Wednesday, February 16, 2000,
Chandigarh, India





THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


EDITORIALS

SEBI sounds the alarm
SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India) has erected speedbreakers to check the steep climb of the sensex and other indices. It feels that there may be a repeat of 1992 when the prices crashed wiping out the savings of millions of middle-class men and women. The parallel is striking and alarming.

As bad as Chernobyl?
THE cyanide spill in the Danube, a major European river, on Monday is a story which the European Commission would not like to share with the rest of the world. Dead men may tell no tales, but dead fish do.

Essence of festivity
“I CELEBRATE myself and sing myself," said Walt Whitman, adding: "And what I assume, you shall assume". Western festivals or designated days have this philosophy pervading them almost universally. Take Valentine's Day which we have just celebrated for example.

EARLIER ARTICLES
 
OPINION

GETTING USED TO INJUSTICE
Factors behind decaying system
by K. F. Rustamji

ARE we so blind that we cannot see the damage being done to society by the lack of punishment for crime? We are trying to create a just society without justice: a bogus paradise, readymade for the criminal. In the process, our plan of raising a new India may be defeated. Thousands of undertrials linger — in jails because of the law’s delays — all of them poor, held for minor crimes. But spies wander unchecked.

Pakistan and Mao’s doctrine
by Rakesh Datta

AS Kashmir-watchers would have noticed that for the past few months most of the terrorist attacks in the valley had been targeted at army posts, police pickets and camps of the other security forces. This change in strategy was not because of any sudden consideration for innocent citizens but only to pretend to the world that their fight was against the security forces.

NEWS REVIEW

Censorship in “free” Britain
From Tony Geraghty in London
CENSORSHIP arrived on my doorstep before dawn one December morning in 1998 on 12 legs, two of them female. As a nocturnal Celt I am not at my best before 10 a.m. So when I answered the insistent knock, I had to count the legs and divide by two in order to register the reality of freedom of expression in Blair’s Britain.


75 years ago

February 16, 1925
An Important Judgement
A
JUDGEMENT of considerable importance to the world of journalism has just been delivered by the Lord Chief Justice of England. It appears that the editor and publisher of the “Evening News” had been asked to show cause why they should not be committed for contempt of court for reporting the charge to the Grand Jury in the Hobbs case.

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SEBI sounds the alarm

SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India) has erected speedbreakers to check the steep climb of the sensex and other indices. It feels that there may be a repeat of 1992 when the prices crashed wiping out the savings of millions of middle-class men and women. The parallel is striking and alarming. Last week the sensex — the Bombay Stock Exchange’s 30-share index — shot up by 11.7 per cent. In about four months the index has jumped by an amazing 20 per cent. In March, 1992, the same index rose in a similar fashion in just two days; and before anybody could realise what was happening, the downward spiral had started and ended. As then so now, bank funds are propelling the spectacular rise. Banks, awash with cash but with sluggish demand for credit, are writing out cheques for crores of rupees accepting shares as collateral. A mere dozen shares are pulling the index up vertically and a majority of them are software companies. These shares are highly overvalued and the undisputed leader, Infosys, has to take the extraordinary step of admitting that nothing dramatic has happened in the working of the company to justify the sensational price rise. Mr Narayana Murthy’s statement came after the Infosys share vaulted in the American stock exchange, Nasdaq, which is additionally stoking the Mumbai mania. A study has revealed that share prices of all Internet service providers and software units are artificially high and cannot sustain the present momentum. The analysis was prompted by the merger of the established and profit-making Time Warner with the young America-On-Line for nearly $ 300 billion. If Nasdaq is influencing the irresistible upward movement, and if share prices there collapse, as many fear they would, the echo in the BSE will be an ear-shattering groan.

SEBI’s action reflects its extreme nervousness at the volatility. It has clamped margin money on 10 much fancied shares; the margin is what brokers and other buyers have to deposit against their purchases. This step should dampen the unbridled interest in these scrips. This rate is at the international level. Simultaneously, even institutional buyers will come under the margin rule from March-end. The time lag is to help everyone to adjust himself to the new regime. Of late the market regulator has been active in protecting the interests of the small investor who is the last to enter the market and also the last to leave it. An unskilled speculator, he goes for the shares that move sharply and in a crash he is the one who is left holding overpriced ones with no one to buy them. One respected market analyst expects the prices to slide by next week and he goes by the usual cycle.
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As bad as Chernobyl?

