Saturday, May 16, 2015

Of IB and the Press

First a clarification. In my post on Back to Creepy Crawly Time I might have unwittingly implicated Ramu, who makes the wheels go round at Kamath Royale. I want to make clear I did not see him that morning. The worthy who almost fell of his bike when he saw me staggering off to Manipal Hospital is the person who lounges around Building 6.

Thinking of what has happened over the last few days brought to mind that a friend and fellow journalist, Appan Menon, was not as lucky as I was: he expired under very similar circumstances in 1996.

[Readers will excuse me for taking this opportunity to record fondly that I first met Appan when we were both about eight or nine, when his father dropped him off at our house in Calcutta to be sent on to school in Darjeeling while he himself went on to a UN job in Bangkok.I was immediately impressed with his sophistication, on exhibit in the rendition of "Whiskey, brandy, gin and rum! I want a lady with a big fat bum!" I mentioned that to his wife when I met her at the UN; she grinned, "He's still singing it."]

Another journalist who died in mysterious conditions was Jyotirmoy Dey, the Crime Reporter for the Mumbai tabloid Mid Day. In June 2011 he was shot dead gangland style on the street in front of his residence. He had just returned from a meeting in London with a source who, rumour has it, provided information on 26/11. Given the allegations of an IB role in 26/11, it is legitimate to wonder about the gunmen's motives.

Also in 2011, J. Sri Raman (whose consistent failure to present an Indian perspective on international issues made me want to throw things), died suddenly of "multiple organ failure.

I mention their deaths because the Intelligence Bureau's undeniable fingerprints on my brush with the hereafter -- which would never have been suspected if the outcome had been different -- makes me wonder about its broader attitude toward journalists.

I am quite sure the consistent pressure I have felt over the last five years is not because of any set IB policy; at the same time, it cannot be from a Brownian movement of idiots within the staff.

I think it reflects an  inherently unsympathetic attitude towards journalists. As indicated by the various attempts to entrap me in situations that would have seriously impeached my integrity, there also seems to be a profound misreading of what an intelligence agency can legitimately do in a democracy. My experience has made me wonder about the legitimacy of the charge of rape against Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal.

Does the government do anything to teach our domestic spooks the importance of protecting the basic human rights of Indian citizens?

Is there any sensitivity training about the need not to bully our citizenry into unethical conduct? (I am here thinking of the poor waiters compelled to add extra salt to my dishes or serve up half servings.)  In a country recovering from several generations of oppressive foreign rule it is critically important to protect every individual's sense of integrity.

Do the agency's leaders seek to build a culture supportive of the idea of Press Freedom? It might be convenient for them to have controllable journalists but do they consider the harm done in the process? A Press without undue constraints on its work is of enormous value, not least in collecting and analysing information that should be a staple of all intelligence activity.

The UNESCO declaration that a free Press is the touchstone of all other freedoms is the literal truth and it merits institutional attention from the IB.

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