Operation 136: Indian Media Houses Seduced and Stripped Naked

By Maryam Iraj

Videos of Cobrapost which surfaced on 26 May, 2018, exposed the filth of Indian media-houses who are up for sale for hefty amounts. May be I shouldn’t use the word hefty, as no amount of money is hefty enough to warrant pen-prostitution. Yes, for me, it is intellectual adultery, it is whoredom. 

Cobrapost founded in 2003 by Aniruddha Bahal ( the co-founder of Tehelka) is a highly acclaimed Indian non-profit news website and television production house, primarily famous for investigative journalism. Prior to Operation 136, it has successfully severed several high-profile breaks to the world, and Operation 136-ll is in continuation of the same tradition.

As evident from the video by Cobrapost Operation 136, media houses, their owners, senior management, and famous journalists were all willing and happy to run the paid content for political agendas.

Operation 136-ll and the Pitch of Hindutva: 

In 1989, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) espoused it as its official ideology upheld by the Hindu nationalist volunteer organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its partner establishments, notably the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), along with the older term Hindu Rashtra (translation: Hindu nation).

According to many Indian social scientists, the Hindutva movement is a fascist ideology, “adhering to the concept of homogenized majority and cultural hegemony”.

This was the agenda which operation 136-ll tried to sell to Indian media, and except for two all of them crumbled. Most of them even went to the extent of confessing to own and propagate Hindutva ideology already. Videos further revealed that the stung ones already knew how to convert soiled cash into legitimate money, exposing them as pros in taking bribes.

Hindustan Times Media Limited: A Major Indian Media Player Seduced 

Hindustan Times Media Limited, started in 1934, is a conglomerate of publishing world with Hindustan TimesHindustan, The Mint in collaboration with Wall Street Journal, Kadambani and Nandan, and the Fever 104 FM Radio under its belt. Moreover, the KK Birla Group holds a large stake in HT Media. Irrespective of this massive profile, it still fell to the charms of 500 crores.

Why Operation 136-ll?

Method of Execution of Operation 136-ll:

According to the Cobrapost, their undercover journalist, Pushp Sharma, tells each media house the same story of promoting Hindutva ideology and explains his wealthy background, and an ashram which he runs to support such discrete activities. Sharma further explains to the media houses that ashram supports the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and aspires to keep it in power.

Sharma further seduces the plausible culprits with three-point strategy:

All  media houses were enticed in the Cobrapost plan except for two. They all had means in place to propagate such offers, from implicit advertorials to paid news to special features. Most of them agreed to establish “special teams” to push the BJP’s agenda along with non-disclosure agreements. Special features, as they suggested, would have included jingles, videos, plant articles and quiz shows, game shows with high-prize events to attract the masses.

Being a journalist, the experience of watching such bleak videos is highly dispiriting.  According to Sanjeev Shah, executive president of Bennett Coleman, the media empire that runs The Times of India, Navbharat Times and Times Now among other channels, the group’s managing director, Vineet Jain, initially wanted Rs. 1,000 crore to hawk the agenda as dictated by the undercover journalist.

Jain, on behalf of Hindustan Time, eventually and shamelessly settled for Rs. 500 crore.

Videos also exposed the detailed discussions which were held on how these journalists would conduit their cash-flow, although they would prefer to be paid by cheque. In Jain’s case, it was hard to tell from the video whether he was in it only for the money or whether he had predisposed interest in the politics. According to a disclaimer by Jain, it was a reverse sting-operation to trap Cobrapost undercover agent. However rest of the employees: at the Times of India, whether at Radio Mirchi or The Times of India or Navbharat Times, were all in for the propaganda and put themselves up for sale. So, basically, Jain’s claim, does not bear any truth.

Hashim Ali Khan, a manager at the India Today Group, told, “My sole objective is that BJP comes to power once again”, while cracking a possible deal. Khan further agreed to accept cash.

Rahul Kumar Shaw, chief revenue officer, while listening to the offer says, “I must tell you I am very pro, very very pro of the BJP government”. According to Cobrapost, “ Shaw introduces the journalist to Kallie Purie, the group’s vice president, who must clear any such deal. She is the only media owner for putting up a small shallow fight for editorial freedom. She advises the Cobrapost journalist not to “polarize” the scene, and adds that if they do not agree with his activities, they will criticize him editorially”.

There were only two newspapers who out-rightly refused: first one was the popular Bengali daily Bartaman Patrika whose senior general manager (advertisement) Ashish Mukherjee declined any such financial incentive and refused to accept editorial influences of any kind instantaneously.  

Unlike others, Mukherjee refused to publish any religious content with his unshakable faith in the journalistic ethics to the undercover agent of the Cobrapost. Mukherjee further referred to Barun Sengupta, the veteran founder of the paper, “who preferred to go to jail during the Emergency in the 1970s to resist Indira Gandhi’s diktats on media rather than bowing down to it”.

Following this pleasant surprise with highly ethical Bartman Patrika, the reporter thereafter approached an executive of West Bengal-based paper Dainik Sambad to issue jingles with a “Hindutva agenda” keeping the upcoming 2019 elections in mind,  in exchange for money.

The executive official of Dainik Sambbad instantly refused to run any ads with religious overtones without even wasting any moment on the cash-discussions. “It is our policy, it is for all people not to get biased,” the Cobrapost agent got rebuffed by Dainik Sambbad officials. 

Following are the three videos of the Cobrapost 136-ll Operation with Hindustan Time:

Cobrapost revealed their agents met senior representatives of more than two-dozen media houses, inclusive of 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, among many others.

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