Reporting the Jigna Vora arrest

BY GEETA SESHU| IN Media Practice | 03/05/2018
From the Hoot archives: Incredibly, news reports quote crime branch police sources (unidentified, of course) who state that the case against Vora became stronger when the gangster himself called up several journalists and businessmen.
Media coverage of the entire issue has been found severely wanting, says GEETA SESHU
Indian Express archve


 In light of reporter Jigna Vora’s acquittal  we are reprinting an article published in  December  2011


Barely days before Mumbai police were to file a chargesheet in the J Dey murder case, police arrested Jigna Vora, the deputy bureau chief of ‘Asian Age’, an English daily in Mumbai, charging her with murder and conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code and for being part of a crime syndicate under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999. The journalist is the eleventh person to be arrested in the case, the other ten being alleged sharpshooters and informers who were part of the conspiracy to kill the senior crime reporter and editor (investigations) of English tabloid Mid-Day on June 11, this year.

The unanswered questions that dogged the investigations into Dey’s death have only increased with the arrest of Jigna Vora. What confounds the confusing scenario is the skewed media coverage – veering from the salacious to the inaccurate, with reports that carry statements of all manner of sources – from the police and the underworld – all unidentified, nameless and beyond attribution.  

Vora’s arrest, ordinarily an event that would have sent shockwaves across the media world, came as no surprise to journalists monitoring the investigations. A report in a city tabloid on October 31 had alluded to the involvement of an unidentified journalist. Other reports began appearing in city newspapers that this journalist had perhaps, unwittingly, disclosed information about Dey to gangster Chhota Rajan.  The journalist was never named but there were enough markers in the news-reports to identify her. Vora, police said in a press conference after her arrest, allegedly sent information to gangster Chhota Rajan about Dey’s whereabouts, his home and office addresses and his motorcycle registration number. Police say that they have scrutinised emails she is alleged to have sent to the gangster, along with her messages and phone call records. 

The joint commissioner of police (crime branch) Himanshu Roy, said in a press conference that the police had enough evidence regarding Vora’s role in the death of Dey. Police have sought an extension of a month from the MCOCA court to file a chargesheet against her.

The editor of Asian Age Hussain Zaidi, who has come out in support of his colleague, says that she was a very hard-working reporter, possessed a law degree and was thorough in her coverage of crime and courts. In the four years she worked under him, there was only one legal notice she was sent for one of her reports. Vora’s lawyer Gurish Kulkarni, said that she had interviewed Rajan for a newspaper article. He told this writer that he was awaiting the filing of the chargesheet against her. She is currently in police custody. 


So, finally, is there a motive for Dey’s death?

Neither the oil mafia, nor the smugglers of red sanders or even foes in the police force – none of these seemed like credible motives for the Mumbai police investigation into the killing of the journalist. Now, professional rivalry has been added to the list of possible motives.  

Since his death, the police investigating the case have come under a lot of pressure to establish a motive for the killing of J Dey.  The protests that followed the killing even forced the police to transfer a senior police officer who had filed a defamation case against Dey, though police said the transfer was a routine administrative move. Journalists protesting the death demanded an inquiry and writ petitions seeking a CBI inquiry were filed by individual journalists as well as the Mumbai Press club in the Bombay High Court. However, these were dismissed and the plea for a CBI inquiry was turned down by the court.

Officially, the city police are still chary of committing to any motive – but newspaper reports blithely quote unnamed police sources that this is the ‘main angle’ of the crime branch (Police get a whiff of rivalry, DNA, November 26, 2011). Vora, the report said, was annoyed that Dey was planning to write a book on the gangster Chhota Rajan. In another report (Journalists close to Dey helped cops nab Jigna, Indian Express, November 28, 2011), a group of journalists gave police information that Vora and Dey had an argument over another gangster Farid Tanasha, who was killed last year. 

Police have questioned a number of journalists – friends and colleagues of the late crime reporter – to get some leads on his death. Less than a month after his death, came reports that Dey and another journalist had met up with a bookie, Vinod Asrani alias Vinod Chembur, barely a few days before he was killed. Police said that it was in this bar that Dey was identified by the men who finally killed him. Chembur was also allegedly a close aide of the gangster Chhota Rajan and was subsequently arrested in connection with Dey’s murder (Mid-Day  published an account of this, without naming the television journalist).


