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Some of the strongest reactions come from investigating the rich and the powerful because they use every weapon at their disposal to stop stories inimical to their interests. Apart from lawsuits, our reporters across the country frequently get direct threats?/font>

Investigative Journalism

s editor of the Mumbai edition of The Indian Express, I am no stranger to the threats and entreaties that flood the office as regularly as the monsoons flood the city. But recently, we ?that is the chief of the paper’s political bureau and I ?had caller-ID phones installed in the office. The caller-ID phones were needed because both of us were getting particularly irksome calls from a nasty man on behalf of a former legislator with a criminal record. He would call and warn me against carrying any details of the long criminal record of his boss, who as it turned out was in the middle of some delicate deal-making with a powerful political broker. “Otherwise,? he said, “we will ensure your paper is stopped in Ulhasnagar, and we will wipe your paper and your reporter out.?He said this in a very even tone after 10 minutes of civil conversation during which he argued the need to carry “background information?in a newspaper story. Suddenly angry, I asked if he was threatening us. ?i>Abhi to main bahut tameez se bat kar raha hoon (I’m talking with respect right now),?he said with distinct menace. It turns out our caller ?he identified himself freely ?had five murder cases pending against him. So the caller-ID phones were installed simply to ensure we could track him ?and others of his ilk ?should the need arise.

Death threats aren’t actually common in our line of work, but threats and attempts to browbeat you are. A favourite method to scare you off a particular story is to file a lawsuit. I am served with a legal notice on an average of once every week (they are served in my name since I am responsible for everything that is printed in the Mumbai edition). Fortunately, The Indian Express has a superb legal department, which is adept in framing formidable replies to these notices ?enough to ensure that only a fraction ever go to trial.

I have recently received legal notices from:

  1. A television company for Rs. 100 crores after a story on late-night nudity (they backed off after our reply warned them we had tapes of the movies they showed).

  2. An underworld figure for a story that reported his involvement in an extortion case (he’s in a jail in Bangalore, but his attorney seems bent on taking us to court).

  3. A police inspector for Rs. 5 crores after he was incensed at a story about an “encounter?death (he couldn’t find anything wrong with the story, so he said he had been defamed even though we never mentioned him).

  4. The chairman of a chemical company for Rs. 50 crores after we reported how his bankers were seizing his properties for not repaying Rs. 1,800 crores in loans (we haven’t yet heard back from his lawyers, but he’s notorious for litigation).

Many of these are what are called “harassing litigations? done in the belief that the paper will back off. But if there’s one thing I know it is that The Indian Express never backs off. If we know what we are doing is right, we will stand by our reporters ?and our ideals ?to the end.

Investigative journalism is The Indian Express’s forte. We do it not in the belief that it will sell more copies ?it does not; the Express has never been an advertiser’s delight precisely because it challenges conventional wisdom ?but in the conviction that however tough the market conditions may be for us, we will never discard our ideals. I can hardly deny though that we like to see our names in the newspaper, that we do not crave the recognition. I would be lying if I said we are in this only for the idealism. Of course we like the recognition but that desire of the individual reporter to be successful is channelled by the newspaper towards its ideal. And at the end of the day, there is among all of us an abiding belief in the paper’s ideals. Hard as it often is for many people to believe, those ideals are about truth and justice. They hold good in today’s cynical, increasingly corrupt times more than ever before.

Some of the strongest reactions come from investigating the rich and the powerful because they use every weapon at their disposal to stop stories inimical to their interests. Apart from lawsuits, our reporters across the country frequently get direct threats, far more direct and threatening than the relatively civil incident that I mentioned earlier. In Gujarat, during the riots, our reporters were told they would be murdered, their wives raped if they did not stop, well, reporting. In Kashmir, my colleagues are routinely threatened ?they have even been “temporarily kidnapped?as warnings ?by both militants and security forces. Here in Mumbai things are relatively more civil, with as many attempts at bribery and gratification as threats. Our codes of conduct are clear, however. No favours are accepted from anyone, and no violations of this code are tolerated.

But it is a mistaken notion that we investigate only things that go wrong. We have got the greatest feedback in recent times for bringing good news stories to our readers: stories about people, organisations and companies that inspire others and make a difference. India today desperately needs to be inspired, and we do our best to find stories with the message, “You too can do this? Finding things that work, understanding why they do, and figuring out how they can be replicated are some of the greatest challenges of modern investigative journalism.

Samar Halrankar
The Indian Express
(Mumbai edition)