AK Saseendran sting: Mangalam TV admits to honey-trapping Kerala minister

The ‘phone sex’ saga which led to the resignation of Kerala Transport Minister AK Saseendran has come a full circle as a beleaguered Mangalam TV openly admitted on Thursday night that it was indeed a ‘honey trap’ that brought down the minister.

The admission came minutes after the LDF government ordered a police investigation and with Director General of Police (DGP) constituting a high level team of officers to probe the case. The law was finally catching up and the channel had no other option but to go on its knees. The CEO of the channel, who till twenty four hours ago, had been running from one news studio to another justifying rather vociferously that the audio that Mangalam TV had aired was indeed of the minister misbehaving with a housewife, did a complete U-turn by Thursday night. He came on air to say a big sorry!

“This sting was done by a selected women journalist along with an eight member team that assisted her. We understand that this has raised a lot of objections over the social media and many senior journalists and women journalists have been affected by this. We regret for this (sic) and will look to introspect and make necessary corrections,’’ said Ajith Kumar, CEO Mangalam TV.

 AK Saseendran sting: Mangalam TV admits to honey-trapping Kerala minister

File image of AK Saseendran. PTI

Kumar’s confession has only gone on to prove the worst fears of the journalistic fraternity in the state right. Senior journalists cutting across channel loyalties had been crying hoarse from the moment the audio clip was aired saying it was doctored according to the wish of the channel and that the so-called sting operation lacked veracity.

It was on last Sunday that the channel had aired the audio clip in which Saseendran is found to be having a sexually explicit conversation with an unknown woman whose voice was conveniently edited out by the channel itself.

Right from the beginning, the channel had maintained that the woman to whom the minister had made the sexual advances was a housewife who had approached the minister for some help.
However the argument failed to cut ice with seasoned journalists who had questioned the intention of the channel in cutting out the voice of the woman. Also, even after the minister had resigned, no woman came forward with a police complaint which should have been the normal course of action if this was not a consensual chat between two individuals.

After the channel CEO’s confession we now know that there never was such a woman and the minister was indeed honey trapped by a female journalist from the channel itself. Senior journalists in the state who had all the while been expressing their apprehension that this whole exercise is in itself a self defeatist game plan, expressed their deep anguish over the channel CEO’s confessions.

“I just do not know what to say. This is a huge slap on the fraternity here. It is so sad that a news channel had to be launched this way. Anyway they will have to face the law now for doing this. I am only worried for the genuine journalists in that organisation,’’ C Gouridasan Nair, Bureau Chief, The Hindu told Firstpost.

Honest staffer gave it all away; more quit

Perhaps what set the ball rolling against the claims of the channel is the unexpected resignation of Alneema Ashraf, a sub-editor and her subsequent revelations that an investigation team constituted by the channel was behind the honey trap.

Firstpost had then reported Ashraf’s words that the channel’s claims of a victimised housewife giving the audio tape to the channel for broadcasting was fictitious as neither she nor any of her colleagues were aware of any such woman.

As the news broke of the CEO’s confession, a resignation spree seems to have been set off inside the organisation. Three staffers, among whom one is a Bureau Chief of Kozhikode has tendered his resignation wrapped in bitter words over the social media.

A distraught Ragesh, Mangalam TV head of Kozhikode wrote on Facebook:

“This is our defeat as journalists. Inspite (sic) of asking a number of times, the senior management kept us under the dark and today we are paying the prize for trusting them blindly and toadying to the wishes of the boss…..I quit without taking my last month’s pay which your dear ones may eat.’’

Ragesh’s words have found resonance across the channel as the next few days are expected to see a number of such resignations out of complete frustration. While this report was being filed, two more bureau reporters from Wayanad and Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram had put in their papers.

Police crackdown to follow

Mangalam TV, Kerala’s youngest baby in the arena of television journalism has already become a sinking ship. The CEO’s confession attempt on Thursday is being seen as a last ditch attempt to reach a negotiation with the government which has already set the police on its job.

The special team constituted by the state police chief does convey a message or two that the government is actually aiming to hit the channel hard for letting it lose a minister. While an inspector general would supervise the investigation, a strong team has been built around him so that the perpetrators of the honey trap do not find it easy to get off the hook. A deputy superintendent from the police high-tech cell, two superintendents from two different districts, a deputy superintendent from the crime branch and a woman sub-inspector from Thiruvananthapuram form the core team.

Seldom has Kerala seen officers from such diverse backgrounds coming together to investigate a case and that too pertaining to a ‘honey trap’. However, sources inside the LDF (Left Democratic Front) government and the CPM say that the stakes are rather high this time round especially for the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who had taken a lot of flak from within his own party at the state secretariat and committee for the lacklustre performance of the home department. Saseendran's resignation has made Vijayan's job tougher. Many have argued that the government’s declaration of a judicial probe was only a tactic to gauge what more the channel has in its possession in terms of damaging the government in the last two days.

The moment the government sensed that the channel was on the back foot, it moved in for the kill. Managalam TV’s ‘honey trap’ might have resulted in the government losing a minister, but the utter shoddy and unethical way of its operations has only given a new life and buoyancy to the state government. And the government hopes to spin this to boost its image by booking the culprits behind the honey trap operation at the earliest.

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Updated Date: Mar 31, 2017 08:24:41 IST