THE cyanide spill in the Danube, a major European river, on Monday is a story which the European Commission would not like to share with the rest of the world. Dead men may tell no tales, but dead fish do. The tonnes of dead fish noticed floating in the Danube have made concerned environmentalists blow the whistle on what they fear may prove to be the biggest catastrophe since Chernobyl — the world’s worst nuclear accident. Hungarian environmentalists are convinced the cyanide spill has poisoned the whole food chain and it would take several years to get the lethal chemical out of the river’s “system”. This is precisely the reason why other less affected European nations are coy about sharing with the world the exact extent of the damage caused to the river-related economy of the region. It must be remembered that the detection of the mad cow disease had caused a major dent in the British economy. Hungary is screaming the most because it would have to bear the brunt of the poisoning of the river system. The poisoning has turned the Danube into a watery graveyard of aquatic life in the region. Of course, it is but natural for an Australian gold-mining firm, being blamed for the cyanide leak, to shift the responsibility for the poisoning of the river system elsewhere. The firm has even offered to fly environmental experts to the accident site to prove its innocence. Dead fish were found floating in Europe’s largest waterway on Sunday as the poison spread from the Tisza river, which flows into the Danube about 50 kilometres north of Belgrade. Since the gold-mining facility is located upstream in Romania, a three-way legal wrangle for claiming damages is likely.

Hungary and Yugoslavia are likely to take Romania to the international court for destroying their economies through neglect in monitoring the discharge of poisonous substances in the river by the gold-mining firm. The Romanian authorities, in turn, would most certainly make the firm, Esmeralda Exploration, exclusively liable for the worst non-nuclear environmental disaster in Europe. That is why the Australian firm is virtually leaving no stone unturned to escape responsibility for the cyanide poisoning of the river system. Esmeralda’s argument is that while there was an overflow from the cyanide-rich Tailings Dam at Baia Mare, it could not be held responsible for fish deaths reported hundreds of kilometres downstream. But independent observers are convinced that the global community should be alerted about picking up “river-based” products from countries irrigated by the the Tisza and the Danube until such time as it may take for the waterways to flush the poison out of their systems. The Hungarian and Serbian warning that the cyanide discharge may have poisoned the entire food chain should not be ignored by those doing business with European nations. Mr Predrag Prolic, head of the chemistry and toxicology faculty at Belgrade University, was certain that cyanide had “destroyed life in the Tisza for years to come”. It is not only the fish but also birds and other life forms which feed on them may have become unfit for consumption. The fields irrigated by the poisoned water too would produce grains and vegetables with unacceptable levels of toxins. The long-term consequences of the poisoning of the river systems in Europe can only be understood by those who have closely monitored the after-effects on all forms of life of the Bhopal gas leak nearly 20 years ago.
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Essence of festivity

