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The biggest news of the day is government advertising: the number of advertisements appearing in some newspapers by the central government, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state governments and Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government is very high, this morning.

The Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Indian Express carry between 10-12 official ads, largely full page, featuring PM Modi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Government advertisements are, however, missing in The Hindu.

This is a pattern, seen over the last few weeks. The Indian Journalism Review counts “74 full page advertisements in 3 English newspapers” — Express, TOI, HT — “in just the first six days of March”.

‘Stolen’ MoD documents

In other news, Rafale in the Supreme Court is the top story Thursday.

“Defending Rafale deal, govt unveils new weapon: Official Secrets Act,” reads the stern Express’s headline, a sentiment shared by The Telegraph: “Centre steals an own goal.”

HT writes in “Brandishing the Official Secrets Act,” the government said “the petitioner’s case rested on stolen papers acquired from ‘present or past employees’ of the defence ministry”. The petitioners are Prashant Bhushan, Arun Shourie, and Yashwant Sinha.

Express focuses on The Hindu and ANI and writes the government “threatened to invoke the Official Secrets Act” on the two media ventures for using the “stolen” documents.

TOI names neither ANI nor The Hindu, referring to them as “two media houses” in its report which highlights the government viewpoint.

In “Don’t take note of stolen Rafale papers: Govt to SC,” it writes that the defence ministry “pleaded with the Supreme Court not to take cognisance of the dissent note” from three MoD officers and order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the Rafale deal as this “would delay procurement of fifth generation fighter jets — a necessity after recent developments”.

Express in accompanying pieces points out that when “Govt hit back when first report came out, not once did it say papers were stolen”. It quotes Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Lok Sabha statement, extensively.

HT in “Leaked documents did not deter probe, action in other key cases” observes, “sources of documents or information have not mattered in the past so long as such leaks were made in public interest or to bring to light irregularities in government transactions”.

The Telegraph reminds, in paranthesis, that “One of the unwritten and non-negotiable principles of journalism…is that the identity of sources should be protected at all costs.”

Exclusives

HT and Express carry exclusives on their front pages Thursday.

Express finds that “Before govt blocked jobs report, stats panel search body tweaked in its favour”. Express says the government has increased its representation on the panel’s search body.

“The Government’s tweaks to the NSC search committee, raises more questions on the autonomy of India’s highest advisory body on statistical matters,” it adds in the ‘Explained’ box.

HT makes the dramatic disclosure in `Abhinandan held off Pak grilling…’ that the IAF pilot “was deprived of sleep, choked and even beaten up by his captors in Pakistan” — according to a “senior officer debriefing the 35-year-old fighter pilot”.

“During his captivity, Varthaman was made to stand for long hours and subjected to loud music to increase his discomfort,” it writes.

The Hindi dailies

Rafale, Ayodhya , Balakot dominate today’s news space with newspapers taking different lead items.

Dainik Bhaskar leads with the ‘stolen’ MoD documents. Justice Joseph is quoted as saying that the government shouldn’t take refuge in national security on corruption charges.

Amar Ujala leads with the story of a BJP MP beating up his own party’s MLA over his name missing from foundation stone.

It’s other big headline Ayodhya. It quotes the SC: “Babar ne jo kiya usey toh badal nahin sakte, par jo hum kar sakte hain..woh kar rahe hai. ” Justice Bobde said it’s not just a matter of 1500 square feet land but of sensibility, faith and hearts of the people.

AAP MLA Rape Story

The Hindi newspapers also report the case of rape against Rithala MLA of AAP, Mahendra Goyal. The newspapers say an FIR has been lodged against the sitting MLA on the complaint of a woman who accused him of threatening her on gunpoint and also circulating her video on social media.

Opinion

Newspapers choose different subjects for editorial comment Thursday.

In “Stealing the facts,” Express calls the AG’s attempt to invoke the OSA for “stolen” MoD documents used in The Hindu’s Rafale exposes, “disappointing — and outrageous”.

It sees “the attempt to target the messenger and to criminalise the whistleblower” for “‘national security’”, “stability”… as “an attack on the freedom of expression and the people’s right to know”. The latter, it writes, “should trump the archaic…anachronistic OSA”.

TOI in “Keep it Open,” also argues for freedom and transparency but related to the Internet. “The blocking of 2,799 URLs in 2018” and “complaints by activists” that reasons for the blocking are not forthcoming, point to what it coyly calls “an information asymmetry…inconsistent with …transparency and the notion of a free and open internet”.

It points to the “disconcerting rise” in URL blocks: 633 in 2016, 1,385 in 2017.

The Hindu in “Back to Life” supports banning the death sentence after the SC’s acquittal of 6 men jailed for 16 years, and three on death row for nearly a decade. It calls this a “Kafkaesque horror”.

It says there is a perception that the way “the rarest of rare” principle is applied “is arbitrary and inconsistent”. The only way out is the “abolition of the death penalty altogether”, it concludes

Hindi Opinion

Dainik Bhaskar‘s editorial on Rafale case says, “Doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani hona chahiye.” If the Rafale documents have been `stolen’, there should be a serious investigation, it writes, but wonders if by saying the documents presented in court are stolen, the government is trying to influence the judgment.

Prime Time

Wednesday was TV’s day in court, with the Supreme Court hearing the Rafale deal and Ayodhya cases.

By afternoon, three news channels — each claiming exclusivity — provided simultaneous “proof” of the Indian Air Force (IAF) airstrikes hitting its targets at Balakot — Times Now, India Today and RepublicTV. These were based on information “accessed” from official sources, said India Today and Republic.

Little wonder the prime time debate on Republic TV had anchor Arnab Goswami discuss the “100% successful” Balakot airstrikes — a subject that required expertise and comments of as many as 13 male panelists.

BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli addressed opposition parties: “Please oppose the PM, you have a democratic right to do so, but why are you dragging down this operation?”

Retd. Wing Commander Praful Bakshi felt, “These people have a hidden political agenda, that’s why they are questioning the strike.”

India Today’s anchor Shiv Aroor disputed Republic’s “100 % successful” strike rate: “The accuracy was around 80 per cent,” he stated.

Discussing the impact of this “surgical strike” on the Pakistan Army, Union Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh said, “They (Pakistan) will think twice before doing anything foolish.”

On Zee News anchor Sudhir Chaudhary criticised former Jammu Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s interview to Pakistan’s GEO News.

“When people at home are sharing the problems of the household with someone outside, they should be deemed as traitors.” In order to “criticise India” some leaders give interviews to Pakistan media, he added.

Tweet of the day

Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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