Reporting the Naval Chiefs sackingA Case of Media Manipulation




Now that arms lobbies in the defence establishment are back in the news, we feature an unpublished monitoring study on the press coverage of the sacking of Admiral Bhagwat in December 1998. A Naval Chief was sacked for the first time in independent India, and the coverage that followed was a classic case of media manipulation. Diametrically different versions of the "truth" were published.

Reporting the Naval Chiefs sacking
A Case of Media Manipulation

1) Synopsis

2) Case Studies

3) Documentation

4) Conclusion


The monitoring was conducted from the day the story broke (31st December 1998). Newspapers were monitored till the 15th January 1999, in the case of magazines because of different methods of dating issues, two or three issues of each were taken, and depending on how many stories they carried on this episode.

>The exercise revealed that most publications tended to project one side of the conflict at the expense of the other. This was admittedly a difficult and sensitive story to source. Therefore the sourcing with a few exceptions was inevitably anonymous. Several instances of biased reporting and headlining were found. And the journalistic tradition of granting the right to reply to those being mentioned in a story was not observed. The allegations came first, the other side of the story later, often two or three days later.

There was plenty of comment on the news pages. This could be ascribed to new journalism, where publications, beaten to the news headlines by television or radio, strive to provide the reader with more interpretation and comment in the reporting. In the process, however the line between analysis and bias becomes blurred.

In the case of both newspapers and magazines, there was not one publication that gave equally both sides of the story, though the Hindustan Times came the closest to it. Much of the information used was inspired by leaks, and the leaking appeared to the selective. Ministry of Defence sources favoured one set of publications; General Bhagwat`s supporters favoured another. If you wanted a full picture with regard to what led to the unprecedented sacking of a Naval chief, you had to follow the story in two or three publications.

With the regard to the details of incidents which were cited by the government in building up the case against Admiral Bhagwat, versions of the same event varied so much in different publications, that it was difficult tell what the truth was. In the case of a senior naval officer whom

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