Hot Off The Press
Did the newspapers maintain their objectivity while reporting on Kejriwal’s second salvo against Vadra?
Arvind Kejriwal announced new revelations about the DLF-Vadra “nexus” – to borrow a word from the newspapers – at his press conference yesterday. So we all knew what would make the front pages today. But did the newspapers display objectivity and give us the analysis and details we seek from them? Or were we left wanting, and gasping at the biases which shone through the articles?
Headline - Kejriwal demands independent IT probe into Vadra-DLF dealings.
Blurb - Calls for White Paper from Haryana on land transfer.
Positioning- Half page 4-column lead story on Page 1 with attached graphic titled “Vadra in a vortex. Facing the Heat”.
Tone - What Hindu kept out of its very to-the-point and non-dramatic headline, could not be kept out of its news report. The title of the graphic using words like “vortex” and “facing the heat”, conjured up a vision of Vadra being sucked into Dante’s inferno. Not to miss the report’s reference to the “smoking gun” charges made by Kejriwal.
It also spoke of the IAC’s demand for a White Paper and an independent judicial probe on the subject. Once again it’s the use of words which gave away whose side Hindu seems to be on – it mentions DLF “bestowing favours” on Mr Vadra’s companies. There were more details of the allegations, not on the front page, but in the continuing story on page 12.
ANOTHER STORY ON PAGE 1
Headline - Shocked at Kejriwal’s ferocity, Congress distances itself from Vadra; Hooda in the firing line too.
Positioning - Half page 5-column story on the bottom half.
Body - The first part of the story sums up the mood inside the Congress but with no sources to back it up except an unnamed party functionary. Includes words like Kejriwal’s “frontal” attack on Vadra, the “ferocity” of the attack and describes party spokesman Rashid Alvi’s responses as “feeble”.
The second part of the story talks about the focus now shifting to Haryana CM Bhupinder Hooda, “already under fire for the… law and order situation in the state”. It lists a response by a state government spokesperson and also mentions Corporate Affairs Minister M Veerappa Moily’s words giving a clean chit to the business deals between Vadra and DLF.
ANOTHER STORY ON PAGE 12
Headline - No land meant for hospital given to DLF.
Positioning - Quarter page 6-column story on top of page
Body - Gives a history of the disputed land and statements by Director-General of the Town and Country Planning Department. It’s here on Page 12 that it says that the land mentioned by Kejriwal is under litigation.
Headline - More than law, a question of propriety.
Blurb - Can the Prime Minister re-assure us that the Gandhi family connection had no role to play in the Vadra-DLF transactions?
Written by Vivek Katju – a diplomat who retired as Secretary, MEA earlier this year.
Postioning - Top 1/3rd of Op-Ed page.
Body - Bringing up what Mahatma Gandhi would have thought and suggested the writer says that this is more “a matter of propriety” than legality. Which were also Shiv Viswanathan’s exact words on NDTV 24X7 the evening before.
Headline - IAC and DLF: point-counterpoint on Vadra’s deals.
Positioning - More than 1/3rd of the page.
Body - Mentioning that the sources are press releases of DLF and IAC press releases, it raises – point by point – the allegations by IAC, clarifications by DLF and their subsequent rebuttal by IAC again. And stays away from any hyperbole. A collation of all the allegations that the reader otherwise would have had to wade through a number of news reports to understand.
Headline - Kejriwal says Hooda govt favoured DLF, Cong trashes charge.
Positioning - Half page 2-column story on with a graphic titled “Latest Accusations”.
Body - The graphic gives a short timeline of the land transfer from 2006-09. The simple, vanilla story mentions that Kejriwal “alleged” a nexus between Haryana govt and DLF with whom Vadra had a business association. The report mentions the accusations by Kejriwal, the clarification by the Haryana government and Rashid Alvi’s statements denouncing the allegations.
Nice subtle use of the word “trashes” in the headline. We’d mention the other articles, but there weren’t any.
The Indian Express
Headline - Kejriwal presents “evidence” of deal, Haryana and DLF reject allegations.
Positioning - Quarter page 2-column story. Says “Full Coverage on Page 3”.
Body - Story continues on Page 2 as quarter page 5-column story. It’s interesting that some of Kejriwal’s allegations are conveyed to the reader by way of DLF’s denials to them. Others are stated as is. There are also clarifications by HSIIDC MD and the Director-General of the Town and Country planning department.
Stories on Page 3
Headline - Congress hits back, questions IAC funds.
Positioning - Quarter page 3-column story
Body - Contains rebuttals mostly by Rashid Alvi and by Renuka Chowdhary, dismissing the allegations and questioning IAC’s funds.
Headline - Anna skips Vadra issue, calls for poll reforms.
Positioning - Small 2-column story on the right hand side.
Body - Quotes Anna Hazare’s blog post and says that he has “steered clear” of the Robert Vadra controversy “unleashed” by his former deputy. Objective reporting at its best!
Headline - BJP targets Kejriwal, but calls for probe into charges against Vadra.
Positioning - Quarter page two-column story.
Body - Says that BJP has dubbed Kejriwal as a “Congress agent” but has asked for a probe into the Vadra allegations. Includes quotes from BJP leaders Nirmala Sitharaman against Congress and Vijay Goel against Kejriwal.
Headline - No violations by Vadra’s firms: Moily.
Positioining - 3-column story
Body - Says that the Corporate Affairs Minister has said that his ministry couldn’t find anything wrong in the dealings by Vadra’s firms. Also quotes Chidambaram’s Monday statements refusing to comment on the issue.
Other than some slightly dramatic words, IE tried to err on side of objectivity in its reporting.
The Times of India
Headline - Kejriwal escalates attack on Vadra-DLF Haryana “nexus”.
Blurb - Company, State Govt, Congress Deny Fresh Allegations.
Positioning - Half page 4-column lead story with a “Point, Counterpoint” graphic mentioning IAC’s allegations and DLF and Haryana government’s clarifications.
Body - Apart from the usual information, the article named three other groups that Kejriwal has “hinted” he may be preparing against, something none of the other newspapers mentioned. Also dwelt on the charges of quid pro quo that IAC has made.
Headline – “Hooda forced farmers to sell land”.
Blurb - Haryana Govt rigged bidding terms to favour DLF, says Kejriwal.
Positioning - Half page 4-column story with “Times View” and a cartoon by Jug Suraiya and Ajit Ninan.
Body - Mainly included quotes from Kejriwal on issues of how farmers were forced to sell land after being served acquisition notices, the Haryana government’s role and his “mocking” of Congress ministers for coming to Vadra’s defence. However, the “Times View” section – TOI’s submission to taking an editorial stance – while appreciating Kejriwal’s role in bringing corruption to the fore, did advise him against grandstanding.
A related one column story headlined “Desi Assange” hits “DLF Maximum” mentions the tweets regarding “Part II” of Kejriwal’s revelations. How can we deprive TOI of a dash of sensationalism, when it seems to be the more restrained of the newspapers in the city reporting on the matter?
Headline - Mango people makes its way into public discourse.
Positioning - Quarter page 3-column story
Body - And then just as we are reeling from the balanced reporting and revelation of new information by TOI, we get this utterly pointless article about the phrases “mango people” and “banana republic” becoming part of the political lexicon of the country after Robert Vadra’s facebook status update.
Headline - End The Nexus.
Blurb - Robert Vadra needs to answer allegations, land market distortions must be corrected.
Positioning - Lead editorial on the left hand side.
Body - The edit said that IAC has “by no means advanced proof of its allegations”, the questions raised are serious and deserving of an answer from Vadra. It also calls his facebook post “aristocratic disdain” and adds that the “joke is on him”.
Points a finger at the BJP for not taking the issue up as well as it should because it is an “open secret” in India how relatives leverage politicians’ position.
So what did the newspapers tell us today, that we didn’t know yesterday? The news channels last evening, after running panel discussions on the revelations at 9 pm, were strangely silent on the matter at 10 pm. At least we can safely say that Vadra-fatigue hasn’t set into the newspapers yet – well for all but one newspaper at least.
You can’t ignore Hindustan Times’ short and sweet reporting on the incident. Did they think there’s not much more to say on the topic? Or were their business and political reporters on leave? Or do they think they’d wasted enough newsprint on the DLF-Vadra allegations? Questions, questions. The Brothers Jain’s TOI can’t be regarded with much “aristocratic disdain” anymore, now that they’ve once again carried detailed and balanced reports for the fifth day in a row. And The Hindu while revealing its mastery over the language, displayed its journalistic chops in this report which appeared on October 8, 2012. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/behind-robert-vadras-fortune-a-maze-of-questions/article3975214.ece?homepage=true.
It’s tough to strike a fine balance out there, but our newspapers seem to be trying their darndest to do so.
Disclosure: the newspapers mentioned are all the Delhi editions
Image By – Swarnabha Banerjee