Pegasus Row: How Did Indian Newspapers & TV Channels Cover the Snoopgate?
The media coverage of the revelations about Pegasus spyware's usage in India can be termed 'uneven' at best.
The revelations over Israel-made Pegasus spyware being used to target at at least 300 Indian phone numbers, including 40 journalists, several politicians, government officials and rights activists, have taken India by storm.
The first leaked list of names, containing the numbers of top journalists from well-known media organisations, like Hindustan Times, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and The Indian Express, was published by The Wire in India at 9.30 pm on Sunday.
However, chatter about the impending release of such a report, detailing surveillance of several prominent figures using Pegasus, had begun much earlier on Twitter. The actual release, therefore, was much anticipated and hardly came as a surprise to any media house.
However, the coverage provided by the Indian media to the revelations, which have far-reaching implications regarding surveillance and privacy in the Indian state, can be termed 'uneven' at best.
News channel NDTV was ready with live coverage of the report from 9 pm, ahead of the scheduled release, going on to host panelists such as Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha, as well as an interview with The Wire's Editor MK Venu, one of those targeted in the snooping.
Further, NDTV was the only English news channel that carried a full report on the allegations, unlike Times Now, India Today and others, who gave space only to either the NSO or the government's responses.
Meanwhile, the next morning, newspaper Hindustan Times chose to carry only a small nugget on the report on page 1, which was then continued in more detail on page 9. No editorial was carried by the newspaper on the revelations made by the report.
Hindustan Times' sister publication, Mint, too, did the same, covering the report only in a snippet on the front page.
The Hindu took the decision to not carry the news on its front page at all and instead published a two-column report on page 8 of its paper.
The Times of India carried the report on its flap, headlined "Spyware used to snoop on mins, oppn, journalists, bizmen: Report”, while The Telegraph gave it space not on page 1, but on page 2, headlining it "Judge and ministers on 'hack wish list'".
The Indian Express, meanwhile, carried the story as their lead and splashed page 1 of their newspaper with the news.
However, according to The Wire, some regional newspapers outdid expectations in covering the revelations, with popular Telugu daily Eenadu giving in space on page 1, while another Telugu daily Andhra Jyothy covered the news in a report on page 2.
Further, Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, as well as Gujarati newspapers Divya Bhaskar, Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar, also covered the report on their front pages.
Veteran journalist Ravish Kumar however, complained that while leading Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar placed the news on its front page, Amar Ujala buried the news item in a single-column report in its inside pages.
The Wire further reported that other Hindi newspapers, such as Dainik Jagran, Jansatta, Punjab Kesari and Navoday, did not provide front-page importance to the report.
A Day Later
A day later, however, things appeared to change for the better, as with more revelations, the issue gained front page prominence for some newspapers.
The Hindu on Tuesday carried the news on three separate pages, and splashed its page 1 (which was continued on page 8) with a report on Rahul Gandhi, Prashant Kishor and Ashok Lavasa being named as potential targets. The coverage did not stop there, and was expanded with an oped by Internet Freedom Foundation titled "Surveillance reform is the need of the hour". Meanwhile, how the leak was discussed in Parliament, what the WhatsApp CEO had to say about it and more details on the leak itself were covered on page 9.
Hindustan Times too stepped up its game on Tuesday, carrying the story on page 1, covering the newly named potential targets, as well as responses from Home Minister Amit Shah and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (who himself is on the list of possible targets).
Hindustan Times also published an editorial, which called the Pegasus-based surveillance "an attack on citizens".
The Times of India also gave the news front page space, but only carried the government's response to the allegations. However, it also published an editorial calling spyware "an insidious tool".
The Indian Express again provided page 1 for the allegations, with stories on the Opposition's response and Shah's statement, as well as a separate story on one of the potential targets being the woman who had accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment.
On Tuesday, The Telegraph outdid itself, devoting page 1 wholly to stories on the row, headlining the section "Snoopidemic".
And what about news channels?
India Today's Rahul Kanwal held a discussion with several people, including two whose names appeared in the leaked list – Swati Chaturvedi and India Today's own Sandeep Unnithan. The discussion was titled "Pegasus Snoopgate Scandal Explodes! Who Pushed The Snooping Button?".
Naturally, Republic TV, too, held a debate on the row surrounding the Pegasus revelations, but true to their style, went with the hashtag PegasusFlopShow. Arnab Goswami opened the debate in his usual manner, saying "he doesn't understand the fuss about Pegasus" and added that the story had been "planted on some ever-willing publications".
Meanwhile, Elsewhere in the World
While some Indian publications showed up with an uneven performance on an issue that concerns privacy of the country's citizens, some foreign publications made a bang with their coverage.
Even on Tuesday morning, The Guardian's top page had PM Modi's face splashed on it, along with several headlines about the Pegasus row.
Monday's edition of The New York Times carried a report on the allegations on its page 1.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post's home page on Tuesday carried one headline on Pegasus, but also hosts a link to an entire section titled "Takeaways from the Pegasus Project", which hosts a huge number of stories on the spyware row, as well as some specific to India.
BBC's home page on Tuesday, too, carried one India-specific story on Pegasus, titled "Why Pegasus' snooping threatens India's democracy".
(With inputs from The Wire.)
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