Front Page Report or Silence?: How Media Covered Rafale Scam Twist
The Modi government’s deal to buy 36 French Rafale fighter jets has whipped up a political storm in India – again.
Former French President Francis Hollande on Friday, 21 September, triggered a massive uproar in the Opposition camp when he claimed that France was not given an option of choosing a local partner for Dassault Aeronautics. In other words, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence was chosen by the Modi government.
The TV channels, with the exception of NDTV, chose to mostly stay silent on this big development. They did, however, react to the news on Saturday morning. It was the same case with most Hindi newspapers.
India’s big English dailies, meanwhile, gave space to the news on their front pages with varying angles.
Lead on The Telegraph, The Indian Express
A day before Hollande’s claims were out, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had called Congress President Rahul Gandhi a “clown prince” for his allegations related to the Rafale deal.
But after the shocking claims were out, The Telegraph asked emphatically in its lead story’s headline on the front page, “Who is the clown now?”
In its extensive report, The Telegraph gave significant prominence and space to the developments, including statements of Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Nirmala Sitharaman, defending the choice of Ambani’s Reliance Defence for being a part of the deal.
The daily quoted from PTI’s midnight report, stating the French government’s stance that it was in no way “involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners.”
In a picture showing the bonhomie between Hollande and PM Modi, the caption interestingly read: “Who should we trust, messieurs?”
On a day marked by major news breaks, right from India-Pakistan meeting being called off to the murder of the policemen in Kashmir, The Indian Express rose to the occasion with a lead story on Hollande’s latest claims on the front page. Its headline highlighted the daunting claims by both parties: “Govt denied role but ex-President Hollande says: Indian Govt proposed Reliance, had no choice”.
“Isn’t that a decision for a commercial enterprise to take on their own?” the IE report quoted Sitharaman outrightly denying the claims of her involvement.
The latter part of its report focused on how closely connected were the two developments, i.e. Reliance Entertainment entering an agreement to produce Hollande’s partner’s film two days before PM Modi and Hollande signed the Rafale deal MoU.
As of now, Sitharaman, who was expected to meet her French counterpart in a meeting later this week, has called it off, The Indian Express reported.
The Times of India, Hindustan Times Focus on Political Slugfest
In a Hindustan Times front-page story headlined, ‘Hollande’s remarks stir fresh Rafale tug of war’, the report quotes Hollande’s interview to French website Mediapart stating that the Indian government had proposed Reliance Defence as the Indian partner in the 36-fighter jet deal, and that France had “no say in this regard.”
The report further states that Hollande’s comments contradict the government’s “long-held” stance that it was Rafale manufacturer Dassault that had picked the Anil Ambani group as its India partner, and that the government had nothing to do with this process.
Its sister publication, Hindustan had the story below on the front page had only a page on Hollande’s claim with the rest focusing on Congress’ aggressive stance in the controversy.
Dainik Jagran, the largest Hindi daily, had this story appearing on the 11th page, while its counterpart, Amar Ujala, placed the story on its 13th page.
Another front-page report appeared on The Times of India, covering Hollande’s comments to the Paris-based investigative website .
The daily’s report featured as the second story on Page 1, talking about how the controversy has triggered a “political tug of war”. It also mentioned Rahul Gandhi’s tweet in which he accused PM Modi of having “changed the deal behind closed doors”.
How TV Channels Covered Hollande’s Claims
Even as Hollande's comments sent shockwaves across the political spectrum, most TV channels chose to awkwardly silent on the matter. Republic TV, founded by BJP MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, chose to avoid discussing the matter on prime time. Co-founder and anchor Arnab Goswami discussed India rejecting talks with Pakistan, the politics of surgical strikes and the arrest of rape accused Bishop Mullakal, Janta Ka Reporter stated in its story.
According to the report, this is how rival channel Times Now's Rahul Shivshankar reported the news on Hollande's comments:
“..But today IF this particular tweet that QUOTES an ALLEGED interview by Francois Hollande, the former French President is to be believed, then, then, there’s reason to doubt the government’s claims, because what has ALLEGEDLY Francois Hollande said? He said Reliance Defence was not chosen by Dassault as the offset partner…”