At a media briefing on Monday, 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. One can be viewed below:
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. One of the media managers is heard telling the undercover reporter, “There are smart ways of doing it and there are foolish ways of doing it.” He offered to do it the smart way.
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.
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: