Media and its fatal obsession with the underworld – Jency Jacob

Chhota Shakeel

Jency Jacob“The Mumbai media’s fascination with the underworld has not been properly documented. Knowing a gangster—I will not use the term ‘Don’ or ‘Bhai’ as it is often used with a tone of respect, thanks to its glorification by Bollywood—is a badge of honour that some journalists are proud of. Anecdotal accounts abound of how many have used these connections for reasons far beyond their line of duty to enrich themselves.” – Jency Jacob

Media“The media seeks accountability from politicians. Who is the media accountable to?” This is a question a school friend asked me a few days ago on WhatsApp, referring to the blanket coverage Yakub Memon’s hanging and his burial received in [the July 31st] newspapers. 
 
Normally, like most other journalists, I must admit that I become defensive when it comes to defending the perceived ills of our profession. It is my firm belief that while readers and viewers have the right to question media coverage, they often analyse editorial decisions simplistically. 
 
That Memon’s hanging needed coverage cannot be denied even though one might differ on the scope and scale of the coverage. This time, though, the anger was not completely unjustified. Most media houses were running a parallel campaign for abolishment of death penalty using Yakub Memon as a crutch—which was unfortunate because they ended up projecting him as an innocent man paying for his brother’s sins at a time when his offences had been proven in court after court, all the way to the top, the Supreme Court. 

In doing so, the media may have also done irreparable damage by adopting this route to build public opinion against capital punishment. 
 
But more than the coverage given to Memon’s hanging, what troubles me more is the interview of underworld fugitive and Dawood Ibrahim acolyte Chhota Shakeel that some newspapers and TV channels ran post the hanging. 
 
Sample some of his quotes: 

Chhota Shakeel: “Woh (consequences) to hoga hi” (Times of India)
 
Chhota Shakeel: We don’t believe in the court. This is not justice, this is vengeance. Revenge has been taken on this man. (Aaj Tak 

Under normal circumstances, any such warning about ‘consequences’ (read revenge) that clearly indicate provoking violence between religious communities would be self-censored by the media. Editorial checks do mean that we edit out portions that could incite communal violence. 
 
Media BiasBut providing an open forum for a fugitive who has been on the run for the past two decades to air his inflammatory views without any fear of the law is clearly a sign of the new lows that the profession has hit. 
 
This is also significant as Dawood Ibrahim—the alleged mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts—has himself been under the radar ever since. This means when we air Shakeel’s views, we end up giving space to a man who has refused to face charges for one of the most dastardly acts of terror modern India has witnessed and still continues to live under the patronage of Pakistan and its intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence or the ISI.   
 
That he can mock Indian agencies and the law and lecture on morals and ethics does not seem to disturb reporters or their editors who routinely conduct and publish such interviews. 
 
It is not anyone’s case that the underworld does not need coverage. After all, they are part of the same society that we belong to and are products of the corrupt nexus that exists between politicians, law enforcers and our systemic inability to enforce the law (not to mention a broken state that fails to intervene in a humane way when they are young). Also, the media can’t always become one with the state in holding back information that is in public interest. A journalist often walks that thin line, sometimes passing on information to the police while at other times choosing to publish that information, both in public interest. Chhota Shakeel’s interview threatening of ‘consequences’ does not fall in either category. 
 
The Mumbai media’s fascination with the underworld has not been properly documented. Knowing a gangster (I will not use the term ‘Don’ or ‘Bhai’ as it is often used with a tone of respect, thanks to its glorification by Bollywood) is a badge of honour that some journalists are proud of. Anecdotal accounts abound of how many have used these connections for reasons far beyond their line of duty to enrich themselves. Factions exist among reporters covering the underworld and many are openly identified as belonging to rival camps depending on who one is closer to—Dawood or Chhota Rajan. So it is not surprising why the interview of a gangster is more about what he wants to say rather than getting him to answer any tough questions. 
 
Ask any young aspiring journalist and most dream of making a career in crime reporting. It cannot be denied that the fascination of speaking to underworld gangsters and being in their core circle is a big attraction, and newspapers and TV channels who routinely do these interviews that border on PR exercises fuel these ambitions. That honest crime reporting is full of unseen dangers, hard work and long hours of sweat and grime are often lost on such aspiring hacks, thanks to how they see their seniors almost identifying themselves with the gangland. 
 
