Posts Tagged ‘Ajmer Singh’

Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta & Gen V.K. Singh

24 September 2013

For the second time in 18 months, the northern edition of Viveck Goenka‘s Indian Express (sold in the south as The National Standard) has been drawn into a blazing row between the Congress-led UPA government and the then (and now retired) chief of the Army staff, General V.K. Singh.

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In April 2012, the Express put out a front-page, full-page, eight-column, triple-decker banner-headlined story that on the day Gen Singh’s petition before the Supreme Court on his date of birth was coming up on January 16, 2012, two units of the Indian Army had moved towards Delhi

In effect, that Express story—bylined “by Shekhar Gupta, Ritu Sarin, Pranab Dhal Samanta, with Ajmer Singh“—was making the thinly disguised insinuation that the general had tried to stage a coup in the national capital but without using the dreaded “C” word.

The Express story was denied by defence minister A.K. Antony, and most newspapers punched holes in the Express story, but the paper stuck to its guns.

express

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Last Friday, September 20—five days after Gen Singh had shared the dais with the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” Narendra Damodardas Modi—the Express front-paged an eight-column, double-decker, half-page story, by Ritu Sarin, that a unit set up by Gen Singh had, among other things, tried to topple the Jammu & Kashmir government headed by Omar Abdullah.

In effect, a “C” minor.

But unlike the first occasion, when the General was still in his uniform and constrained from speaking out on its veracity, this time he has let loose a volley of personal criticism on Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, who has a demonstrated record of top-flight reporting on defence matters, both at Express and his previous port of call, India Today magazine.

First, on Twitter, General Singh called Shekhar Gupta a “UPA stooge” and gave oxygen to a number of unsubstantiated charges on his assets and income-tax returns, even drawing Gupta’s spouse, Neelam Jolly, into the picture.

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Then, on the 9 pm news on television, after he had filed an application under the right to information seeking the Army report on which Express said it had based its story, General Singh went for the jugular, both against Express and its editor.

In an interview with Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now, Gen Singh said:

“This paper first accuses me of trying to topple the government in Delhi, now it accuses me of trying to topple the government in J&K…. How did Indian Express know about it? If there is a leak (of the Army report) to a paper, why can’t it be made available to me?

“I don’t consider Indian Express a newspaper which can be believed. Sorry. A paper which can dub a movement of two units on simple mobilization as a ‘coup’ should be thrown out into the wastepaper basket.”

Express reported the latter criticism in its editions today, quoting Times Now, but conveniently excised the middle portion, which questioned the veracity of its April 2012 “C” report.

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Then, in an interview Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, Gen Singh answered a few questions:

Who is behind this ‘motivated report’?

When I say motivated, I am only going by what the Indian Express has reported. With my previous experience of their putting out a ‘coup’ story, I feel it is highly motivated…. If a newspaper can have this report or parts of this report, I think I as a person directly affected must have a copy.

Sir, you have also today on social media made comments about the editor of the Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta.

I don’t know if it is a personal battle for him. If a person comes to my house, has a meal, understands the situation, then goes and does a banner headline on spooking the government, and a coup, based on two units that moved, what was the agenda?

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In an interview with Nitin A. Gokhale, NDTV‘s defence editor, 17 days before the Express report, Gen Singh said:

(M)isunderstandings are created deliberately by people who hobnob with certain journalists, who seem to be having an axe to grind and there are some of them very prominent ones. Why the axe is there to grind, whether it is because they have been bought over or something else I really can’t comment on. But it appears quite obvious.

In this particular instance there was, you know, banner headlines. Army is spying, Army is bugging, Army is doing A, B and C…

I have tried to clarify it once earlier.  But I find same reports keep coming up. In fact this great paper called Indian Express had done the same report with just a minor variation of figure by the same reporter couple of months back. He has brought it up again, same thing no change in it, just a minor variation. So much for the journalistic talent that this paper has….

For a paper to say Rs 8 crore is missing, have they seen the logbooks? Have they gone through the details?  They haven’t. No, I think lot of things that this paper has been doing is totally wrong.

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While the rest of mainstream media stayed silent on the Twitter war between Gen Singh and Shekhar Gupta, it briefly popped up as a news item on NewsX, the news channel.

But, on social media, as the paper’s reputation was taking a pounding, the Indian Express scion Anant Goenka felt it fit to enter the debate (here, here).

#”To the haters: you can allege a variety of vested interests but our history shows we take up issues that no one else has the courage….

#”Fact is that Express is and has always been feared because we don’t care who hates us…I think our readers expect nothing less from us.”

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Update: NewsX, which put out a news report on V.K. Singh’s allegations against Shekhar Gupta, issued a clarification on 14 October 2013:

“News X would like to clarify that its report of September 23 in no capacity an endorsement of the claim or reflects the editorial view held by the channel with regard to Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekha Gupta. News X was only reporting the Tweets as put out by the General on his individual account.”

