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Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

In The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta notes that the credibility of India’s media has long been in tatters.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
The sting is part of Cobrapost’s second leg of investigations. 
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Following the second episode of Cobrapost’s sting operations on big media houses in the country, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president and chief executive of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a top policy think tank, noted in his article in The Indian Express that “the credibility of India’s news-producing infrastructure has long been in tatters.”

Defying Delhi High Court’s injunction, Cobrapost, a website known for journalistic sting operations, revealed that big media houses like Times of India, India Today, Dainik Jagran etc were ready to peddle Hindutva agenda to polarise voters on communal lines for money.

In his article for The Indian Express, Mehta evaluates how Operation 136, the sting operation by Cobrapost, exhibits media’s subservience to power and its subsequent contempt for the citizens of the country.

‘Media Has Gone from Being the Saviour to Being a Threat’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

Mehta notes that while there are journalists who fight to death to report the truth, there are a number of media institutions who have become “a toxic amalgam of veniality, fanaticism, irresponsibility and subservience to power.”

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‘Not a Beginning of Soul-Searching’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

Mehta writes that although Cobrapost’s sting reveals a rot in the media, it is unlikely that this will be “beginning of soul-searching.” He is wary that the sting will cast a shadow even over the good institutions and not hold the bad ones accountable.

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‘Content in Media Houses is For Sale’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

Highlighting the concerns of such sting operations – from ethics to motives to the indeterminacy of the final contract – Mehta says “even after acknowledging all those concerns, it is hard to escape the rotten odour that comes through in these tapes from so many media houses.”

He writes that one cannot brush off the fact that these deals are struck not by low-level marketing operatives but by the so-called barons in the media industry.

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‘Lines Between Editorial and Marketing Are Blurring’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

Outlining the danger of the blurring line between editorial and contracting, Mehta writes, “Marketing still assumes a certain deference to the consumer: Content is shaped to defer to consumer tastes. But contracting is entirely supply side driven: It depends upon who can show up with the big contracts. It seeks to manipulate and shape, not defer to consumers.”

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‘Indian Media’s Contempt for Its Citizens Is Loud and Clear’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

Mehta points out that the sting operations clearly expose the “thorough contempt Indian media has for the Indian citizen.”

The owners seem to think of citizens as infantilised fools. Owners seem to boast about how the thinnest veneer, the smallest gesture of pretending that you cover news, will allow you to get away with masses of propaganda. Since the people do not pay, accountability is only to those who allocate capital or use political power.
PB Mehta in The Indian Express

Comparing the Indian media with politicians in running its agenda, he writes, “Just like the political leaders think they can use the veneer of democracy to imprison us in propaganda in our own name, sections of the media think they can use the fig leaf of a market to essentially subvert market values. We matter neither as citizen nor as consumer.”

Remarking on “the occasional high” of a sting operation, Mehta writes, “But since they started, they have cheapened and coarsened media.”

He notes, “Since, barring a very small number, everyone has been tarred, no one will really be affected. The few institutions that have escaped this net will be seen as merely lucky or protected by some partisan deal.”

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‘The Biggest Gainers Are the Political Class’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

Mehta points out, in his article, that the political class benefits the most from this sting operation because hardly anyone in the media “will be able to raise conflict of interest issues with a straight face.”

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‘Large-Scale Muckraking Simply Deepens Cynicism’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

Observing a “paradoxical lesson” post the Cobrapost sting operation, Mehta writes, “Large-scale muckraking does not produce more accountability; it simply deepens cynicism. For accountability and influence, you have to produce exemplars whom people trust. The rot in the media can be stemmed not just by crying corruption but by creating exemplary institutions that inspire trust.”

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‘The Operation Exposes the Intent of Media Owners, Not Politicians’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

Mehta observes that the sting exposes the intent of the media and not the politicians. “It also shifts the spotlight away from politics. Society is, it turns out, even more corrupt than politics,” writes Mehta.

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‘Will the Sting Produce Reform?’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

“Will the sting produce reform?” Mehta finds the answer in the denial of the large media groups and in the attempts of small organisations “where the top management is not implicated in the sting.”

Some organisations may try to compensate for the image the sting created: Cynically change their content and editorial stance briefly to project independence.
PB Mehta in The Indian Express
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‘The Operation Will Not Improve Democracy’

Cobrapost Op Shows Media’s Disrespect For People, Writes PB Mehta

In the concluding note, Mehta writes that the sting operation will not better democracy.

When almost no news source can be trusted, people will have the licence to believe whatever they were pre-disposed to believe even more. Our vicarious thrill in the momentary shaming of some large media houses will soon give way to a more cynical foreboding.
PB Mehta in The Indian Express

Referring to political thinker Hegel’s idea of modernity, ‘the newspaper substituting the morning prayer, taking the measure of our soul’ , Mehta concludes, “Now we are a democracy without a measure, where anything goes.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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