Shazi ZamanThere is much to introspect for the Editor’s Guild and Broadcast Editor’s Association (BEA) on the need for the industry to identify and prevent such clear ethical breaches.  A few years earlier, the BEA had arrived at an informal consensus on providing less airtime to gangsters but as happens with every self-regulated industry, someone decides to violate the guidelines and then it degenerates into a free-for-all in the race for scoops and TRPs. 
 
In a book released in the US in 2011, author Jonathan M. Ladd gives some good insight on Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters. Citing a 1956 study carried out in America that “found 66 percent of Americans thought newspapers were fair,” the situation changed for the worse in 50 years. By 2004, when a similar study was conducted, “only 10 percent of Americans had ‘a great deal’ of confidence in the ‘national news media,’ he writes. 
 
Public anger against the media in India is rising. Suffice it to say that a similar study in India will show that trust in the media is at an all-time low. Whenever any attempt is made by the government to regulate the media, the industry is up in arms, and rightly so. But when you lose the trust of your readers and viewers, you pave the way for the government to bring in curbs. That most newsrooms, high on the ‘exclusive’ interview with a fugitive living overseas, are not able to perceive this distrust is a reflection of the disconnect today’s media has with reality. That is the saddest face of all. – Business Standard, 3 August 2015

» Jency Jacob is a Senior Editor for the Web at Business Standard in the Mumbai Area.

4 Responses

  1. T. S. V. Hari

    Is Press Freedom Being Self-Shamed In Mumbai?

    In the context of the media hullabaloo over the hanging of 1993 Mumbai Serial Bomb Blast accused Yakub Memon appearing to have died down, the question to be asked is:

    Are top media decision makers abusing their press freedom?

    On August 3 2015, Jency Jacob, senior editor, Business Standard Web Edition wrote a critique against the Mumbai Press Corps’ fatal attraction towards the underworld of India’s financial capital.

    Operative excerpts:

    The underworld does…need coverage. They are part of the same society that we belong to, belonging the corrupt nexus that exists between politicians, law enforcers and the failure to enforce the law.

    The Mumbai media’s fascination with the underworld has not been properly documented.

    Knowing a gangster is a badge of honour that some journalists are proud of. Many have used these connections…to enrich themselves.

    Most media houses were running a parallel campaign for abolishment of death penalty using Yakub Memon as a crutch—which was unfortunate because they ended up projecting him as an innocent man paying for his brother’s sins at a time when his offences had been proven in court after court, all the way to the top, the Supreme Court.

    In doing so, the media may have also done irreparable damage by adopting this route to build public opinion against capital punishment.

    [Emphasis supplied]

    Jacob wrote his piece in the backdrop of the hanging of 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blast accused Yakub Memon.

    A brief background on Yakub Memon

    Terrorist and Chartered Accountant Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, was hanged on his 53rd birthday, July 2015.

    Memon convicted over his involvement in the 1993 Bombay bombings by Special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities court on 27 July 2007.

    The appeals and petitions of Yakub Memon, brother of one of the prime suspects in the bombings, Tiger Memon were heard till a few hours before his hanging by India’s Supreme Court.

    The hanging happened July 30 2015, in Nagpur Prison.

    Media’s sympathy for the underworld

    A section of the national media went to town decrying the hanging of Yakub Memon.

    It would be a national tragedy of epic proportions and a significant miscarriage of justice if Yakub Memon hangs for his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts. Only one final decision by the Maharashtra Governor, on Memon’s mercy petition, and a third appeal in the Supreme Court now stand between him and the hangman.

    Facts now emerging (or re-emerging) in the public domain show how badly the legal system has failed in Memon’s case.

    That was R. Jagannathan, of First Post, on July 26 2015.

    Jagannathan wasn’t a lone voice.

    An indicative piece from the Indian Express, dated July 29 2015 says it all.

    Operative excerpts citing late spook B Raman, who died in June 2013:

    “The cooperation of Yakub with the investigating agencies after he was picked up informally in Kathmandu and his role in persuading some other members of the family to come out of Pakistan and surrender constitute, in my view, a strong mitigating circumstance to be taken into consideration while considering whether the death penalty should be implemented,” Raman wrote in the article which was not published earlier on his request.

    “But if one also takes into consideration his conduct and role after he was informally picked up in Kathmandu, there is a strong case for having second thoughts about the suitability of the death penalty in the subsequent stages of the case,” Raman added.