“I CELEBRATE myself and sing myself," said Walt Whitman, adding: "And what I assume, you shall assume". Western festivals or designated days have this philosophy pervading them almost universally. Take Valentine's Day which we have just celebrated for example. It was almost unknown in India till a few years ago. But it has become a major festival of love and affection among teenagers and college students. The crowds that celebrated it on Monday, at least in the urban areas, were larger than those seen at many of the local festivals. It is amazing how media hype and the publicity generated by greeting card firms can do. Newspapers, magazines and radio stations had a field day making money by carrying messages of lovelorn youth to their beloved. Greeting cards worth lakhs of rupees were exchanged. Florists too did a roaring business. Not many may have been aware of the background of the day and how it got its name but it has come to be accepted as a lovers' festival. The feast of St Valentine on February 14 is believed to be intended to commemorate two saints of the same name. Legend says that one was a Roman priest who suffered martyrdom during the rule of emperor Claudius, and the other was a bishop of Interamna (Terni, again in Italy), who was martyred apparently also in Rome. Strangely, the modern development of sending Valentine cards has no relation to these saints or any incident in their lives. What is remarkable is that while it is yet to become popular in smaller towns and villages of our country, it has already been fully "Indianised" to the extent that it has been taken as the day for taking certain liberties with girls. The fun and frolic has already given way to hooliganism. Love is not always expressed in a decent manner but is foisted on hapless women. That is why many of them did not even dare to go out on the fateful day. In most cities, the police had to make elaborate arrangements to keep hooligans at bay. In Chandigarh, policemen had to be out on the streets in strength to make sure that no untoward incident took place. When known troublemakers are out there, there is necessarily a rather excessive display of force. There are many who feel that the way policemen went about taking away even heart-shaped balloons from exuberant youth was not very graceful but perhaps that was unavoidable considering that many of them were hellbent on making a nuisance of themselves. In fact, this is not the only festival which has been thus defiled. Holi is another day of sharing joy but which has come to be dreaded. The naked display of violence and lust by some spoils the spirit of all others. Rightly or wrongly, the culture police is trying to banish Valentine's Day from India. But given its urban popularity, it will not be an easy task to persuade young people to accept it as a corrupting influence. On the contrary, there are many who believe that it will be soon fully adopted to Indian conditions. After all, it does offer the possibility of adding yet another holiday to the government servants' calendar!


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GETTING USED TO INJUSTICE
Factors behind decaying system
by K. F. Rustamji

ARE we so blind that we cannot see the damage being done to society by the lack of punishment for crime? We are trying to create a just society without justice: a bogus paradise, readymade for the criminal. In the process, our plan of raising a new India may be defeated. Thousands of undertrials linger — in jails because of the law’s delays — all of them poor, held for minor crimes. But spies wander unchecked. Harassed citizens demand that the police should eliminate extortionists and rapists. We all wonder why corruption has overwhelmed the land. We refuse to see that in the past 50 years we have almost destroyed the edifice of justice that the British had put up with such care. The Supreme Court and High Courts are our show-pieces. Lower down in the police and the judiciary, the decay is not even noticed.

Indians have scant faith in the law. I wonder if this is a carry over of the civil disobedience days, and the law-breaking which became a sacrosanct duty. Dr Annie Besant warned Gandhiji about it several times. Perhaps it is a relic of the past when we never got justice from our rulers — the raja or the sultan. We have got used to injustice. Unlike the Germans who will not even step on grass which is “verboten”; or the English who cherish justice and have Magna Carta in their blood; or the Americans who prepare the ground with publicity, and then step hard on culprits of faith; the Indians believe that the fanatic, the corrupt, the vandal and the lawless should be allowed to go their way freely. Fanatics can throw the sets of Deepa Mehta’s “Water” in the Ganga, and on the same day burn three girls to death in Chennai because Jayalalitha was (at last) convicted of corruption, and again on the same day there is a riot in Mumbai because somebody desecrated the statue of Ambedkar, to cause a disturbance. Nobody will be punished by the law for all this. In fact, we have reached the stage when we wonder whether anybody needs to be punished at all. It is our birthright to be disorderly. The mob is our symbol of freedom.

If a divorce case takes two or three years for a court verdict, a murder case up to 10, and a civil suit up to 50, then what is the use of having laws? By delay we have brought joy into the life of the counterfeiter, the smuggler, the dacoit, the cheat in the stock exchange and banks, the druglord, even the wife-beater and the murderer. The fear of being hanged for murder is being replaced by anxiety about how much the lawyer will charge to delay the case.

I feel certain that we will look back in 10 years and wonder why we could not foresee the rise of mafias. Mr Narendra Vohra of the Vohra Committee fame warned us. We noted it carefully, and apparently did nothing. The reaction of the Central government is a lovely blend of temporising, ignoring, and even conniving at this state of affairs. The Prime Minister, in his speech one meeting, was critical of delays. All those who are in the Law and Home Ministries will give explanations, or will take advantage of what he said, but will not take action on the main point — that the criminal roams free all over the land, not prosecuted, acquitted, on bail, or helped by threats to witnesses. The citizen lives in fear.

