By Rifat Jawaid
Follow the author on twitter @RifatJawaid
I haven’t been able to sleep whole night. The death of a fellow journalist Akshay Singh has shocked me to no end. I am still finding it hard to believe that a young, upright and fearless journalist could lose his life just because he dared to work on a story that most from his fraternity simply didn’t have courage to do so.
Akshay’s untimely death or dare I say murder has impacted me more perhaps because I was the one responsible for hiring him for the TV Today Network’s Special Investigation Team during my time as the group’s managing editor.
After joining the India Today group, I was very keen to beef up the SIT with a focus to champion high impact investigative journalism.
I asked the HoD for the SIT, Deepak Sharma, to send me CVs for suitable candidates. Among the CVs he sent me, Akshay’s was one of them.
Akshay came to meet me and our conversation may have lasted for about 15 minutes. But that quarter an hour long conversation was enough for me to detect the fire in his belly for the high impact journalism. I could see a burning desire in him to do something worthwhile which may enable him to be a medium to bring about positive change in the society through his journalism.
Soon, he became an important part of my team. While inside him he would be a restless soul desperate to leave a positive impact on our otherwise corrupt system through his journalism, in office he was often a quiet but very pleasant man dedicated to his job.
He began to work on few undercover stories but he impressed me the most only couple of months after joining the team.
I think it was in January 2014, when Akshay came up with a story that had the potential to wreak havoc in the political world if it broadcast.
He had stumbled upon some evidence that indicated a rampant fraud in the voters’ id cards.
One day, he mailed me a request for a car as he began to work on this sting operation.
For seven days in a row, he kept mailing me the requisition for a car and I kept approving it. But after a week I called him for a face to face meeting primarily to ensure if he was fine and there was no impending threat to his well being. That’s because the undercover journalists in any news organisation often work in most hostile condition and are always exposed to serious threats to their safety.
As senior executives in the BBC, not only were we expected to look after the output we were responsible for, but we also ensured the health and safety of our journalists. It was a part of our core responsibility. This was and sadly still is largely amiss in our work culture in Indian media.
I met Akshay to enquire about his well being and also to get an update on the progress of his undercover report on the fraud in voters’ ID cards. He said he had completed 80 percent of his sting operation before handing me over a document consisting of several hundred pages and videos of few stings he had carried out.
The documents were explosive and I had little doubt that it will make a powerful editorial. The Lok Sabha election was barely few months away and looking at the evidence, it was clear the general elections in 2014 was likely to experience large scale rigging through these fake voters’ ID cards. at a massive level. I decided to broadcast this story in public interest but my decision was vetoed and the story never saw the light of the day. Not until the end of March when I decided to leave the organisation.
Akshay was visibly disappointed, but he never expressed his frustration. He moved on to his next assignment with a big smile.
Next we heard about the fraud in voters id cards was in late 2014 when Aam Aadmi Party decided to make it an issue and they also succeeded in getting tens of thousands of duplicate names deleted from the election commission’s electoral registers.
What’s baffling in Akshay’s death is the fact that despite working for one of India’s most powerful news organisations, his safety could not be ensured.
Even more disappointing was the revelation that his own channel had chosen not to run the news of his suspected murder even hours after he had died. This rightly led to the twitter outrage.
We journalists are often branded as a very powerful breed, and yet a member of our fraternity has fallen victim to those whose involvement in MP’s massive scam Akshay had gone to expose.
Previous 45 deaths in Myapam scam had been ineffective in shaking the collective conscience of this country’s institutìons and media. Hope Akshay’s sacrifice doesn’t become yet another statistic. Hope it causes the outrage among the public and the media that it rightly deserves. Otherwise, no journalist will ever want to become an Akshay Singh in future.
Rifat Jawaid is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Janta Ka Reporter