Veteran journalist Mahesh Vijapurkar, who spent over three decades reporting fot the Hindu, has raised the point on the words, 'accused' and 'suspect' which are used by journalists incorrectly. This has reference to stories in newspapers today (February 3, 2011).
Is D Raja, the former Telecom Minister, an "accused" in the 2G scam? Is Ashok Chavan, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, an accused in the Adarsh apartments scam? And the rest of the people arrested or named in the FIRs filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation also accused?
The tendency with the media is to cite them as accused. That would be incorrect. For, a person is "accused" only when formally charged in a court of law; till then, he is a suspect or held for questioning in custody.
Were I to accuse a person of stealing my pen from my desk, it does not make him one. He has to be found to have taken it and to find out whether he did or not, the authorities may take the suspect in custody to question him. Mere fact of being taken away does not turn him into an offender but a mere 'suspicion' of being one.
Chances are a person detained - like Raja and his two aides - may turn out to be suspects, hypothetically speaking, and witnesses but not liable later to be accused.
Then what words should we use to describe these worthies?
Media used the findings of the Comprtoller & Auditor General of India (CAG) to expose the racket in telecom spectrum allocation which points to mischief in the department.The mischief was perpetrated by
someone or the other or several persons but who among those who worked in the ministry? Question Raja may help find out. There are reasons a person is detained and court's permission sought for custodial questioning so that he does not tamper with the evidence.
Till such time the chargesheet is filed, the person would be a 'suspect'. Being named in an FIR would be "implicating" as a possible accused - that is a suspect.
Time and again, media is far too generous with the use of the term accused.
There have been reports when police are looking for unknown accused!