HT’s defence of the Frontline story isn’t convincing

WrittenBy:NL Team

It all began yesterday when Frontline reported on how the Centre is keeping a tab on the Delhi government. Segments of the report made one of Hindustan Times’s executive editors, Shishir Gupta, look like, ummm, a lobbyist rather than a journalist.


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According to Right to Information (RTI) replies accessed by Frontline, Gupta had written an email to Bharatiya Janata Party national president Amit Shah and Officer on Special Duty in the Prime Minister’s Office, Hiren Joshi, apprising them of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s alleged indiscretions. Notably, the email did not list any questions to the two that could be interpreted as a journalistic enquiry. But in a clarification masquerading as a report, HT reiterated Gupta’s explanation to Frontline, that the email had been a request for a comment.

On Page 7 — the city page of the paper — HT has carried a report by an HT Correspondent on HT’s statement on the whole issue. It would have been easier for the paper to have issued a clarification by the editor on Page 1. But no. The report states that HT denies allegations levelled by Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, without giving much weight to Frontline’s story.

It goes on to add that Gupta’s email to Shah and Co did not have specific questions because he had already sought their comments in a phone call. Here’s the broad sequence of events according to HT.

Shishir Gupta (on phone): Hi Amit Shah and people at PMO, I need your comments for a story on the Centre’s conflict with the Delhi government. 

Amit Shah and PMO (on phone): Okay, but can you send us an ‘outline’ of your story. 

Shishir Gupta (on phone): Sure. 

[Gupta Sends email with the subject “KEJRIWAL AGAINST CENTRE” outlining nine points out of which only one point makes it to a real story. Does not mention the earlier conversation. Does not reemphasise the need for Amit Shah and PMO to respond with their comments. Does not even state the deadline they should keep in mind.]

No wonder Gupta didn’t receive a response to his alleged queries.

The concluding paragraph of the report-cum-clarification is special. It states that the PMO acted on Gupta’s email because his “reporting struck a chord”. That’s really powerful reporting — it ‘struck a chord’ with the government before a report even appeared on the pages of HT.

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