For A Free Press
20 July, 2005
You will never
fail until you abandon your endeavours
December 13: Vinod K Jose, a reporter with The Indian Express Delhi
bureau, was assigned to cover the farmers agitation in front of
the Parliament. Since Vinod was a Keralite, the editor thought it fit
to assign him for covering the agitation by the Kerala farmers. After
covering the rally, when Vinod was having tea at a nearby shop he heard
sounds of firing and the shrill sirens of police vans along with loud
shouts of Athankavadi. When he came out, he heard people
talking animatedly that the Parliament was being attacked by terrorists.
When he contacted
his office, the editor directed Vinod to reach the spot immediately
and interview as many MPs as possible. Vinod, who was just few metres
away from the Parliament, was one among the very few journalists to
reach the Parliament House just after the attack. After interviewing
around 80 MPs within and outside the Parliament, Vinod came to his office
and explained to the editor some of the doubts that he had stumbled
upon during his assignment. Incidentally, the attack came
at a time when the Parliament was in turmoil over issues like the coffin
case, the passing of POTA Bill, etc. More importantly and rather curiously,
even as the House was being attacked, the ruling BJP MPs
were rejoicing and celebrating inside the Parliament. Even Parliamentary
Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan stood unshaken by the events. Also,
the police had initially said the attack was carried out by six terrorists.
But they could only produce five dead bodies. Where is the sixth one?
to Vinods findings, the editor nonchalantly asked him to file
instead a report on the "traffic problems and the kind of difficulties
faced by the officer-goers in the city as a result of the Parliament
attack. Vinod was thus forced to throw his startling findings
acquired diligently during that eight-hour stint, into the dustbin.
The lead news of The Indian Express the next day was the Delhi police
chief Ajayraj Sharmas press meet about the Parliament attack.
Vinods report on the traffic problems was also published with
write anything in The Indian Express about what he saw and heard in
the Parliament precincts during the attack. In a way, he
was learning new practical lessons about the social commitment of journalists
and the moral values of the Fourth Estate.
The four pillars
of knowledge that help journalism are: lies, blunders, money-making
and moral irresponsibility
In 2002 February,
Vinod took charge as the South Asian Bureau Chief of the New York-based
Radio Pacifica, which was formed by a group of journalists who had resigned
from different newspapers after they refused to write in favour of the
US governments decision to join the First World War.
Just how September
11 is important to the US government, December 11 is equally important
for India. So follow December 13 carefully, the editor of Radio
Pacifica told Vinod. These words strengthened Vinods morale
as he found himself working for an institution that believes in true
journalistic values and ethics.
attack case is a landmark in my life. More than as a journalist, I view
it from a humane perspective. The developments that occurred in the
country after December 13 corroborated my earlier doubts regarding the
attack which I stumbled upon on that day. I had made up my mind to divulge
the real story behind December 13. Just go through the cases files
that run into tens of thousands of pages, and you will get the truth.
Actually, the first case under POTA was filed in the Parliament attack
case. This is an indication as to why and what for this draconian law
was created. Every day I used to go to the POTA trial court and learn
the minute details of the case. Abdurahman Geelani, Professor at the
Delhi University, was not even remotely connected with the attack. But
all of the media celebrated by portraying him as a terrorist. The image
of a handcuffed Geelani standing in the dock disturbed me. Every day
this mans innocent face haunted me. I didnt know Geelani
before that. When it became clear that Geelani was going to be hanged,
I thought of doing something. With the help of Supreme Court advocate
and human rights activist Nandita Haskar, we formed a Defence Committee
for Geelani. We filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court against the
POTA trial courts verdict, and this culminated in the exoneration
of Geelani, recounts Vinod.
Even though the
case was such a sensational item for the Indian media, when the trial
was on at the POTA court, only three Indian journalists were regularly
attending the proceedings. Apart from Vinod, there were Basharat Peer
from rediff.com and Anjali Modi from The Hindu. The rest of the Indian
media folks were absolutely absent and echoing the version of the Delhi
police. And its their version the readers had to believe. The
All India Defence Committee for Syed Abdurahman Geelani
was also formed in order to launch a media campaign that would dispel
all the distortions of the mainstream media regarding the Geelani case.
Vinod was in charge of campaigns in Punjab, Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka,
Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. It was the experiences during the campaign
that led Vinod into thinking about starting a new magazine in Malayalam.
The aim of
the media campaign was to make the journalists in the language press
aware about the realities and provide them enough materials. The response
from all the states except Kerala was very positive. The media in Kerala
refused to give space for the publication of the real happenings that
led to the arrest of Geelani. An average Keralite holds a skewed knowledge
about national politics. The notions that he possesses about the North-East,
Kashmir or Punjab are such that they would put even an average illiterate
villager to shame. Then I thought that there has to be a publication
for the sake of the Malayalis political literacy, he explains
the beginning of the Free Press venture.