Unanswered questions


Several questions still remain unanswered in the investigations into Dey’s death (including the questions posted by Mid-Day newspaper 21 days after his death). There is little clarity on Dey’s own investigative work and the stories he was working on that may have resulted in his killing. Dey had written about the oil pilferation mafia (When blood mixes with oil, Feb 1, 2011),

Early on, police said that they were examining his laptop and his emails and other electronic communication. But none of this provided any leads to police on his work or even whether he was onto some major story or disclosure. There is little or no authentic information about Dey’s trips abroad or even within the country, except unsubstantiated reports that he met gangster Iqbal Mirchi in London or made frequent personal trips to Bangalore. 

Now, Vora’s arrest have thrown up a fresh set of questions. Police said that Vora had interviewed Rajan. But then, so did several other journalists, including Dey! On May 26, Vora carried an exclusive interview with Rajan headlined ‘Chhota says Dawood Ibrahim not in Pakistan’. On May 30, eleven days before he was killed, Dey wrote an article about the ‘ageing’ Rajan, quoting him in an interview! Police claim to have information that she passed on details about Dey’s whereabouts to the gangster but surely Dey’s killers would have access to this information from their own networks?  Vora was on holiday in Sikkim when Dey died, and police point out that she didn’t make any calls to enquire about her colleague’s death, something they found suspicious. A report in the Times of India quotes police that she misled them with a report she filed in her newspaper that another gangster, Iqbal Mirchi, could have been behind the killing of J Dey! 

Vora’s report, filed on June 23, asks the question: Did UK drug lord order Dey hit?  The report doesn’t name the druglord, only saying that the Indian government is unsuccessfully seeking his extradition. This news appeared in other newspapers too and was as speculative as all the rest. 

 Incredibly,  news reports quote crime branch police sources (unidentified, of course) who state that the case against Vora became stronger when the gangster himself called up several journalists and businessmen, telling them that Vora passed on information about Dey to him! These journalists and businessmen have now been made witnesses in the case against Vora. Vora also allegedly instigated the gangster against Dey, by telling him of the articles Dey wrote against Rajan. But a cursory search of Dey’s articles throw up several articles that refer to Rajan’s  waning influence, some of which date as far back as 2007.  Dey’s later work concentrated on the oil mafia and his last article on the rise of the oil mafia, filed on May 16, 2011, points to the involvement of gangster Dawood Ibrahim’s aide, Chhota Shakeel.  More than Rajan, the oil mafia would have more cause for worry from these detailed articles.


No holds barred media coverage

 Whether Vora was involved in Dey’s death or was herself a victim of professional rivalry is still a matter of speculation, but media coverage of the entire issue has been found severely wanting. Coverage in sections of print and broadcast media focused typically on the single parent status of the arrested journalist with one television channel even using pictures of her eight-year-old son. While some reports were unsubstantiated and unattributed, others mentioned sources without identifying them.

In what has come to be the hallmark of crime reportage, telephonic interviews with gangsters has become commonplace and is often carried without any qualification, merely adding to the status of the journalist who is ‘granted’ the interview.  A slew of other reports refer to the underworld in familiar terms and merrily quote from unidentified sources from the underworld and police ‘aides’ without differentiation. In one report, for instance, the gangster Rajan is referred to as ‘nana’ and an unidentified member of his gang is quoted as saying that ‘nana’ has a habit of pinning the blame (for the killing of the journalist) on others!

After Dey’s death, Rajan allegedly called up a couple of journalists, including a telephonic  interview to Star News from what we are helpfully told was an undisclosed destination, to express his ‘regrets’ over the killing he earlier claimed to have ordered. Apart from the absurdity of reporting on a telephone conversation that is near-impossible to verify, the very ethics of this practice of interviewing gangsters is highly debatable. In such a situation, can one hope for any transparency, fairness or accuracy in media scrutiny of these investigations? 

Geeta Seshu is consulting editor, The Hoot.

The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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