J Dey murder case gets murkier

29 Nov,2011

By Ranjona Banerji


When journalist J Dey was murdered in the Mumbai suburb of Powai in broad daylight in July 2011, the entire journalistic community came together in shock and horror. The first impulse was to believe that Dey was killed in pursuit of a story or that is, he was killed because he was a journalist. There were rallies and marches and seminars and panel discussions. Some sections of the media called for a special law to deal with attacks on journalists. It was alleged that the police would try and cover up the crime. The chief minister of Maharashtra swore that the administration would work as fast as it could to find those responsible.


But since then, the story has become murkier. Dey, a crime reporter who had written a book on the underworld, was not killed because of any imminent story that he was working on, that much was clear. That the gunmen who did the deed were part of an underworld gang – specifically that of Chhota Rajan — was also clear. But there were several unanswered questions here as well and rumours amongst the journalistic community started emerging, of all sorts and colours.


The story has now moved into the realm of the bizarre with another journalist, Jigna Vora of the Asian Age, being picked up for being involved in Dey’s murder – she is accused of passing on some vital information to Chhota Rajan which led to the killing. Although allegations of Vora’s involvement have been the air for a few months, her arrest was a shocker. Once again, many journalists came out in her support and her employers stood with her. But that was the initial reaction. As more details of the case emerged, we now learn that her colleagues are not so supportive any more.


The journalistic community, which was brought together by Dey’s murder, is no longer a united front. Dey’s death was not of dangers inherent in the pursuit of a story and crime reporting in Mumbai cannot be compared to covering a war zone. The implication of another journalist has soured the waters. Journalists pick up a lot of information and not all of it can be printed. But that doesn’t mean that the information is false: it is sometimes just not possible to corroborate it. Dey’s death and Vora’s arrest fall into that category. The result is that a sympathy wave will now have to make way for the twists, turns and turmoil of a regular crime story. The kid gloves may well come off as friends of the murdered man and the accused trade charges and is it not likely that we will find some very unsavoury happenings at the bottom of it all?


The implications (and accusations by the police) here are of a strange case of professional rivalry – not in trying to get a better story but in currying favour with your sources or the subjects of your stories.


In all the discussion about paid news and medianet, perhaps this kind of journalistic corruption also needs to be included.

This is an aside which is aimed at the PR industry because I am a little curious and would like to know the experiences of other journalists. To put my questions in perspective, my last job was with DNA, where I was senior editor and was on the edit page. I quit in March 2010. But I did continue to write edits, columns and a weekly food review as a free lancer on contract for about nine months after that. In January 2011, DNA shut down its edit page. Soon after my food reviews stopped and in May, all my dealings with DNA ended. I have since then not worked with any other newspaper. I consult with MxMindia and I do a weekly column with Mid-Day.


One of the best parts of not working for an organisation is that PR people drop you like a hot potato (you can see why I will never become as powerful as Barkha Dutt or Vir Sanghvi). My contact with public relations was limited to a few emails about new restaurants, which soon petered out. But this wonderful peace has been shattered over the past week. I have been called to cover some medical event because I am “the health reporter for DNA”, to write about diamonds for Hindustan Times and to cover art events for Mid-Day. These are calls, not emails.


I would really like to know how this works. Someone suddenly thought of me in one PR agency and a domino effect started? There are people with the same name and number as me who work in DNA, Hindustan Times and Mid-Day? I have inadvertently entered my name in some sort of PR roulette?
If anyone can help me, I would be very grateful.


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One response to “J Dey murder case gets murkier”

  1. Sucheta says:

    I think a sloppy PR agency has simply not updated its records. Last week a top PR agency said they sent an invite to Moneylife’s old address which is 3 years old!! so no surprise to the second part. The first part of your article really worrying!!