Project Pegasus in media: 'Unacceptable', 'attack on democracy'...and a 'hoax', according to Arnab

The news was front and centre for the four main English newspapers.

ByNL Team
Project Pegasus in media: 'Unacceptable', 'attack on democracy'...and a 'hoax', according to Arnab
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The Pegasus Project continues to make front-page headlines given the stunning revelations that the Wire released last evening. The breath of potential targets of Pegasus spyware is sweeping — names include Rahul Gandhi, Prashant Kishor, Ashok Lavasa, Gagandeep Kang, the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India of rape, and more. The most awkward of names on the list was perhaps that of the current Railways and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who’s tasked with the onerous job defending the government on the hacking charges and maintaining that all is indeed well in India’s surveillance regime.

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Unlike yesterday, the Hindu today gave the story front-page prominence and made it the lead story. The headline notes: “Rahul, Prashant Kishore, Ex-EC Lavasa on list of spyware targets”. The Hindu’s home affairs reporter Vijaita Singh also finds herself on the list of 40 journalists who were targeted but the Hindu has decided to not mention her name in its reportage, at least in print. While this may have something to do with that old-school sentimentality of "journalists not becoming the news", such an omission is thoroughly outdated considering what is at stake here – press freedom.

The Hindu also had an oped by Internet Freedom Foundation – headlined “Surveillance reform is the need of the hour” – detailing the use of hacking software to target journalists and how existing provisions are insufficient to protect them. Page 13 was devoted to how the leak was discussed in Parliament and by the Opposition, what the WhatsApp CEO said about it, and further details on potential targets.

The Indian Express meanwhile continued to do a better job than the Hindu, and its peers among the Big Four. Express yesterday named its journalists on the list, and had a quote from its editor. Today the lead stories mentioned names of political leaders on the list with separate stories on the CJI accuser and how 11 phone numbers related to her are on the list – three of her own, and eight of her husband’s.

Hindustan Times had Pegasus as its lead story on the front page, focusing on politicians and others who were potential targets, including the CJI accuser, and Amit Shah’s insistence that the report is “by the disrupters for the obstructers”.

HT’s editorial also called out the surveillance as “unacceptable”, saying that if the allegations are true, it throws up “deeply disturbing questions about the source of the hack and represents a subversion of India’s constitutional democracy”. “If the Indian government has done this,” the editorial said, “it is a betrayal of the constitutional compact with citizens.”

The Times of India’s front page headlines had no mention of Rahul Gandhi and others on the so-called snoop list.

The lead headline is somewhat sympathetic to the Prime Minister stating that “he was unable to introduce new ministers”. Consider the lead paragraph of the lead report and it’s pretty clear the main story for TOI is the pains the prime minister is having to go through in Parliament.

"With opposition sloganeering preventing the introduction of newly inducted ministers in the Lok Sabha Monday, PM Modi hit back at BJP’s political rivals, saying certain people are not ready to stomach that a large number of farmers, Dalits, adivasis, women and others from backward castes have been included in his council of ministers."

The second story again was headlined to present the government’s stance: “‘Attempt to defame India’: Govt pushes back as fresh allegations of snooping emerge”.

Fresh names of those on the list – arguably the story of the day – found space in the second paragraph of this story. TOI, however, failed to mention that the CJI accuser and her husband were also on the list of potential targets.

TOI’s editorial page does a better job of being more direct. It carried a lead editorial which presents a newspaper’s view on an issue on the question of abuse of civil liberties: "Whether or not Pegasus was bought and used by government agencies should ideally be determined via a credible inquiry. At stake is a vital question: Were journalists, activists and others being officially spied on? Chatter on this will continue till a convincing answer is available."

Meanwhile, the Guardian today had a front page that’s got everyone chatting on Twitter.

Back home, the most shouty man on TV continues to do a better job of party spokesperson that the official Sambit Patra. Arnab Goswami on Republic called on ANI editor Smita Prakash, Suhel "why-is-he-still-a-thing" Seth, Sambit Patra, Mohandas Pai, Warris Pathan and others to trash the Pegasus reports as "flop show", "hoax" and "fiction". Prakash complained that there are no big names on the list, and why didn’t the list have Opposition leaders like Arvind Kejriwal or Owaisi or Sharad Pawar?

Meanwhile, Seth said many people not on the list are upset. All we can say is that there’s more to come and that he shouldn’t lost hope. Goswami’s prime grouse is that the reports are not definitive, and use words like "alleged snooping" or "possible targets". That doesn’t come as a surprise for a man who spun wild theories on an actors murder for TRPs. The spin on TV by usual suspects has only begun though.

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