The criminal justice system is crumbling so fast, and is going down so rapidly in performance, that we will soon have a law and order problem of a serious nature to deal with if economic development does not keep pace with the population increase. Who can tell what riots the bankrupt states will throw up? Besides, Pakistan wants to create communal rioting to save its face. General Musharraf will succeed because we refuse to see through his game, or to strengthen firm policing; directed impartiality.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs? All those who are responsible throw the blame on one another. No one is prepared to say, “I will correct it.” In the gallery of those responsible, I would put first groups in smart uniforms of officers of the Indian Police Service who lack unity. Many of them lack integrity, even a proper definition of their duties. They only live to please their political masters. Supervision is a dead word because authority is seriously eroded, and the thana is supervised by the MLA and the MP.

Here and there we find an efficient uncorruptible policeman. He is sidelined because he is unable to please his Minister. The latest victim is Arvind Inamdar, D.G. of Maharashtra. After 36 years of distinguished service, he was given abrupt orders to hand over charge in the evening and go home. The IPS Association is fast asleep.

Yet, I believe the main pictures in the gallery of guilt must be of our politicians who have a special responsibility for governance. All of them look so nice in clean white clothes with their Black Cats proudly displaying weapons. After Independence we started with good understanding between the Central ministers — Nehru, Patel, et al — and the Civil Services. But that was only at the Centre. In many states, younger ministers felt that the district officers had too much respect and needed to be taught a lesson. The method was to keep the DM and the SP waiting in the verandah for an interview. That phase was followed by another in which transfers of officers became the method of getting political assistance from them. Lists of transfers became a mania, to show the IAS and the IPS that they were only stooges and had to do the bidding of the politicians. All the talk of enforcing the law was nonsense. If they failed to satisfy them in collecting funds and intimidating their enemies and freeing their friends from the clutches of the police, they were not needed. All parties qualify for being put up on the notice-board of guilt.

The third cause of our decline is the judiciary which never seems to have accepted the responsibility of justice. They have come to believe that justice means acquittal, or non-interference in checking the wrongs of society. Only at the topmost level do we find pure and unprejudiced justice. At lower levels there is so much inbred hostility against the police, combined with lethargy, delay, and lack of supervision that convictions have fallen to dangerous levels. Part of this problem is due to police corruption, political interference and inefficient prosecution. Partly, the strong influence and collective strength of lawyers is responsible for this state of affairs. And all this is compounded by the delay in trials which have made a conviction, even in important cases, difficult or impossible. Handing over supervision at the district level to the Sessions Judge has not improved matters.

The fourth cause is the bureaucracy, which chums up with the political class to keep a grip on police investigations and performance. In our gallery of the guilty, they look what they are: handsome men and women, looking a bit guilty about their role. In many districts the ministers speak directly to the District Magistrate and take his help to get the police to carry out their orders in investigations. The law and the highest courts believe that there should be no impact of authority on investigations. Instead of siding with the law, the District Magistrates legalise interference by relaying the orders of politicians, or giving their own orders to them. The Home Department in many states is convinced that all transfers must be held in their hands to get obedience.

In the case of the police, a report on what needs to be done was prepared, after extensive examination, by the National Police Commission, headed by Mr Dharma Vira (ICS). That was 20 years ago. In forwarding the report of the commission to the states in 1983, the Central government said, “The commission has been unduly critical of the political system or of the functioning of the police force in general. Such general criticism is hardly in keeping with an objective and rational approach to problems and reveals a biased attitude. Governments are of the view that no note should be taken of such observations.” The harm that this forwarding note of the Ministry of Home Affairs has done to policing is incalculable. Giani Zail Singh was promoted thereafter.

At last the Home Ministry in 1996, under the perceptive leadership of Mr Inderjit Gupta, accepted that the Police Commission report was correct and sent it to the states for implementation. No state has complied. Even in a state like Delhi, which is directly under the Centre, no notice was taken of the report because it emphasises that the police must be free from interference and must be allowed to perform its duties impartially.

When Mr Advani took over, we felt that some bold measures would be taken to improve policing. What happened has taken us back by several years. First a committee under Mr Julio Ribeiro was appointed to review the Police Commission report, and suggest to the Supreme Court what is required to be done and to improve policing. Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission decided to make its own recommendations to the Supreme Court in the larger interest of society. As if this was not enough, the Centre has appointed another committee under Mr Padmanabhaiah to go over the subject again. What should we call this — temporising, indecision, or a mistake for which we will have to pay with blood and tears. Or is it that we have not been able to comprehend what the Home Minister wants to do?

