Did TOI go overboard?

BY hoot| IN Media Practice | 04/06/2008
The Times of India, Ahmedabad ran a series alleging that a newly appointed police commissioner had links with a Dawood man. It then ran an sms poll asking whether people wanted him to continue as commissioner.
THE HOOT looks at the facts of the case.

Over the last couple of days the Times of India has been going to town with the news that the newly appointed police commissioner of Ahmedabad  O P Mathur has filed a complaint of sedition and criminal conspiracy against the paper. It has rallied support of the rest of the press in the city, the Editors Guild in Delhi, rights activists, and the Congress party in Delhi. The paper¿s Delhi edition carries a story from Ahmedabad which said that the police action had evoked strong reactions from citizens and readers, "with many shocked by the sedition charge when all it had done was to highlight the concern of the citizens about the safety of their city…"


The paper¿s Ahmedabad edition published a series of four articles in the  last five days of May questioning the propriety of O P Mathur¿s appointment, alleging that he had links with Ahmedabad¿s only mafia don Abdul Latif.  The first of these, on May 27th, was headlined, "Was A¿bad CP a Latif man?" The next one asked,  "How can A¿bad be safe in his hands?"  This headline covered two stories, one with the following subhead: ¿As head of Latif squad was Mathur also on the Don¿s payroll?¿  


The stories which the paper called "documented investigative reports" are based on the evidence documented in  CBI records of 1992, which cite the testimony of an associate of Latif, Abdul Khurdush, who is quoted in the story as having said, ""The 2-3 addl. CPs in Ahmedabad used to receive a ¿hafta¿ ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 per month."


The second story is subtitled ¿Mathur¿s  jail allowed terror cell to make calls to Pak¿. It is a reference to the fact that when Mathur was Addl. DG & IG Prisons the crime branch had raided Sabarmati Jail and found cellphones there.


On a subsequent day the paper carried a story about a sexual harassment case which is in a local court, in which O P Mathur features.  He is accused of sexually harassing an advocate with whom he used to be friends until she got married.


A third story titled "Latif an ISI man and Mathur a Latif Man?"  deduces that by virtue of having links to Latif,  Mathur was in fact linked to an ISI man.


To quote from the story,


"Both Dawood and Latif were of the same variety — underworld dons — which the ISI wanted to tap for terror activities. Evidence before courts suggests that a large segment of the police force in Ahmedabad was at that time on the payroll of Latif. But most of them dumped him when they came to know that he had moved from the bootlegging business to much graver crimes against the nation. In fact, some of these officers were able to wash off that taint with the subsequent crackdown on the Latif gang.


The finger of suspicion points to the newly appointed commissioner of police, Ahmedabad, O P Mathur, who was the head of the ¿Latif Squad¿ formed to catch the absconding don, because there is Abdul Khurdush¿s damning statement that he was passing on information to Latif.


In cricketing terms, if a player was doing this with a bookie, it would have been called match-fixing and the police would have been looking for such a person. In Mathur¿s case, if what Khurdush is saying is right, then Mathur was committing a much graver crime and putting at risk the lives of citizens.


But these explosive charges were never investigated by successive governments because reopening of the Latif files would have blown up in the face of not only the police but the entire political establishment at that time.


All this information is available in court records for everyone to see, including those who appointed Mathur as CP, Ahmedabad. What do the residents of Ahmedabad, a city where the threat perception is high after the riots in 2002, make of this?"



The statement of Khurdush quoted by the paper does not actually mention Mathur, but it does say in its opening story of the series that  "Mathur¿s name figures twice in Khurdush¿s statement, which was translated from Hindi into English by CBI, and is now a part of case papers in the court.."


In the course of this series the TOI alleges  that  Mathur covered up for a top Gujarat Minister and a high ranking BJP politician of Rajasthan in the Sohrabuddin encounter case by making a CD containing records of implicating phone conversations vanish: "Magician Mathur should explain where CD vanished."  The story on covering up for politicians is called "Crooked Path to the Crown."  There is no quoted source for the information presented in this story.


The reporter who has been named in the sedition and criminal conspiracy charge along with the resident editor of the Ahmedabad TOI, is Prashant Dayal, formerly of Divya Bhaskar who is known for his investigative stories but who has also occasionally received court notices for some of his reports.


A series exposing a police officer¿s earlier track record and alleging links with a mafia don is enough to be construed as a campaign against the police officer¿s appointment as commissioner of police. But the Times went further.  It ran a poll in the paper which asked whether people wanted him to continue as police commissioner.  When people responded in the negative, their messages were carried by the paper. As the  Gujarat Global News Network, Ahmedabad, reports, "After writing articles, the TOI ran a SMS poll campaign against Mathur."


Mathur responded by filing a complaint on June 1 at the Navrangapura police station which is within the area under his jurisdiction. He alleged that the paper and its staffers committed offences under Sections 124A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (defamation and conspiracy against the state and the police force) of the Indian Penal Code. Unsurprisingly, the police registered a case. There are conflicting reports on whether he took the government¿s  permission before filing the complaint. The home minister of Gujarat has told a journalist who asked that the government does not plan to transfer him. Journalists met the Governor of the state on June 3. Narendra Modi, till the time of writing, has said nothing at all on this matter. What is not clear is how an individual, rather than the state, can file a complaint of sedition.


The  statement of the Editors Guild says "Sedition is a charge which was slapped on the Indian media by the colonial rulers during the freedom struggle. Abuse of the sedition provision against the media negates the freedom granted to the citizens by the Constitution." It says the action of the City Police Commissioner O P Mathur smacks of vindictiveness and adds that it expects the Gujarat government to ensure that the persecution of The Times of India and its journalists was stopped and action taken against Mathur for misusing the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.


Meanwhile the IPS officers Association, Gujarat, called a special meeting of its executive and passed a resolution. It dubbed the reports of TOI "malicious, defamatory and derogatory". The resolution said the reports cast aspersions on the police force as whole, and demanded legal action against TOI.


After journalists demonstrated on Monday two more cases have been filed by Mathur. One relates to contempt of court because in the sexual harassment case the court had apparentlyasked the press not to report its proceedings.


Since the paper¿s case against Mathur hangs on one statement to the CBI by Khurdush made in 1992  can it prove conclusively that the police commissioner was on the mafia payroll? And its SMS campaign takes the paper¿s action beyond the realm of straight, investigative journalism into unwarranted activism.


As for Mr Mathur, why did he not file charges of defamation? Was he afraid that they would not hold?





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