Within a matter
of two issues of the magazine, threats and attacks emerged from different
corners. The RSS workers destroyed the newsstand copies of Free Press.
Even those people who couldnt read Malayalam were disturbed at
a magazine cover picture that showed the smiling face of Geelani holding
a cup of tea. The vendors were warned against selling Free Press. There
were people who had made it a point that people should not get to know
even the tiniest true bit about Geelani.
In a previous issue,
Free Press carried startling revelations regarding the twisted and deceitful
ways in which the Ambanis had built the Reliance industrial empire.
It revealed how politicians cutting across party affiliations had given
(and continues to give) covert and overt support to the corrupt ways
that helped create one of the largest business empires in the world.
The magazine carried investigative reports on why a book on Reliance,
written by an Australian journalist Hamish McDonald, has been banned
in India for the last 10 years. Titled Polyester Prince, this book throws
light on the shady affairs of Reliance Industries.
issue of Free Press sold like hot cakes in and outside India with a
sale of over one lakh copies. The issue had to be reprinted following
demands from the readers. The series of reports, which no other media
in this country had dared to publish, raised the hackles of the powers-that-be.
So even before the publication of the shocking details on the death
attempt against Geelani, the witch-hunt against this magazine had started.
An alleged attempt
on Vinods life too took place four days before they tried to finish
off Geelani. When Vinod was going back to his office on his bike after
visiting the house of Nandita Haskar, an Ambassador car with its number
plates covered followed him and tried to ram him from behind. The readers
letters to Free Press were also being monitored and blocked. The supply
of the magazine was disrupted with many subscribers failing to get the
magazine. A Free Press sub-editor, V H Nishad, was dubbed a Muslim
terrorist and his house owner asked him to leave the place. When
the magazines special correspondent, V M Shaijith, wrote a report
on the fake encounter killings of Delhi police, the police started hounding
him. When Vinod was at his home in Keralas Wayanad district, the
Kerala police went there and advised him not to go back to Delhi. They
also told the locals that Vinod was involved in subversive activities
When we refused
to heed those placating and threatening words to stop the publication
of Free Press, they started to disrupt the printing of the magazine.
It was the Special Cell of the Delhi police that engineered the whole
operation against the magazine. The press, where the magazine was printed
for about one year, refused to print Free Press anymore in view of the
threats from the Delhi police. For printing the latest issue we had
to go all the way from Delhi to Meerut, says Vinod.
On March 31, police
officers from the Delhi Interstate Police Cell came to the office of
Free Press and tore away the covers of the magazine placed on the notice
boards. They barged into the editors room and took away an unopened
courier addressed to V H Nishad. The reason? The courier was addressed
to a Muslim!
After two days,
the head of the Interstate Cell called up Vinod: Vinod, you are
a friend of Geelani and you know him better. You can help in Geelanis
murder attempt case. You will have something to say about those who
are targeting Geelani. So come to our office for a 15-minute discussion
During the course
of the conversation, Vinod raised doubts about the assassination attempt
against Geelani. He also raised doubts about the Delhi Special Cell
Assistant Commissioner Gajbir Singhs role in this regard. Gajbir
Singh, who has the dubious distinction of killing 26 persons in fake
encounters, had tried hard to entrap Geelani in the case.
discussion turned into a five-hour grilling. All through
the questioning, the police wanted to know why I had started this magazine
and why I did these problematic reports. They also asked
about the cover story on Reliance Industries, says Vinod.
Now the Special
Cell of Delhi police has informed that they will not allow the printing
of Free Press in any of the presses in the countrys capital. The
printing press people have given up on the magazine as frequent raids
and harassment by the police is not good for business.
arrangements are made for printing the magazine, we have decided to
stop the publication for the time being. As Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal
said during the inaugural function of Free Press, only the money of
those people with morality should be used to run a magazine. We are
not ready to plead before certain NGOs or corporate giants. Journalists
working in various media organisations who are supportive of the ideals
of Free Press have promised to contribute a portion of their salary
for the revival of the magazine, says the Free Press editor.
The fate of this
truly alternative magazine reminds us that honest journalism is indeed
injurious to health. But Vinod reiterates that this alternative voice
will never die down whatever be the hurdles on its way. He is committed
to uphold the magazines motto: commitment only to the people.
This courage of dissidence is bound to surpass all kinds of obstacles,
asserts Vinod. And all those who believe in journalisms true values
ought to wholeheartedly support him and fight for the cause of Free