Twenty years have elapsed and endless examinations of the commission’s report have been made with numerous committees having gone over the same ground. Perhaps many more will follow, and the hope of the Indian people that the work of the police will be firm, impartial and in accordance with the law may never be fulfilled. Is this what the nation was promised when we got Independence?

We seem to have been blinded so much by the sun of freedom that we cannot see that freedom, with unchecked crime, corruption and mob rule, may end in chaos.

There seems to be no hope of acceptance of the main recommendation of the National Police Commission — of a statutory State Security Commission to guide and help each state in law and order matters. Even a PIL filed by Mr Prakash Singh (retired IG, BSF) seems to be making no progress in the Supreme Court.

The apex court, as the final arbiter of justice in the land, will, I pray, guide us all, and stress that impartiality is the essence of law, and police direction in each state should be the responsibility of a statutory body presided over by the Chief Minister or the Home Minister with four or five other members, as is the case in several democracies. This will give continuity, legality, fairness and confidence in the decisions of the state, which, I am afraid, is lacking at present.
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Pakistan and Mao’s doctrine
by Rakesh Datta

AS Kashmir-watchers would have noticed that for the past few months most of the terrorist attacks in the valley had been targeted at army posts, police pickets and camps of the other security forces. This change in strategy was not because of any sudden consideration for innocent citizens but only to pretend to the world that their fight was against the security forces.

However, an objective analysis shows that there was indeed no desired pretension of any kind on the part of Pakistan to give such an impression. Instead, all this was part of a calculated design against India.

Pakistan having fought the 1965 and 1971 wars with India has come to realise that it is not possible to take on this country in a frontal attack. Therefore, the strategy is to bleed India profusely until the balance turns in favour of Pakistan as prescribed in Mao’s technique of fighting unequal wars.

Being the master revolutionary strategist that he was, Mao did not speak of war in the ordinary international sense, but of civil wars which he experienced himself with no fixed battle lines. The distinguishing feature of such a battle is that one should fight when one can win the war, and one should desist from it when one cannot. Mao’s watchword was training and preparedness. He talked about the rise of the revolutionary movement of the people and employment of armed forces to arouse the people to action.

In Mao’s protracted war, the strategic role of guerrillas was a two-fold one: to support regular warfare and to transform their activity into a regular warfare for a counter-offensive against the enemy. For this, he had recommended three stages of war. The initial phase involved overcoming the sentiments of the local people as also attacking, harassing, wearing down and pursuing the enemy.

The second stage was of strategic stalemate during which the partisans try to turn the tide in their favour. The third stage was an offensive phase when the enemy can be completely overwhelmed.

Mao also advised to revert back and forth as the situation demanded, with no psychological loss to those employing hit and run tactics. The aim is the accumulation of many minor victories to make a major victory.

Drawing an analogy between Mao’s technique of fighting and Pakistan’s sustained military incursions against India, there appears to be a marked resemblance.

Twentynine years have passed since the two countries had gone in for a full-fledged war. It not only resulted in a humiliating defeat for Pakistan but also the loss of its one wing forever. Ninety thousand Pakistani soldiers were made prisoners of war, which was a remarkable military feat by any standard. But all in vain. India returned its achieved military glory to Pakistan without bargaining anything on the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir area.

Mao underlined the need for active support of the population as the most important condition in preparing for a counter-offensive. With active popular support —which meant having a base area — Mao claimed to have achieved three objectives: (1) discovery of the enemy’s weak spots, (2) reducing him to a tired and demoralised state, and (3) inducing him to make mistakes.

Pakistan, on the one hand, has been able to keep the occupied Kashmir area free from any outside interference and, on the other hand, is successfully sustaining militancy in the rest of Kashmir on this side of the border in its most virulent form for the past several years.

Unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and inefficient rule in Jammu and Kashmir are the vulnerable weak spots. Also, Pakistan has been able to capitalise on the religious net.

