Gilani & Badal, same difference

BY jaya jaitly| IN Media Freedom | 27/01/2003
Attempts to equate the two would blur the distinction between right and wrong

    Reprinted from the Indian Express, January 24, 2003



Jaya Jaitly



It is one of those remarkable coincidences that two journalists were arrested and incarcerated almost at the same time and were released from jail on the very same day after nearly seven months.


One was Iftikhar Gilani of Kashmir Times; the other was Kumar Badal of the website The similarity, though, ends here.


The Kashmir Times is a newspaper of some standing, one that conforms to the Press Council of India guidelines. Gilani went about his work faithfully, reporting events relevant to his newspaper.


His work required him to keep any papers that could have helped him understand Indian and Pakistani actions and policies. Only journalists who rely on honest research or sourced documents can be credible if these are a part of their stories.


As part of a crackdown on pro-Pakistan elements, including his father-in-law Syed Ali Shah Geelani, in Jammu and Kashmir before the Assembly elections, the police, working in tandem with the Income Tax Department, decided to raid Gilani’s home in Delhi.


He has already recounted how television networks were beaming false stories about him and his wife even while the raid was still in progress inside his house. A sensation-loving press was ready to even sacrifice one of its own as long as it could be the ‘‘first with the news’’.


Documents downloaded from the Internet, and outdated information circulated by the Government of Pakistan found among the papers lying with Gilani was enough for the police to file a case against him under the Official Secrets Act.


Various trials and tribulations later, the Director General of Military Intelligence was given the source of the documents which put the matter in perspective. The Military Intelligence revised its earlier opinion and declared that the documents were of no security value.


In fact, the same point had been made by human rights activists and leaders of all political parties at some time or the other; by various Kashmiri groups in India and abroad and by sympathisers of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, not to mention Kosovo, Myanmar, Tibet and Bhutan. Receiving unsolicited material and retaining such material cannot constitute a crime in civilised democracies, especially not

in the age of the Internet.


Nor does the integrity or patriotism of every such person become questionable. If the state allowed this to happen it would be crying wolf so many times that it would never be able to recognise the real enemy when it saw one.


Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes understood and intervened, albeit tardily, to set the various agencies on to the correct course of withdrawing the case against Gilani.


As the journalist himself has said, the same ‘‘system’’ that sent him in also got him out. In other words, there are people and systems within a democratic polity that create checks and balances when things go wrong.


Kumar Badal belongs to a website that does not follow Press Council guidelines and believes in an altogether new type of journalism. To quote from the order dated December 21, 2002 of the Honourable Justice S.S. Kulshreshta of the Allahabad High Court refusing Badal bail in a case where he is accused of stage-managing the poaching of endangered animals: ‘‘It is a matter where the accused applicant gets ghoulish delight in wanton killing and destruction of wild

animals in order to achieve his reprehensible ends, which is beyond human imagination’’.


The detailed order running into four-and-a-half pages describes how two poachers in the Rajaji National Park were apprehended with arms, a video camera, a mobile phone and skins of leopards and other animals. In the course of their interrogation they had revealed that Pankaj alias Kumar Badal had instructed them to kill and film the animals and had given them all the necessary film equipment.


The accountant of Buffalo Networks also admitted that Rs 1.59 lakh was paid to Badal for the project. The journalist had befriended an army officer, Lt. Col Dinesh Sharma working as an OSD in the World Wildlife Fund who put him in touch with the District Forest Officer in the genuine belief ‘‘that Shri Pankaj was actually a research agent who wanted to work undercover and help the forest authorities in apprehending illegal traffickers indulging in the killing of endangered species.’’ Shades of the defence story methodology here with stage-managed corruption at its essence?


The CBI took over the case from the Uttaranchal authorities and recorded the statements of all concerned, including the SSP, V.K. Agarwal,who stated that ‘‘On 30.5.2002 Shri Aniruddha Bahal, Director and Smt Neena Sharma, Vice President (Admin) of M/s Buffalo Network Pvt.Ltd visited his residence. Both of them gave allurement to settle the matter ...’’ It is significant that the court thought it fit to record the fact of a bribe offer by the Tehelka representatives.


The order ends by stating, ‘‘Suffice it to mention that there is motivated malignity on the part of the accused applicant that instead of giving accurate account of the wild life and the apprehended danger to the wild animals, he himself was involved in getting the trapping and killing of the wild animals and tenancing (sic)

his accomplice for making film of such poaching etc.’’


The Supreme Court correctly accorded bail to Badal in an appeal since he had been in jail long enough, but the comments of the Allahabad Court and the case against him have not been washed away. Since it was opined by the concerned authorities that one journalist did not commit a crime, the government withdrew the charges before any judicial pronouncements were made.


In the other case, it is the judiciary which has made harsh comments on the nature of the crime and rejected bail thrice. Attempts to equate the two would blur the distinction between right and wrong and mislead the public about the Tehelka reporter’s crime and the nature of their journalism.


The writer, a Samata Party leader, deposed before the Venkataswami

Commission probing Tehelka’s Operation Westend expose


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