    Link:

    http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/yakub-memon-must-not-hang-we-brought-him-back-key-raw-man-in-07/#sthash.iiaSuFYk.dpuf

    The query hence:

    Do journalists profit from such exercises?

    The answer to that one can be guessed by seeking a reaction to a supplementary query: Do media fixers continue to run riot in Mumbai – with obvious help from the Mumbai underworld?

    Now, look at the bitter, blunt reality prevalent today in Mumbai as the reaction to that one.

    A ‘gentleman’ Saumit Sinh, [I termed him Media Pimp in print read], accessed my campaign against a criminal gang – directly accused of being involved in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts, which events were financed partly by the loot from the Rs.1,200 crore Cobbler Scam, illegally controlling Government of India owned Mumbai Port Trust’s property whose worth is roughly Rs.2.6 lakh crores!

    Sinh promised me Rs.15,000 for the story – which was delivered.

    He had paid 50% as an advance.

    He baulked about paying the balance, accused me of non-deliverance, wanted critical details of another scandal involving Sharad Pawar – whose close relatives and business associates are partners of companies owned by the aforesaid criminal gang led by one Rafique Malik Tejani, who owns Metro Shoes Ltd and Metro House P Ltd. There is enough evidence to link Tejani to Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon – who are considered responsible for the 1993 bomb blasts.

    I implored Sinh to collect the file and even offered to drop it at the place of his choice, despite being on the way to the airport to catch a flight. He said he had no time to do that.

    He accused me later of being a cheat and began demanding I returned the money, abused me and threatened to kill me in full view of the Mumbai Press Club CCTV camera and then managed to get me ‘unofficially banned’ by the management of the same organisation. Letters written in this regard have gone unanswered.

    Sinh managed to ‘register’ a false case against me in the police station opposite the Press Club, threatened me with arrest and it fell flat. I gave the officer a legal mouthful and the chap clammed up.

    Sinh has vowed to take me to court. I am waiting for it.

    Then the same Sinh sinned against the entire Mumbai Press Corps – at least its major leading lights including the Times of India – by planting a patently false story.

    The ruse was an unenforceable ‘legal’ notice issued by a lawyer JJ Jadeja, who sits in a seedy room located nearly cheek by jowl next to the Mumbai Police Headquarters on November 19 2014 that exhorted Metro House P Ltd decision makers to vacate the structure and also remove the nearly 150-year-old building that had begun to exist since 1875 and houses an iconic beer-joint – Cafe Mondegar within 6 months.

    Anyone who knows to count from 1 to 10 would place the deadline on May 19 2015.

    Wonder of the wonders!

    The Times of India, Indian Express, DNA and Hindustan Times carried detailed articles saying Cafe Mondegar would be evicted April 19 2015 casting a slur on the Mumbai Port Trust for destroying an iconic landmark.

    Significantly, the Cafe received the notice alright, but not of eviction!

    The same articles had mentioned of the 6 months’ notice period!

    Two days later, The Times of India carried an article saying the ‘eviction’ will not happen at all!

    There are other strange aspects to this.

    Cafe Mondegar, according to reports was one of the places from where David Headley planned 26/11.

    Metro House signed the contract in 1995 but got possession with ‘retrospective’ effect from 1991, citing an earlier lease with an Islamic Trust that had transferred its lease to Tejani a few months after the expiry of the lease in 1986!

    In multiple court cases – those said to be in cahoots with Tejani have cited Metro House to be owners of the property and have initiated legal proceedings to evict tenants under the Maharashtra Rent Control Act 1999 that explicitly does not apply to government owned property!

    All this is now public knowledge.

    Here are the blogs that dovetail all this information.

    http://tsvhari.blogspot.in/2015/04/media-pimps-sinh-summit.html

    http://tsvhari.blogspot.com/2015/04/media-pimp.html

    Has anyone from the Mumbai Press Corps reacted?

    Has the Mumbai Press Club withdrawn their ‘unofficial’ ban?

    Answers to both the queries are in the negative!

    It is said that a few crores of rupees changed hands through Sinh to get the reports planted in the newspapers. Else, there is no explanation as to how 4 newspapers could commit such a silly gaffe!

    I was born in Bombay, grew up in the city and cut my teeth in journalism in Bombay.

    I am grateful to those who taught me the ropes. I have written about it clearly.

    http://tsvhari-incubation.blogspot.in/2014/06/journalists-are-welcome-in-mumbai.html

    Those journalists who write as per their conscience are always persecuted.

