ministerial berths, spouting moral profundities, and having their own kind of fun.

Sitting with their backs to the visitors’ gallery in Karnataka's Vidhana Soudha (the assembly), they were apprehensive that someone was watching them watch the saucy stuff. They knew that some private news channels had their camera crews stationed behind them, most of the time recording routine stuff, speeches and, sometimes, even the antics of legislators.

On that fateful day, the cameras were focused on Nadagounda Venkatram, a Janata Dal (Secular) MLA. That was the moment when Cooperation Minister Lakshman Savadi, and Women and Child Welfare Minister CC Patil, “turned and twisted furtively”, as the Bangalore Mirror said in a front page report on Thursday. This was how they attracted the attention of TV cameramen.

In the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore, the visitors’ gallery is where the camera crew of private news channels are given place to record the proceedings for their audiences. The press gallery obviously is used to seat print journalists.

It was Savadi who caught the attention of the cameraman who found this behaviour strange. Perhaps that would have passed had he not turned again, looked up towards the TV crew, as if to ensure that the cameras were focused elsewhere. That, it transpired, was a dead giveaway. It was their invitation to personal ignominy and political disaster.

It was Savadi who caught the attention of the cameraman who found this behaviour strange. Reuters

The furtive glances prompted the cameraman to explore further. As soon as the second furtive shifting in the seat and looking over the shoulder was done, he decided to have a look. He turned the camera towards the duo, zoomed in on them, and horror of horrors, they were watching pornography.

This is what the Bangalore Mirror said: “And he (the cameraman) hit the jackpot. The minister was fidgeting with his mobile phone and while the camera stayed zoomed on him, he watched four porn clippings one after the other. At one point, CC Patil even turned the phone screen towards himself. Meanwhile, the cameraman of another channel picked up the cue and zoomed in on Savadi and Patil.”

The two cameramen who caught the politicos are TV9’s Srinivas Kulkarni and Suvarna channel’s Prashant (full name not given).  The world has much to thank them for. And they surely will be cursed by porn-fancying ministers.

Apparently, Kulkarni was the first to spot the action and Prashant picked up the cue later because curiosity would have driven him to wonder why a colleague was peering down at a seated minister instead of the speaker on a dull day. Both later went on air on their respective channels and claimed theirs was the exclusive, though it remained exclusives only for a short while. Others picked up the clips and it went viral on all the news channels, inspiring comments, condemnation, and a lot of political mud-slinging.

Had these politicians been watching the stuff at a public meeting, even on a dais, they may not have been found out. The cameras are either mobile or at eye-level.

On the other hand, the legislative assemblies have their worthies seated in descending rows, mostly in a horseshoe format, and on the higher tiers are the galleries for VIPs, visitors, officials and the media. The two cameramen were at an advantage, being placed higher. Had the ministers obstructed their view by bringing their shoulders in the line of vision, they may have escaped.

News gathering is always a dull business, and journalists are often tied down to the routine, the boring, the tedium. What gets hyped up depends on the anchors and the channel’s news editors decisions. It is only once in a while that the dullness is interrupted by something newsworthy. This is when alertness counts.

Kulkarni and Prashant thus hit the jackpot because they were alert — and curious.

Now, the politicians, it can be safely said, have hit a dead-end.

Our worthies are, of course, capable of denying the obvious and twisting what was seen plainly through the lens of a TV camera. It is strange how the guys have not claimed that what TV was showing was doctored.

But one excuse has already surfaced. DNA’s Mumbai edition reported that Savadi’s defence was that since the salacious clip was on Environment Minister Krishna Palemar’s cellphone, he was not guilty. Its Bangalore edition had a box item on the front page which is attributed to rumour that at least 40 other legislators cutting across party lines had been watching the same clip. The paper said it had gone viral.