Most media houses in India allegedly agreed to peddle a Hindutva agenda and polarise voters before the 2019 General Election.

10 things to know about Cobraposts explosive sting on media houses in India
news Media Saturday, May 26, 2018 - 16:23

Cobrapost, known for its sting operations, has trained its guns on India’s media conglomerates, exposing how prepared they allegedly are to strike deals with the right wing to promote the Hindutva agenda ahead of the 2019 General Elections.

Two months ago, the first series of stings, known as Operation 136, were released. Now, the next series is out, allegedly showing how the heads of a few media houses are more than happy to peddle the Hindutva agenda in exchange for large sums of money – some of them even allegedly saying they were okay with taking the money in cash, implying it was black money. However, there is no real exchange of money caught on the tapes.

Here are a few things to know about the operation:

1. Cobrapost has released 49 videos that were shot by its undercover reporter Pushp, who called himself 'Acharya Atal', allegedly talking to various top-level executives of both regional as well as mainstream media organisations over the course of several months.

For the sting, the reporter allegedly approached the media houses pretending to be a pracharak with links to the RSS and BJP seeking to spread the 'Hindutva agenda' and 'thrash their (BJPs) rivals' (Congress, BSP and SP) through sustained campaigns in the company's various platforms. This, he said, would be done keeping in mind the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. For the campaign, the organisations were offered anything between a few crores to Rs 500 crore as ad spend.

2. Some of the organisations that were caught in the sting include The Times of India, India Today, Network 18, Hindustan Times, Star India, The New Indian Express, ABN Andhra Jyothy, Red FM, Zee News and Open Magazine.

3. Only two publications allegedly denied the reporter's offer -- Bartaman Patrika and the Dainik Sambad. "No amount of cajoling or inducements could bring them around," Cobrapost said.

4. One of the biggest names to have been caught in the sting operation is Times Group Managing Director Vineet Jain. In the video released by Cobrapost, Vineet and the executive president of Times Group, Sanjeev Shah, are allegedly seen discussing the details of the deals with the reporter. While the duo allegedly agree to the content of the campaign, what is even more shocking is them allegedly suggesting ways to route cash or black money which will be how the payment will be made in part. The reporter says that the part of the payment will be made in cash, and both Vineet and Sanjay allegedly say that they do not deal in cash. They however then mull ways in which the transaction could be made. At one point, Vineet is heard to be allegedly saying, "There are other businessmen. You give them cash and they can give us cheque." Some of the names that crop up in the discussion are Essar, Ambani and Adani.

5. The undercover journalist also allegedly met  the vice-chairperson of the India Today group Kalli Purie with his proposal. He told her that the campaign will have three phases which will include subtle peddling of the Hindutva agenda and gradually progress to aggressive 'infield activities', the latter he says will not be related to India Today. He also talks about translating these into political gains for the party.

Kalli purportedly tells him twice that there will be no interference in the editorial policy and asks him not to resort to the said infield activities and says, "If you are doing any infield activities that we do not agree editorially, then we will be criticising you." But as the reporter insists that they may have to resort to these eventually if their opponents play dirty, she allegedly says 'agreed'.

After the meeting with Kallie, Rahul Kumar Shaw, the chief revenue officer of TV Today, India Today's parent company, allegedly sent the reporter a Rs 275 crore advertising campaign proposal over email.

6. Many of the executives the reporter spoke to were not only okay with the campaign proposal but were open about their affinity to the BJP, RSS and the present government. When the reporter went to Hindustan Times Media Limited, for instance, he was told by several top-level members in the organisation that the present owner, former Rajya Sabha MP Shobhana Bhartia, has ties with the BJP. Moreover, when ‘Acharya Atal’ met Avneesh Bansal, associate vice-president of HT Media Limited, he offered his own take on how right-wing organisations could approach the media – a two-pronged approach where they pay the media off to not only carry advertorials, but also ensure nothing too critical is written about the government in the platforms owned by the house. The second approach he suggested was, the Sangh hire a PR company of repute to sway the reporters, because “they are the source of the news”.

7. The largest media group in the south too landed in Cobrapost’s net. When the undercover reporter visited the Sun Group offices in Chennai, the Network Sales Head, Tamil and Malayalam channels, Alex George told him he was a “die-hard fan of the Bhagvad Gita” when he asked the media house to peddle a Hindutva agenda. He also introduced Pushp to B Rajesh Kannan, Chief GM of Dinakaran, who turned out to be a big fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He described demonetisation as a success, with only some circumstances coming in its way.

Rajesh openly can be heard saying that by carrying advertisements about Lord Krishna and the Bhagvad Gita, the electorate can be polarised before the 2019 elections.

8. One organisation that Cobrapost included in its list to sting, in order to highlight how non-conventional platforms can also be used to deliver such propaganda, is Paytm.

The website said, "A simple mobile app can achieve what the conventional platforms cannot: it can deliver the message with a blink of an eye. In fact, our interaction with top Paytm honchos is quite revealing in many respects, for it not only shows the company’s affinity to both the BJP government and its ideological fountainhead RSS, but also shows that users’ data can be compromised."

Paytm since has tweeted saying that its user data is 100% secure.

Read: Cobra Post sting alleges Paytm shared user data with PMO, company denies

9. The Delhi High court has issued an exparte stay order to Cobrapost which prohibits the website from publishing anything about the Dainik Bhaskar Group in its investigation. The site plans to challenge the court order.

10. Cobrapost had released the first part of its sting operation earlier in March this year. The site's editor Aniruddha Bahal had then said that the sting was named Operation 136 because India is placed at 136th position in 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

He said the contents of the Hindutva campaign proposed by the undercover reporter were violative of various sections of the Indian Penal Code, which hold publication of content of communal and defamatory nature a criminal act punishable by imprisonment. Bahal said they were even ready to target Union Ministers like Arun Jaitley, Maneka Gandhi, Jayant Sinha and others from BJP allies like Upendra Khuswaha, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Anupriya Patel.

(With IANS inputs.)

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