Pressing Times

Gujarat elections are round the corner. Which newspaper is batting for which team? Team Sonia or Team Modi?

With their pages littered with B-grade Hindi film references like Maut Ka Saudagar, Sonia-Modi standoffs are the stuff which earn news organisations their bread and butter. So even if there isn’t a standoff, obviously one will be created. While Sonia Gandhi going to campaign in Gujarat is of course big news, was it also a chance for our hallowed newspapers to make a statement of loyalty?

 OCT 2, 2012

The Hindustan Times carried no news of the elections on its front page. On page 10, it carried the headline – Modi reinvents temple agenda, includes Dalits with a blurb – Poll tricks: Gujarat CM’s book on Ram temple redefines the movement, earlier seen as socially divisive Hindutva campaign. The report focused on a statement in Narendra Modi’s recent book. Not to miss the words “poll tricks”. A tad biased since he’s not the first politician to make such pre-election statements.

The second report, Sonia to start poll campaign with Rajkot rally on Oct 3 simply detailed the when and where of Sonia’s farmers’ rally. But the starting paragraph mentions Modi’s “stinging” attacks.

The third news report, 2-phase elections in Gujarat, 1 for Himachal Pradesh predicted the phases of the elections which were later announced by the Election Commission.

The front page news report in The Asian Age, Sonia rally on Modi turf maintained a neutral tone. “Gujarat PCC chief Arjun Modhwadia asked on Monday… described Mr Modi as Natwarlal’ and Nirmal Baba’ and drew attention to how former chief minister Keshubhai Patel was criticising the CM.”

On page 2 of The Asian Age the news report, Cong confident of managing numbers displayed a slight pro-Congress bias. There were two other news reports, Parties rush on candidate list and Cong: Gujarat CM allegation irresponsible which maintained the same neutral reporting style.

Now when it came to The Indian Express, there was a front page report, Modi gets Namo TV before polls with a blurb Gujarat BJP’s channel to begin broadcast next week on cable networks. The tone was neutral and simply narrated the details of the channel named after Modi which would begin its trial broadcasts.

The Hindu, The Telegraph and The Times of India carried NO news on the elections.

 OCT 3, 2012

The Hindu had no news of the elections on page 1. On page 13, its report RTI activists, Congress question Modi’s claim on Sonia expenses quite ambivalently described how the RTI activists quoted by Modi had said that the amount is Rs 82.84 lakh and not Rs. 1880 crore and that Modi himself is yet to give figures of his travel expenditure.

The Hindustan Times on page 1 carried a report, Modi attacks Sonia again, launches personality war with the blurb, Cong hits back Digvijaya calls rant Nazi-style propaganda. The tone of the news report definitely had an anti-Modi slant. And said that Modi’s comment could be viewed as “Modi’s attempt to turn campaign into personality battle and gloss over local issues”. The report also mentioned Digvijay Singh comparing Modi to Goebbels, but seemed to not comment on how un-kosher it is to compare one’s Opposition to the Nazis.

The Telegraph on page 4 carried a report, Modi stirs up Sonia treatment cost row which elaborated all the facts, including Digvijay’s “Nazi” remarks. Although it left out the fact that these comments were made on Twitter.

The Asian Age report Diggy likens Modi to Nazi Goebbels on the front page maintained a neutral tone while putting across the details of the Nazi Goebbels comment in Diggy’s tweets.

The news report on page 2 maintained the same neutrality. Cong: Modi claim a white lie, simply stating the facts of who said what.

The Times of India had no election coverage on the front page. On page 9, Modi engages Sonia in 2007 redux with the blurb BJP questions Cong chief’s travel expenses, starts ‘personal’ attack had a neutral tone while mentioning the ‘maut ka saudagar’ remark.

The Indian Express on its front page carried a report, Sonia tours: BJP, Modi cash in on 1,880-cr ‘error’. The article began with the fact that Modi’s figure of “1880 cr” was wrong and that he is still sticking to it. And went on to give details of the news agency from which the story was first sourced and which is now denying it.

