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Published On: Mon, Mar 26th, 2018

Sting exposes Media Houses to publish content to polarise voters with communal lines

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nationalherald_2018-03_97484398-25b4-4379-91e6-820e527ba4d6_0dda2475-cb16-4f2e-98c1-b29abc13043aNEW DELHI :Cobrapost on Monday screened ‘Operation 136’, a purported undercover sting showing media executives offering to blank out news ‘against Hindutva’, belittle Opposition and even NDA leaders for cash.
investigative news portal Cobrapost screened a two-hour-long purported sting operation dubbed ‘Operation 136’, conducted on major media outlets, claiming to expose how media owners, publishers and managers agreed to peddle content and political propaganda in return for money.
These outlets allegedly agreed, in exchange for money, to run political campaigns, mythology and spirituality cloaked in political terms and a “soft Hindutva” agenda for electoral gains by way of content. Cobrapost indicated that this was just part one of the sting and that part II would follow.Cobrapost also posted several clips from the purported sting operation on its YouTube channel.

Masquerading as a representative of Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, Cobrapost said undercover reporter Pushp Sharma met managers and owners of around 20 media houses. He recorded the conversation and the video with the help of spy cameras and the edited version was screened for the media on Monday.

Describing the deal as ‘commercial’, a media executive is purportedly seen declaring to undercover reporter Sharma that he had no problem diluting or blanking out news ‘against Hindutva’, belittling political parties such as Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, or defaming political leaders like Congress President Rahul Gandhi as long as they were paid fully in advance.
Most media representatives told undercover reporter Sharma that they had no problem accepting 50% of the payment in cash. The money had to be paid in advance though, and the receipts could indicate that the rest of the money were in the form of donations.
Among the media outlets which figure in the purported sting are India TV, Dainik Jagran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA (Daily News and Analysis), Amar Ujala, UNI, 9X Tashan, Samachar Plus, HNN 24*7, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, ScoopWhoop, Rediff.com, IndiaWatch and Sadhna Prime News.

Significantly, halfway through the screening, several media personnel and camera crew switched off their cameras and some also left the venue. Indications are that the screening will be blacked out by major media outlets. In the World Press Freedom Index for 2017, India slipped three positions to 136. To highlight slipping press freedom, Cobrapost dubbed its purported undercover sting on Indian media outlets ‘Operation 136’.

Cobrapost editor Aniruddha Bahal, who is known for the Tehelka sting Operation West End, lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, and senior journalists Siddharth Varadarajan and Paranjoy Guja Thakurta were present at the screening.

The news portal is said to have exposed several Indian media houses in a sting operation for trying “to peddle Hindutva” and plant stories that could create an atmosphere to communally polarise people for electoral gains. The media houses also agreed to defame political rivals and all this for money. Cobrapost has termed their investigation as Operation 136: Part 1.

As part of their investigation, an Cobrapost undercover journalist approached people at decision-making levels in several media houses and asked them in different ways that if they were paid a good amount of money, would they peddle Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism to polarise the electorate and this might even help a party in power to become more popular ahead of the elections due next year.
According to the Cobrapost investigation, most of the media houses which their undercover journalist approached did not just agree to what he was asking but also suggested other ways to go about it.

The Cobrapost sting journalist met owners or personnel of around more than 20 media houses who were in a position to take a decision. They were offered somewhere between Rs 6 crore to Rs 50 crore if they were ready to provide a platform for his media campaign. As part of the sting, in the initial phase, the media houses were to promote Hindutva through customised religious programmes to create a congenial atmosphere in the first three months.
Following this, the campaign will be geared to mobilise the electorate on communal lines by promoting speeches of Hindutva hardliners. When the elections approach, the campaign will target opposition leaders. And all these campaigns will have to be run on all media platforms viz. print, electronic and digital including websites, e-news portals and on Facebook and Twitter.

According to Cobrapost, the media organisations not only agreed to what their investigative journalist asked them to do but they also sent a proposal including quotations on his e-mail. Not only this, Cobrapost journalist as part of his investigation also asked media house personnel to run stories against some Union Ministers in the present government and also the alliance partners in order to run them.
Media houses were also asked to plant stories linking agitating farmers with Maoists, or painting the judiciary in a way that their judgements would appear controversial in public perception and all these demands were accepted by those media houses.

A Shopping List of Content for Cash

In a statement, Cobrapost listed a summary of what the media outlets were purportedly prepared to do for payments ranging from ₹6 to ₹50 crore:

  • They agreed to promote Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism and religious discourse.
  • They agreed to publish content with potential to polarise the electorate along communal lines.
  • They concurred to besmirch or thrash political rivals of the party in power by posting or publishing defamatory content about them.
  • Many of them were ready to accept cash, which in other words is black money, for the job to be assigned to them.
  • Some of the owners or important functionaries, who the reporter interacted with, admitted that they were either associated with the RSS or they were pro-Hindutva and would thus be happy to work on the campaign, forgetting the cardinal principle of journalism: neutrality. A typical example of conflict of interest.
  • Some of them agreed to plant stories in favour of the party in power in their publications.
  • Many of them agreed to develop and carry advertorials especially for this purpose.
  • Almost all agreed to run this campaign on their platforms—print, electronic or digital in its various avatars such as e-news portal, e-paper or social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Some of them offered to do a complete media management to plant stories favouring the party in power in other publications with help from journalists other than their own organisations.
  • Some of them even agreed to run down Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Manoj Sinha, Jayant Sinha and Maneka Gandhi, and the latter’s son Varun Gandhi.
  • Some of them also agreed to run stories against leaders of NDA parties, like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha.
  • Some of them also agreed to defame the most noted and celebrated among the legal tribe and civil society activists like Prashant Bhushan, Dushyant Dave, Kamini Jaiswal and Indira Jai Singh.
  • Some of them even agreed to paint agitating farmers as Maoists in their stories

(With Agency Inputs ).

 

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