Mumbai: Operation 136 – Cobrapost’s latest investigative report released on Monday, 26 March – has claimed to have found, through its sting operations, that several Indian media houses agreed to run political campaigns, defame leaders of opposition, and propagate Hindutva agenda for electoral gains, in exchange for money.
The popular news website Cobrapost, which carried out several undercover operations through hidden camera, further alleged that media publications "agreed to publish content with a potential to polarise the electorate along communal lines."
The investigation was named 'Operation 136' by Cobrapost, in reference to India being ranked 136th on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, 2017. Cobrapost journalist Pushp Sharma posed as Acharya Atal, who introduced himself in some of the meetings as belonging to an Ashram in Ujjain and in others as representing some Shrimad Bhagvad Gita Prachar Samiti.
As the operation revealed, media houses were also ready to plant stories against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, Union Ministers and the ruling party’s alliance partners, framing political conspiracies and reports of in-infighting, for the right price. The allegations were made along with a video presentation of the conversations between Cobrapost’s correspondents and the media companies at a press conference in New Delhi’s Press Club of India.
During the sting operation which ran for months, Cobrapost journalist Sharma, while offering them anything between Rs. 6 crore and Rs. 50 crore if they agreed to provide a platform to his media campaign, made his agenda explicit to them. "In the initial phase, the first three months, promote Hindutva through customized religious programmes to create a congenial atmosphere. Then, the campaign will be geared up to mobilize the electorate on communal lines by promoting speeches of Hindutva hardliners, the likes of Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti, Mohan Bhagwat and others", he offered to them.
"As elections approach, the campaign will target opposition leaders, namely, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, caricaturing them using less than dignified language like Pappu, Bua and Babua, respectively, for them, in order to show them in poor light before the electorate. They will have to run this campaign on all platforms available with them – print, electronic, radio or digital including, e-news portals, web sites and social media such as Facebook and Twitter", he added.
Coprapost claimed that a few days before making the sting operation public, its reporter Pushp Sharma called up some of the media houses to ask them some more favours which were as whacky as they were outrageous. As part of his media campaign, he asked them to publish or air stories not only against Union ministers Arun Jaitly, Manoj Sinha, Jayant Sinha, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi but also against BJP alliance partners, in order to run them down."
The undercover reporter also asked them to plant such stories as would link agitating farmers across the country with Maoists. He then asked them to rake muck on legal luminaries who have always fought for civil liberties and rights, and thus have always been an eyesore for the establishment, such as the likes of Prashant Bhushan, Dushyant Dave, Kamini Jaiswal and Indira Jai Singh. "Finally, he demanded to paint the judiciary in such colour as would make their judgments controversial or questionable in the eyes of the people", Cobrapost said.
"Shockingly, almost all media houses showed their eagerness to undertake such a diabolical media campaign. Many of the media companies were willing to accept cash, and not raise a bill for that amount.", the Cobrapost claimed, naming 17 media outlets in the sting operation including DNA, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, India TV, Rediff.com, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat and ScoopWhoop. More shockingly, most of the media representatives the undercover journalist met were either owners of regional news outlets, or worked as senior executives on the business-side of the media companies.
Aniruddha Bahal, the Editor-in-Chief of Cobrapost, said this was the first part of a two-part series. "The second part of the investigation will be released soon", he said.
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