Its page 4 article, Gujarat Cong pins hopes on Sonia rally had a distinct cheerleader tone and detailed the Congress plans and what its moves will be in the election.

 OCT 4, 2012

The Hindu finally carried a Front page story on the coming elections in Gujarat. Gujarat polls announced even as rivals trade charges with its blurb CIC says Sonia has not sought reimbursement of medical bills maintained a neutral tone. And commented on the allegations and counter-allegations laid out by both Congress and BJP. At one place, though, it did say Sonia Gandhi valiantly defended the reform package.

The Times of India on its front page carried a news report Heats begin for 2014 race as EC sets Guj & HP poll dates with the blurb, Strong show by Cong may boost reforms. They even had a graphic. There was a table listing the current number of seats of the states going to polls, with a full page of coverage on page 15.

The lead article, Win in Guj can make Cong magnet for ‘secular’ allies with the blurb Defeat could only send it on a downward spiral spoke of what lies in store for Congress in cases of victory or defeat. “A win in Modi-ruled state could have the seminal impact of making Congress the magnet for “secular” allies and pan-Indian Muslim support while a victory in Himachal will reassure Congress that the stench of 2G scam and Coalgate has not rendered rules of normal politics irrelevant.”

The following article, Sonia sidesteps Modi’s travel expense salvo spoke of how Sonia started her “fiery but careful” campaign, what she did in Gujarat, where she went etc. There was a related article, Cong has no moral right to talk about corruption: BJP, which included Rajiv Pratap Rudy’s comments.

The third article, Sonia didn’t claim medical bills: CIC, mentioned that the CIC had said that Sonia didn’t seek reimbursement of medical expenses of Rs 1880 crore from the government as alleged by Modi.

The entire page of coverage had a strong unmissable pro-Sonia bias, with the first two articles rah-rahing for Sonia, all the way.

The Indian Express’ front page article, Sonia targets Modi’s record, avoids taking him on directly was as pro-Sonia as possible, putting even TOI to shame. The entire article was about what Sonia did and said at the Rajkot rally.

On page 2 of IE, both the articles Gujarat Assembly polls on Dec 13, 17 and Govt did not pay Sonia’s bills: CIC, maintained a neutral tone.

The Telegraph carried just a graph of the details of the election on the front page. Its article Gujarat poll test for Modi’s Delhi plan on page 4 was very speculative of what the poll holds for Modi’s futures, based purely on the quote of an MP from Jharkhand. Whom they don’t even name.

The following article, Sonia sets poll agenda stayed away from speculation although it did state that Sonia “learnt a lesson”.

The Asian Age maintained a neutral tone across its articles. From the front page Sonia fires graft salvo back at Modi in Rajkot which quotes from her speech but mentions that she skipped mention of her travel expenses. Gujarat polls on Dec. 13, 17 was one of the few newspaper reports to mention that the CEC will keep an eye out for “paid news”. Cong not to project CMs in Gujarat, HP on page 2 did mention that Modi is having problems with Sangh leaders based in Delhi. Sonia: BJP has double standards quoted her speech at Rajkot. And BJP says attack is not personal maintained the neutral reportage style.

The ideological leanings of newspapers are an open secret. However, the papers have displayed a welcome neutrality in reportage. But sentences like “a win in Modi-ruled state could have the seminal impact of making Congress the magnet for ‘secular’ allies and pan-Indian Muslim support” should be in an editorial instead of a story in the middle of a newspaper. Ironically, it’s in a paper not really known for editorials. Now let’s wait and watch whether the newspapers start displaying their true ideologies closer to the election dates. Only time will tell.


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  • Brajesh

    Welcome exercise of scrutiny of political leanings the media houses have.

  • Smita

    This study is going to keep the writer occupied until December :))))

    The biases were clear long ago. The slants are too blatant to wonder about any paper’s neutrality. This is a good confirmation of the hypotheis.

  • Erik

    Now a day Indian media touched all lows. Their biases are well known. But when i read your(Aastha) article then a hope is evoked in my heart that very few unbiased journalist also exist in Indian media. Thanks for your service to nation. Great thanks from bottoms of my heart…