On February 8th, The Hindu had published a note from defence ministry in its efforts to help Rahul Gandhi in derailing the Rafale deal. The note contained a note a defence ministry official who had objected to Prime Minister’s office enquiring the progress of the deal, although that officer was not involved in the negotiations of the deal. The Hindu wanted to project that there was opposition to the Rafale deal in the defence ministry and only the Prime minister pushing for it. In doing so, the newspaper had cropped a vital part in the same document, a note by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. The then defence minister had written that the officer was overreacting, and offices of Indian PM and French President were just monitoring the progress of the deal.
Immediately after the Hindu report, ANI had published the full document, which had proved that N Ram had used a cropped version of the document in his article. Now 10 days after the incident, The Hindu has come up with a clarification, saying that it did not doctor the document. In its column Readers Editor, it has claimed that the document published by it was an earlier version, which didn’t include the Defence Minister’s note. As proof of the same, The Hindu notes that the document published by ANI has serial numbers on each note, while there are no serial numbers on the document published by Hindu. It means that the ANI’s document is a subsequent document, it claims.
Ths Hindi clarification was in response to tweets by Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, who had questioned the reporting by The Hindu on the Rafale deal.
The Hindu wants to say that someone had kept a copy of the note before it went to the Defence Minister, and the same was passed on to it. The Hindu document has the note by Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar dated 1st December 2015, while Manohar Parrikar’s comment on the ANI document is dated 11th January 2016. Although the Hindu note does not contain the date of Defence Secretary’s note, it contains the note and top part of the sign, and in the complete ANI document the date is clearly visible. Which means, as per Hindu claims, someone made a copy of the document between 1/12/2015 and 11/01/2016 and later it was passed on to the Hindu.
As Hindu has claimed that ANI had published a later version of the document, it has become necessary to examine both documents more closely.
The first thing that needs to be noted is that The Hindu cropped not only the bottom part of the document which contained the Defence Minister’s note (or it was blank as per Hindu claim), but they also cropped the right side of the document which contained signatures and stamps of various officials who had commented on it. There is a vertical line on the document, around 2 inches from the right edge, which separates the notes section to the stamp and sign section. But few stamps spill over to the notes section, crossing the line. And this where a glaring omission can be noticed, which proves that Hindu not only cropped the document, but also digitally manipulated it.
Before the Defence Secretary, the DG (Acquisition) had put his note under the main dissent note, and this note is dated 24th November, which is visible in both the notes. The sign and date are below the note, while the stamp, along with file noting number, is on the right side of the document.
As we can see in the ANI document, the stamp has crossed the vertical line and part of it is on the notes section, just beside the sign and date. But in the Hindu note, this portion of the stamp is missing, instead, there is a white space. Now Hindu can’t claim that their document predates the stamp, because its date is same as the note that is present, and that stamp was put on 24th November, before the Defence Secretary’s note on 1st December.
This clearly means one thing, The Hindu erased the stamp from the document to remove any evidence of the stamps and notings on the right side of the document.
Now, why would N Ram want to hide the stamps from the document? And while cropping the Parrikar’s note, why did it also cropped the signature of Defence Secretary also, although his note was included?
Both questions are answered by the full document published by ANI. Above every note in the document, the designation of the person making the notes are mentioned on the left-hand side. And just below the line where the document is cropped horizontally by Hindu, the word “RM” appear on the left-hand side, indicating that there is a comment by Raksha Mantri below it. That’s why The Hindu had to crop the signature of Mohan Kumar, as the designation RM would be seen if the full signature was retained, which will indicate that there is a note by defence minister below.
Now coming to the side panel of stamps that was cropped, it can be seen that there are no gaps between them, they are almost overlapping each other. Which means, if the side panel was not cropped, people would know that there is more content below as a part of a stamp will appear cropped. More importantly, there is a stamp dated 20th January, which is after the Defence Minister’s note on 11th January. Definitely, the Hindu didn’t want people to know that there were more activities on the document after the ‘dissenting’ notes.
Abhijit Iyer-Mitra also made these observations, and posted detail examination of the Hindu note in a series of tweets.
1n #Thread on @the_hindu & #Rafale. Thanks Paneerselvam, before i thought it was a case if shoddy journalism, now since you made me do a forensic analysis, I know now that it’s a case of ACTIVE & DELIBERATE lying. First up here are the @ANI & @the_hindu images side by side. pic.twitter.com/rLQFgA3XoW
— Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) February 18, 2019
To hide the evidence of Parrikar’s note, the Hindu cropped the document in two places, and digitally erased part of a stamp that should have visible even after cropping the same. And its claim that it did not doctor the document is not true, because a date stamp before defence secretary’s note has been clearly removed from the document.