These factors have not only helped Pakistan in gaining strength in the first phase of its proxy war in Kashmir, as per Mao’s doctrine, but also allowed it to reach the threshold of phase two, trying to wearing down the Indian forces. In this backdrop Kargil was not the end but the beginning of increased jehad activity.

Recently, the Chief Executive of Pakistan threatened India with dire consequences by the use of nuclear weapons. Even China was threatened earlier with the use of ultimate weapons by the USA. Therefore, so long as China did not have the bomb, the USA belittled its importance by calling it a paper tiger. But once they had it China effectively developed it into a major strategic force combining both tactical and strategic nuclear warheads. India too takes pride in developing its atomic energy for civilian use but it is in a strong dilemma, as ever, to build a nuclear weapon force.

India is a peace-loving country but the last over 50 years of independent existence has cautioned us enough to equally attend to our defence requirements. We may not totally agree with Mao’s dictum that power grows from the barrel of the gun but, at least, for us the gun must be visible to those for whom it matters.

India wants America to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. But what are America’s compulsions to be on the side of India against Pakistan?

The Americans give an all-out support to China despite their human rights violations and this is not for nothing. The USA is China’s main economic partner. The Americans have invested billions of dollars in China. On the other hand, what stakes does America has in India? None except that the two are the largest democracies in the world.

India must create congenial conditions for outside investors, including the USA to invest heavily in this country. That situation will result in the convergence of their politico-economic and military interests. Until then India has to depend on its own capabilities to safeguard its interests.
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Censorship in “free” Britain
From Tony Geraghty in London

CENSORSHIP arrived on my doorstep before dawn one December morning in 1998 on 12 legs, two of them female. As a nocturnal Celt I am not at my best before 10 a.m. So when I answered the insistent knock, I had to count the legs and divide by two in order to register the reality of freedom of expression in Blair’s Britain. A team of six detectives from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) clustered together on the path before my tiny cottage in Herefordshire, southern England. In the gloom they might have been a collective, pantomime dragon.

Undeterred by the fact that I am a civilian and that their jurisdiction covers defence property and people, they arrested me and searched the house (including the soiled linen) for almost eight hours. When they left, my computer, files and floppies went with them, never to return. I was ushered into their unmarked car and we went in search of the local nick. I, their prisoner, had to direct them there so that they could begin a five-hour session of interrogation and imprisonment.

The cause of all this fuss is still, in some significant details, unclear but I gathered that it all had to do with my most recent book, The Irish War, an account of The Troubles. They have got me into trouble more than once. During the illegal military curfew imposed upon Falls Road, Belfast, in 1970 I was arrested at gunpoint (theirs, not mine) and accused of behaviour likely to break the peace. As it happened I was the only person in sight who was not armed and dangerous. . . . But that is another story.

This time, to judge from the questions put to me, the trouble was that I had mentioned the generic names of some software programmes and had somehow breached Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1989. There was one small problem with this scenario. Nothing I had written had damaged military security (as the law sensibly requires for a crime of this sort to be proved). Nor had I put lives at risk. Even more curious, those pursuing me already had a shrewd idea that they were barking up the wrong tree. My own inquiries since have confirmed that the MoD knew that I had caused embarrassment to one or two sensitive souls but no damage to military operations.

Thirteen months later a newly appointed Attorney-General, Lord Williams of Mostyn, intervened to halt the prosecution of me. I had lost most of a year’s work — a serious matter for a professional, self-employed writer — and much else. The MoD felt confident enough to write to my publisher, HarperCollins, strongly advising the firm not to publish the paperback version of a book that remained on sale as a hardback, untouched by official action. HarperCollins, colluding with this act of censorship, obligingly suppressed the book.

My work as military consultant to a television drama team was blighted by the MoD’s warning that I was, effectively, blacklisted from setting foot on military property. The drama, entitled Bomber and screened as a two-parter earlier this month , was shot at an army camp.

The knife was twisted further by a claim that the “damage” I had caused was financial — around 170,000 (US $ 272,000), the alleged cost of changing software names — and that I should be forced to make it good. And then, coincidentally, came a series of poison pen letters and telephone calls to my allies around the country, made by an anonymous “friend of Tony Geraghty”, and calculated to blacken my reputation. What might have started as a legal process now looked more like a private vendetta.

