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 Indian 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."
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.
Operation 136 derives its name from 2017 World Press Freedom Index that put India at a dismal 136 on press freedom ranking in the world.
The undercover operations were carried out by senior journalist Pushp Sharma, who said that "most of them (media houses) not only agreed to do what he asked for, but also suggested myriad ways for undertaking a well-orchestrated, overtly communal media campaign on behalf of their prospective big-ticket client."
Cobrapost revealed that Sharma met alleged representatives of more than two dozen media houses, including 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, Aj and Sadhna Prime News.
The website reproduced the excerpts of interactions of Sharma with different heads at each of these companies.
The Quint could not independently verify Cobrapost's findings or conversations with the company owners and personnel. The article will be updated with the responses of ALL the media houses named in the investigation as and when they respond to Cobrapost's claims.
Turned Down Proposals, Footage ‘Doctored’: India TV
In response to Cobrapost’s story, Sudipto Chowdhuri, President-Sales of India TV, one of the media channels mentioned in the former’s sting operation, denied all allegations in an email to The Quint.
I categorically state that none of the proposals discussed or put forward by this Mr. Acharya Chhatrapal Atal (Sharma) were accepted by the Company and were in fact entirely turned down by the editorial and legal teams of India TV.Sudipto Chowdhuri told The Quint
He stated that his team member Jitendra Kumar and him had met Sharma, who had posed as an Acharya Chhatrapal Atal in a sales meeting.
He went on to mention that neither did any of the members of India TV “accept any consideration” from Atal aka Sharma and nor did any of the material shared by him ever get aired on the channel.
Alleging that the footage seen in the Cobrapost video was “doctored”, Chowdhuri added: “It is pertinent to state that Cobrapost has, to their advantage, concealed important aspects of the discussion only to sensationalise the story and for their self-serving interests.”
“...it is the voiceover in the offending story that is drawing unfounded and self-serving conclusions. India TV will be taking strictest legal action to seek redressal for the same,” he said.
Media Has Taken the Cause of ‘Nationalism’ to Favour Dominant Ideology: Cobrapost
Meanwhile, in its investigation, Cobrapost further stated that Sharma "offered to pay them anything between Rs 6 crore and Rs 50 crore if they agreed to provide a platform for his media campaign."
The report alleged that "both print and electronic... have of late taken up the cause of “nationalism” in favour of the dominant ideology of the day, thus turning a Nelson’s eye to real issues that dog the nation."
Further claims in the report stated that some of the media organisations agreed to run down Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Manoj Sinha, Jayant Sinha, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi; to run stories against leaders of BJP alliance partners, like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha; agreed to defame the most noted and celebrated among the legal tribe and civil society like Prashant Bhushan, Dushyant Dave, Kamini Jaiswal and Indira Jai Singh; and to paint agitating farmers as Maoists in their stories.
"Many of them agreed to create and promote such content as would aim for the “character assassination” of leaders like Rahul Gandhi," the report alleged.