They express concern that little is happening in probe; Chavan agrees to revive defunct committee to protect journalists

Editors of various publications and television channels on Tuesday met Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and expressed anger and concern that little was happening in the investigation into the killing of MiD-Day journalist J Dey.

 Home Minister R.R. Patil did not attend the meeting.

Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N. Ram, Indian Express Editor Shekhar Gupta, Arnab Goswami of Times Now, Aditya Sinha of DNA, Girish Kuber of Loksatta, Nikhil Wagle of IBN Lokmat, Raju Khandekar of Star Majha and Rahul Joshi of The Economic Times put across various issues to Mr. Chavan at the meeting that lasted for over an hour.

Later, Mr. Ram told a press conference that the delegation found the official side forthcoming but no finality was reached. The editors expressed the concern that Dey was murdered in broad daylight and no criminals had been apprehended yet.

 Mr. Wagle and others pointed out that Maharashtra had the worst record in attacks on journalists and these had taken place with impunity. The latest attack must be seen as part of a larger picture.

The Chief Minister recognised that it was a problem and wanted to delink the earlier attacks on the press, which were ideological. It was pointed out that in the last two years there were 180 attacks documented in Maharashtra and the State was in a unique situation.

 Mr. Chavan agreed to revive the defunct committee to protect journalists and put in place a reconstituted panel that could become effective and call people to account.  He had appointed a Cabinet sub-committee to suggest a draft law to protect journalists.

Mr. Ram said while Union Law minister Veerappa Moily talked about a national law, one could not wait for this. There were no journalists on the committee to draft the law and in Maharashtra there were differences on the law itself. There was a suggestion for fast track courts but this was easier said than done.

 The Chief Minister assured the delegation that any police officer or politician found to be involved in Dey's murder would not be spared. The editors said they would oppose any suggestion for a State-level press council and tried to persuade Mr. Chavan not to think on those lines.

On the issue of law, it was suggested that it should be expanded to protect the freedom of expression of all creative artists.  Mr. Chavan was quite positive about this, Mr. Ram said.

 Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik gave a briefing on the update on the Dey murder investigation and he seemed confident of a breakthrough, Mr. Ram pointed out. However, no time frame was indicated but a lot of police personnel were working on this case.

While the editors pressed for a CBI inquiry, the government pointed out the constraints of the CBI and said it would be done if the police were not willing to act. The Chief Minister said it was 10 days since the killing took place and asked for some time to catch the culprits.

  Mr. Gupta said the editors from “outside” had come to express solidarity and they had a great debate. The main issue was that nobody was convicted till now in the cases of attacks and the prime culprits were not even questioned. Regarding the case of Dey, he said if the culprits were allowed to get away, it could be open season for journalists. 

He reiterated that any attempt to form a State-level press council would be strongly resisted.  He agreed with everyone else that a law to protect journalists should also cover all the creative classes and none should be punished for having certain views.

 Mr. Wagle, himself a victim of several attacks, said the latest incident must be seen as part of a broader picture and in the last 20 years in the State, there were 879 attacks on journalists and most of these happened in rural areas. The Dey case could not be separated from the earlier attacks, he said, and alleged that there was a nexus among politicians, builders and mafia. Mr. Wagle also told the Chief Minister that Ministers in the Cabinet, notably Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, had threatened journalists in the past.

Later in response to questions, Mr. Ram said the Police Commissioner had said they could solve the case and that should be taken with a positive attitude. The Commissioner said there was some forward movement and they were hopeful of cracking the case.

 Mr. Gupta was also firm that the media must resist any grievance mechanism suggested by the government where complaints could be filed against journalists. The editors also raised apprehensions of the police being involved in the Dey case.  However, the police said the official in question, Anil Mahabole, whose name was also linked to the arrest of another MiD-Day journalist Akela, was investigated thoroughly and there was no question of being lenient to him. In Dey's case, the ballistics report was awaited but the grouping of the shots fired suggested that trained killers were used to murder Dey, Mr. Ram said.

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