To begin to comprehend this bizarre series of events it is necessary to look at what television drama calls “the back story”. Over the years, as an experienced military writer, I have learned to trust my sources and discuss with them, on equal terms, the way I am shaping their experiences. It is a sophisticated version of the journalistic lobby system. I have learned not to trust the officially appointed channels for such transactions. The MoD has more than one. Civilian writers are expected to volunteer their unpublished work for “clearance” by the Secretary of the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

This body includes token journalists to give it a patina of democratic cover. In practice, manuscripts submitted to it by gullible, if patriotic, authors are leaked to a variety of departments, ranging from the intelligence service MI5 to the SAS. These in turn run a textual analysis on the material and begin a mole hunt for the author’s sources. How do I know that such leaks occur? Because I was the intended beneficiary of one: a proof copy of the uncensored version of Mark Urban’s book about Ireland, Big Boys’ Rules.

The other, more powerful censorship team is run from the secretariat, home and special forces of MoD. It is this department which feels sufficiently confident to instruct publishers what they will and will not publish, without troubling with such trifles as injunctions or other legal processes. Through the back stairs of the ministry, the avuncular secretary of the D-notice committee, as my inquiries have discovered, works in practice for the secretariat, a body which does not include journalists among its ranks.

In August 1998, two months before The Irish War was due to appear, the secretary — a retired rear-admiral-contacted HarperCollins, seeking sight of part of the book devoted to the activities of the SAS. I refused access. Not only did I distrust the system: I had tried, at the outset of my research, to involve the army at a senior level, on lobby terms, in my attempt to reconstruct the essential truths of Britain’s last colonial war. This time, following an unannounced restriction on cooperation of that sort, I was left to go my own way. That was no problem. But I assuredly resented the implication that when the work was done, I would accept the hidden hand of the censor to edit the manuscript. I said as much to HarperCollins.

The admiral was not a happy sailor. He took advice and decided to let the matter go rather than seek an injunction and accept the odium of public censorship. Had he followed that legal route, it would have blown the hypocritical cover that the D-notice system is voluntary. Still, he wrote to say that once the book was published he would look at it again and notify HarperCollins of anything he thought necessary. The book appeared. He took no action. But his controller in secretariat, home and special forces, did move. The result was the raid on my home; two interrogation sessions, an appearance in the dock at Bow Street magistrates court and prosecution for an offence which, on conviction, could have put me in prison for two years.

At the end of it all, the crown prosecution service concluded that there was insufficient evidence against me. Or, to put it another way, the prosecution did not have a viable case. The MoD will not have entirely wasted its time. The next time an author is invited to “volunteer” his work for censorship, he will think twice before refusing. Refusal, as my case demonstrates, may be followed by a year’s harassment, threat of financial ruin and imprisonment. That is how it is in the kingdom of the Blair, where the one-eyed man, if he is wise, will pretend to be as blind as the rest.

There is no unalloyed pleasure in this life, even in Government. The negative outcome of the aborted action against me will tempt some bold writers to use classified documents without inhibition in future, so long as they avoid damage. The signs are that this is beginning to happen. Within days of my release from official harassment, BBC Radio 4 uniquely announced that it was quoting from “classified” military material to reveal shortcomings in the British invasion of Kosovo. Clearly, knowledge of such failures would help the next potential enemy. But no one seemed anxious to raid the BBC or arrest its excellent correspondent, Andrew Gilligan.

By arrangement with The Guardian
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75 years ago

February 16, 1925
An Important Judgement

A JUDGEMENT of considerable importance to the world of journalism has just been delivered by the Lord Chief Justice of England. It appears that the editor and publisher of the “Evening News” had been asked to show cause why they should not be committed for contempt of court for reporting the charge to the Grand Jury in the Hobbs case.

In discharging the rule, His Lordship said that it was too late in the day to argue that newspapers were not entitled to report charges to Grand Juries.

It was a serious misfortune that such a charge was delivered. But that was no reason why the newspaper should be punished for publishing an agency report which was, on the whole, accurate and fair.

The words are certainly of importance beyond the limits of the particular case.

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