News is information,” goes one definition, “that someone somewhere does not want the public to hear.” I can’t say for sure who defined it thus (if you know, please email me), but in one place I saw the quote attributed to the late Claud Cockburn, an Irish journalist with communist sympathies.
Cockburn may not have actually said this, but it is certainly something he might have said, for he was a constant thorn in the flesh of the British establishment. Just how much of an irritant he was became evident when his son Patrick, also a journalist, discovered intelligence files on his father in 2004.
In a 2005 article about these files, in The Independent, the London-headquartered newspaper that he works for, Patrick Cockburn wrote that his father had always suspected the British secret service of keeping a close watch on him, but the scale of MI5’s snooping nevertheless took him (Patrick) by surprise: there were 26 volumes on Claud Cockburn.
“The…files are packed with information, often absurdly detailed, and compiled with immense labour by intelligence officers, policemen, informants and other agencies,” Patrick observed.
I was reminded of Claud Cockburn after the ghastly and utterly cowardly murder of Mid Day journalist J Dey a week ago. For those not in the loop: Four gunmen, two each on two motorcycles, shot and killed Dey in broad daylight as he was riding his bike down a street in Powai last Saturday.
So what is the connection between Dey and Cockburn you might ask?
First, the glib one: Dey was well known in the journalistic fraternity and beyond for his extensive contacts among Mumbai’s underworld and Cockburn also had a brush with the mafia: he was among the few journalists to interview Al Capone, when the American gangster was at the height of his power. (Cockburn had at least one enemy in common with Capone, who said that capitalism was “the legitimate racket of the ruling class.”)
But the more serious link is that, with the police making little headway in the case, the possibility is still live that Dey’s murder was at the behest of someone somewhere who did not want the public to hear information that he planned to reveal or had already revealed. (For a parody of the police’s fumbling, read my colleague Vaibhav Purandare’s column ‘Words, clichés, all talk, no action’ on page 15).
One theory floating about suggests that the murder had nothing to do with his professional life, but its flagrant execution makes me doubt that.
Mumbai’s stunned journalistic fraternity is also aggressively demanding stronger legal provisions to protect journalists. After all, Dey’s murder comes barely a month after journalist Tarakant Dwivedi, Dey’s colleague, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act for writing an article about a year ago, for his previous newspaper, about a leaky roof ruining weapons bought after the 26/11 attack.
I won’t go into the nitty gritty of journalists’ demands, but I think it is time that the public – you, dear readers – join the discussion. It is an issue that concerns all citizens, not just the Fourth Estate.
Meanwhile, will the police make progress on the case as we enter the second week following Dey’s death? Perhaps we should keep a close watch on what the authorities deny. It was Claud Cockburn — for sure, this time — who urged the public to “never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”