    I ought to know.

    I am one of them.

    The evidence:

    http://tsvhari.blogspot.in/2014/02/three-jeers-for-press-freedom-in-india.html

    Should one assume that the bitter reality is that the underworld controls the decision-makers of the Mumbai Press Club?

    I am still waiting for an answer.

    The Mumbai police officialdom is aware of this at the Joint Commissioner level. Has action been initiated?

    Answer: Frankly, I have no clue!

    Meanwhile channels like Times Now have begun slamming the Mumbai Police for being in cahoots with the underworld!

    Not long ago, the efficient Mumbai Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria had been hauled over the coals by the same press corps for having briefly met the financial scofflaw Lalit Modi in London at the latter’s request communicated through a lawyer.

    Maria had given the fugitive the shortest of shrifts – saying surrender first and talk later in courts.

    Should it concern someone that the same Lalit Modi was so efficiently defended in parliament by India’s Minister for External Affairs – Sushma Swaraj and the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley – using India’s martyred former PM Rajiv Gandhi as a convenient tool?

    Well, I am undecided as the defence of celebrated, Harvard educated senior lawyer P Chidambaram made a rather feeble defence – in a press conference – virtually skirting all the major issues that should expose the brain behind it all – Sonia Gandhi.

  2. Who are the owners of Indian English media ? Is the southern Baptist church of America owns NDTV ?
    India will have trouble as long as Pakistans policies remain unchanged and missionaries activities are not controlled.
    Finally India should be a Hindu nation by constitution.

  3. Absolutely Slavish !

  4. NDTV New Delhi Television Limited Logo

    Explain why you shouldn’t face action for Yakub’s execution coverage: Govt notice to 3 channels – P. Vaidyanathan – The India Express – New Delhi – August 8, 2015

    Sources said the I&B ministry obtained video clips of the Chhota Shakeel phone-in and Yakub’s lawyer’s statement from the Electronic Media and Monitoring Centre to get the quotes which have been cited in the notice.

    For the first time since it took charge, the NDA Government has issued separate show-cause notices to ABP News, NDTV 24×7 and Aaj Tak alleging that these three private news television channels showed disrespect to the judiciary and the President of India by airing certain content on the day 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon was hanged. The Union Information & Broadcasting Ministry has asked these channels to explain within 15 days why action should not be taken against them for broadcasting such content.

    The content includes phone-in interviews of Chhota Shakeel on Aaj Tak and ABP News in which he claimed Yakub Memon was innocent and said that four mercy petitions were dismissed in a single day. He also alleged that justice had not been done and that he did not believe the court. NDTV 24×7 had aired an interview of Yakub Memon’s lawyer who spoke about how many countries have done away with the death penalty.

    The show-cause notices to the channels invoke at least three sections including Section 1(d), Section 1(g) and Section 1(e) of Rule 6 of the Programme Code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

    Section 1(d) states that no programme should be carried which contains anything “obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half-truths.” Section 1(e) states that no programme should be carried in the cable service which is “likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes. Section 1(g) bars channels from carrying content which “contains aspersions against the integrity of the President and Judiciary”.

    Yakub Memon’s hanging on July 30 came hours after an unprecedented late-night opening of the Supreme Court that eventually rejected a final plea for a stay on his execution. That order came 12 hours after the same bench had dismissed another writ petition by Yakub challenging the validity of the death warrant. Justices Dipak Misra, P C Pant and Amitava Roy also rejected objections raised by Justice Kurian Joseph a day earlier and said there was no legal lacuna in dealing with Yakub’s curative petition which was dismissed on July 21.

    Sources said the I&B ministry obtained video clips of the Chhota Shakeel phone-in and Yakub’s lawyer’s statement from the Electronic Media and Monitoring Centre (EMMC) to get the quotes which have been cited in the notice.

    At least three orders prohibiting transmission of channels for a period ranging from one day to 30 days have been issued by the Government so far. NDTV Good Times and TLC were taken off air for a day for content described as adult and Al-Jazeera was prohibited for five days after it did not show Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India in the country’s map.

    Once the channels reply to the show-cause notice, an inter-ministerial committee, which includes officials from the Home, External Affairs and Defence ministries, will review their response and decide on the next step.

    Aaj Tak Logo

    ABP Logo

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