In more than 30 videos posted on Friday, May 25, investigative news portal Cobrapost showed virtually all major media outlets falling over each other to accept lucrative offers to promote communal hatred, divisive agenda and character assassination of non-BJP political leaders.
The second part of the ‘sting’ operation was put up after Dainik Bhaskar secured an injunction from the Delhi High Court against screening the videos. Cobrapost’s YouTube channel left out the part dealing with Dainik Bhaskar on Friday.
But the portal posted shocking videos showing interactions between an undercover reporter posing as a big budget advertiser with top executives of media outlets, including publishers of Times of India Bennett Coleman & Company, Hindustan Times, The New Indian Express, Zee Group, ABP News, TV 18, ABN Andhra Jyothi, Dinamalar, Jagran Group, Open magazine, Lokmat, Sun Group and Big FM.
National Herald cannot vouch for the authenticity of the videos published by Cobrapost, in which undercover reporter Pushp Sharma masqueraded as a ‘Pracharak’ and introduced himself as “Acharya Atal”. He was granted audience by several senior executives including the MD of Times of India.
The Pracharak, claiming to be representing an organisation styled as ‘Srimad Bhagwat Gita Prachar Samiti’, is seen offering hundreds of crores of rupees for sponsoring advertisements, events and advertorials to promote a partisan and communal agenda.
The campaign, Sharma suggested, could be conducted in two phases. In the first phase, a congenial atmosphere would have to be prepared with the help of religious discourses and mythological programmes, while at the same time ridiculing Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and others while resorting to character assassination, whenever necessary.
In the second phase, a more direct appeal was to be made to audiences by highlighting speeches of hardliners like RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Vinay Katiyar and Uma Bharti.
Most marketing executives and even the Managing Director of Times of India, Vineet Jain, are shown entertaining the offer. Some of them were also willing to accept payments in cash. Jain and ToI Executive President Sanjeev Shah are shown suggesting that the advertiser could employ the services of angadias, a Gujarati term for Hawala operators, to get the job done. “Aur bhi businessmen honge jo humein cheque denge, aap unhe cash de do” (There will be other businessmen who would be willing to issue cheques in lieu of cash that you pay them. You pay them.) ToI evidently asked for ₹1,000 crore for carrying the campaign.
Avneesh Bansal, Associate VP, HT Media, is heard advising “You should attack in two ways; one is tying up with a media house; so if you are giving a couple of crores of rupees to talk positive about you, my editorial then is under pressure to not to go too negative… second, is you find a PR agency of repute…and they can control reporters because they are the source of news.”
In yet another meeting, another executive of HT Media holds out the commitment that farmers’ suicide and economic crisis in Congress-ruled Karnataka would be played up in the run up to the election.
Two newspapers, one in West Bengal and the other in Tripura, refused the lucrative advertisement deals. A senior General Manager with Bengali daily newspaper Bartaman, identified as Ashish Mukherjee, refused to entertain the proposal as soon as it was made. Divisive and defamatory content would not be carried, he bluntly told the undercover reporter. He refused to reconsider his stand even when the offer was raised from ₹1 crore to ₹10 crore.
An official with ‘Dainik Sambad’ at Agartala (Tripura) also turned down the deal and refused to even part with his business card. “Our policy is very clear. We do not publish any religious advertisement,” he told the Pracharak.