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Also read: What they are saying about Express ‘sue’ report

Adolf Hitler reacts to Indian Express ‘C’ report

Is the Indian Express a pro-establishment newspaper?

After the full-page report, the full-page ad

4 May 2012

Mail Today‘s outstanding political cartoonist, R. Prasad, on the irony of newspapers running advertisements from the controversial truck maker, Tatra, when it is at the heart of a major corruption scandal involving the Indian Army.

Among the newspapers which received the full-page ad is The Indian Express, whose controversial full-page report on the coup that wasn’t was vital ammunition in the battle between the outgoing Army chief, General V.K. Singh, and the Congress-led UPA government.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Also read: Indian Express ‘C’ report: scoop, rehash or spin?

Indian Express stands by its ‘C’ report

How the media viewed the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Aditya Sinha tears into the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Adolf Hitler reacts to the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Adolf Hitler reacts to Indian Express ‘C’ report

2 May 2012

Just as the journalistic world was consigning the Indian Express ‘C’ report—the full page, three-deck headline, three-byline story of the coup that wasn’t—to the dustbin of history, the Fuhrer steps in.

Also read: Indian Express ‘C’ report: scoop, rehash or spin?

Indian Express stands by its ‘C’ report

How the media viewed the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Aditya Sinha tears into the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Aditya Sinha tears into Indian Express ‘C’ report

8 April 2012

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of DNA, in his weekly column:

“There was a telephone call from my father, who lives abroad, a few days ago. He wanted to know if it was true that the Army had planned to attack Delhi back in January, as reported in The Indian Express. Don’t worry, I said, no such thing. If the Army Chief had planned a coup to ensure he spent another year in office, then he wouldn’t have filed a petition on his date of birth in the Supreme Court.

“When we rang off, it seemed that there must be many ordinary Indians far and near who were scared by this story. What a shame. And the author tried to camouflage the cynical timing of the story (immediately after the government’s ugly spat with the Army Chief) by saying the story took 11 weeks to materialise.

“That would be credible if the story was loaded with data or fieldwork, like a story on child malnutrition in Maharashtra, for instance; it wasn’t. Even an RTI application gets answered in less time (though no RTI request would have generated such a cock-and-bull story).

“At the end of the day, a well-regarded journalist (he reported on the Nellie massacre in Assam nearly 30 years ago) was used by a cynical government. Guess who emerged from this looking diminished….”

“Too many editors in India (mostly the post-superannuation lot) who would never dare publish irreverence because they believe themselves to be part of the ruling class, and that it is their job to steer the country…. [Here] the editor not only values his friendship with the powerful over his devotion to his profession, but never hesitates to make himself the centre of the story.

“Compare men of letters (like Kingsley Amis and Edmund Wilson) with those in India who today have no ideology other than the service of power. Instead of the watchdog of democracy they would rather be the lapdog of crony capitalism.”

Also read: Indian Express ‘C’ report: scoop, rehash or spin?

Indian Express stands by its ‘C’ report

How the media viewed the Indian Express ‘C’ report

Aditya Sinha on the world-view of Delhi journalists

Read the full article: When the watchdog turns lapdog

How the media viewed Express ‘C’ report

5 April 2012

Editorial in Deccan Herald:

“There is reason for deep concern over the report in a national daily, The Indian Express, about an ‘unexpected (and non-notified) movement’ of two army units towards Delhi on the night of January 16-17… To insinuate that General V.K. Singh would attempt a coup to settle scores with the government is downright slanderous. It is an insult to the Indian Army, which has an unblemished record of being an apolitical force. There are enough safeguards in our system to ensure the supremacy of the civilian government over the military.

“It does seem that the newspaper read too much into what was a harmless and routine movement of army units. It should have exercised greater caution and responsibility in reporting the story the way it did.”

Editorial in The Hindu:

“The Indian Express is entirely within its rights to write about a sensitive matter like this, even if its treatment was overblown. Just as it is unfair for anyone to cast aspersions on the Indian Army, it is unfair to question the motives of the journalists who wrote the story.”

Jim Yardley and Hari Kumar in the New York Times:

“The article, splashed across the front page, created a sensation in the Indian news media, stirring a discussion on the country’s all-news channels and on Twitter, where many criticized the Express for, they said, sensationalizing the episode when relations between civilian and military leaders are already fraught….

Uday Bhaskar, a retired Indian Navy commodore, agreed that mistrust between military and civilian leaders had deepened, partly because of the poisonous political environment in New Delhi, which he said was fueled by an increasingly sensationalistic media.”

Sandeep Bamzai in Mail Today:

“A leading daily may have unintentionally extrapolated from the website report and sensationalised the story. Or it may have got it right because as they tell us the event is dated January 16 this year. But to run a story of this magnitude may well be a disservice to media and to national interest. Because now it is not just the Army chief, but the Armed Forces which will be viewed with suspicion.”

Editorial in the Economic Times:

“The overall fallout of the story is to lower both the army chief and the defence minister in public esteem, as those who bumble into a messy civil-military standoff.”

Manoj Joshi in Mail Today:

“In journalism, there are dividing lines that define when a news report informs, analyses, titillates or sensationalises. But there is just one line which separates a report which serves national interest from one which does disservice to it. The report in a national daily, which talks about the movement of two crack Indian Army units towards New Delhi on the night of January 16, not only makes unwarranted conjectures, but in the process, damages the body politic of the country.”

Editorial in the Business Standard:

“A binary choice should not be forced on this discussion. Talk of a coup is absurd and the newspaper report may be alarmist; yet there are questions that must be addressed…. Anything less than direct engagement with the substance of the Express report would serve to further undermine public trust in the institution.”

News item in M.J. Akbar‘s Sunday Guardian:

“Sources involved in tracking sensitive developments claim that a senior minister of the UPA government was the mastermind of the April 4 front page item in a daily newspaper about a suspected coup attempt. The sources claim that the minister is connected – through his close relative – with the defense procurement lobbies gunning for Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh, and that the decision to “trick the newspaper into running a baseless report was to drain away support for General Singh within the political class”, who could be expected to unite against any effort at creating a Pakistan-style situation in India….

“According to these sources,the minister in question “is well-known to senior journalistic levels of the publication” that ran the coup report. A military source was “surprised that the newspaper in question ran such a story,in view of the high level of competence of its senior staff”, but added that ” a senior minister being the source of the initial information would explain their belief in the truth of the report”.

Also read: Indian Express ‘C’ report: scoop, rehash or spin?

Indian Express stands by its ‘C’ report

‘The Indian Express’ stands by its ‘C’ report

4 April 2012

Everybody from the prime minister to the defence minister have dismissed the Indian Express front-page story on the coup that wasn’t in Delhi on the night of January 16-17. Now, the paper has published a formal statement standing by the story on its website.

Below is the full text:

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“The Indian Express report “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt” has, as expected, prompted widespread reaction.

“The report is a meticulous reconstruction and a very sober interpretation of the movement of two key Army units towards New Delhi on the night of January 16-17.

“Investigated over six weeks and written by editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta; chief of investigative bureau Ritu Sarin and deputy editor and chief of the national bureau Pranab Dhal Samanta (with help from assistant editor in the investigative bureau Ajmer Singh), the report draws on highly credible sources.

“They have chosen to be anonymous and the newspaper is committed to protecting their identity.

“The Indian Express sent a detailed questionnaire to the army and the ministry of defence and accurately reported their responses in the report. These responses were reiterated by them on Wednesday.

“Neither side explained why the Ministry of Defence wasn’t notified, why the troops were suddenly asked to go back and what explanation was offered, if any, by the army to the Government.

“There are some in the government and outside who have questioned the report, even calling it “disturbing” and “baseless”. All this, even those comments that attribute false motives, are, we believe, part of a necessary debate.

“The Indian Express stands by the report.

“And in the tradition of its commitment to journalism of courage and the readers’ right to know, it will continue its investigation into the events of January 16-17 and the questions these raise.”

Indian Express ‘C’ report: Scoop, rehash, spin?

4 April 2012

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The front-page, full-page report in the northern editions of The Indian Express this morning, that two units of the Indian Army moved towards Delhi on January 16, 2012—the day the Army chief V.K. Singh‘s petition before the Supreme Court on his date of birth was coming up—has sent New Delhi into a tizzy.

The report, anchored by the paper’s redoubtable editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, with reporting from Ritu Sarin, Pranab Dhal Samanta and Ajmer Singh—that barely disguises its attempts to hint at a “coup” that wasn’t—has been stoutly denied by the ministry of defence and an official statement from the defence minister A.K. Antony is due.

As the old saying goes, never believe a story until it is officially denied.

Still, is the Express story a “scoop” throwing light on something that was hidden or unknown; a rehash of previously published stuff; or just plain Delhi-style “spin”, against the backdrop of leaks and plants that have been coming in a torrent in the crossfire between the outgoing Army chief and the “establishment”?

To give Express its due, the three-deck, four-byline, eight-column banner headline suggests plenty of leg work. It gives  the context, the background, the colour and indeed the intrigue around the Army movement.

Still…

What blunts the edge somewhat on the Express story is that the Army manoeuvre was reported by Rediff.com’s R.S. Chauhan 22 days earlier—on March 13, 2012. What also muddies the waters is that the Army itself held an official briefing on the subject two days after that—on March 15, 2012—in Agra.

So, regardless of the official denials, is the Express story a scoop, a rehash or spin?

(An earlier version of this post mentioned March 10, 2012 as the date of the Army briefing)

Read the Express report here: The “C” report

Read the Rediff.com report here: Paratroopers meet their match

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