Crime & Journalism

26 Nov,2011

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The arrest of journalist Jigna Vora in the J Dey murder case is quite horrifying, anyway you look at it. That a journalist can be accused of instigating the underworld to kill another brings us to a very sad pass. While rumours of Vora’s involvement have been doing the rounds for a couple of months, the actual arrest itself is a shocker.

 

It is pointless to speculate on guilt and innocence just yet and the media, which often takes arrests at face value initially and only asks questions later, has been very carefully following presumption of innocence route here. (If only it would do it at all times!)

 

One thing is clear though: editors need to be more aware of what their crime reporters are up to and how far they push them to get a story. In 25 years in journalism and most of them in Mumbai, I cannot remember any crime story which invoked more than salacious reader interest. The best result might be the two very good movies made by director Ram Gopal Verma – Satya and Company. The close relationship between some journalists and the underworld is hardly an industry secret. Oswald Pereira’s novel, ‘Beyond the Newsroom’ should be a must-read for all young and budding crime reporters.

The other problem here is the relationship between the police and reporters who often get carried away and see an arrest as surety of guilt – quite the opposite of the attitude in Vora’s case. It is another matter than so many accused get acquitted by the courts by lack of evidence. The media stands guilty on two counts here – one, for romanticising the underworld and two, for taking the police at face value.

Young reporters are not to blame so much as their mentors are. The romantic idea of this all-powerful underworld which runs Mumbai is just that and it is far from the reality in today’s world. The days when Vardarajan Mudaliar, Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and later the Naiks, Dawood Ibrahim and so on ran Mumbai are long gone. Prohibition was lifted decades ago, smuggling was no longer as lucrative after liberalisation and after the slum rehab schemes started, land-grabbing was taken over by the state and the police. And as drug usage is (thankfully?) not as high in India as it could have been, we are still a conduit rather than a market profitable enough for the powerful South American cartels to get directly involved in. The famous underworld was reduced to normal criminal activities. There is no Al Capone like figure any more.

But younger journalists, fed on the myths, get taken in. As editors themselves are getting younger, they get excited too. A little dip into history may not be a bad idea.

As for the Vora and Dey case, it is curious and sad.

 

**

 

The slap received by Sharad Pawar led the media into some needless self-excoriation. Was it given too much importance? Did it blank out other important news? Should the media have followed the Katju directive and immediately focused on poverty and development issues instead? Blah blah blah.

The fact is, the slap was news. And that is the job of the media: to give you the news. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves for being misunderstood, let us accept that we are the carriers of misery, sensation, death, depression and all the other strange, horrible and wonderful things that human beings do to each other and the world around us.

Why get so defensive about it?

 

**

Talking of being defensive, Press Council chairman Markandey Katju’s piece trying to explain himself in today’s Times of India is quite amusing.

 

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