Cobrapost probe: Indian media outlets willing to push Hindutva for money

Cobrapost probe: Indian media outlets willing to push Hindutva for money
Cobrapost, the investigative journalism website and TV production house, conducted a sting operation to probe the infiltration of paid news in the country. The investigation found that 17 media outlets in India are ready to run a Hindutva campaign if they are given money.  

In a press conference at the Press Club in New Delhi on Monday, Aniruddha Bahal, founding editor of Cobrapost, released the sting videos that show people from 17 media houses agreeing to run pro-Hindutva stories ahead of the 2019 Parliamentary elections. 

The codename used for the investigation is 'Operation 136', which is named after India's rank (136) in the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.

The entities caught in Cobrapost's probe include DNA, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Punjab Kesari, India TV,, ScoopWhoop and UNI. Cobrapost journalist Pushp Sharma approached people in decision-making positions at the media entities about running pro-Hindutva news in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. 

According to Cobrapost, 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. Sharma proposed a three-phase campaign. Initially, the media house should promote Hindutva through customised religious programmes. Then, the campaign should mobilise the electorate by promoting speeches of Hindutva hardliners like Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti, Mohan Bhagwat and others. 

As elections approach, the next stage would focus on targeting and damaging opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati by describing them with language like Pappu, Bua and Babua.  

The media entity has to use all available platforms - print and digital, including social media - for the success of this campaign. 

Cobrapost said that were astonished when they realised "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."  

Interestingly, some of them even agreed to run down Union ministers like Arun Jaitley, Manoj Sinha, Jayant Sinha, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi, and run stories against leaders of BJP alliance partners like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha, according to the Cobrapost statement. 

"First, such a proposition is violative of various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which hold publication of content of communal and defamatory nature a criminal act punishable by imprisonment," Cobrapost said in the statement. 

The responses 

Indian Express reports that Sanjay Gupta, chief editor of Dainik Jagran and CEO of Jagran Prakashan Limited, denied the allegations and said that the person representing the media house in the sting, Sanjay Pratap Singh, Dainik Jagran area manager for Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, is not in a decision-making position. "After verifying authenticity of the video, if the allegations are proven to be true, action will be taken against Singh," said Gupta, speaking to the paper. 

In a statement published in The Quint, Sudipto  Chowdhuri, president-sales of India TV, said the video is doctored and edited. Chowdhuri said that Cobrapost "concealed important aspects of the discussion only to sensationalise the story and for their self-serving interests.” 

Cobrapost said that only the first part of their sting operation has been revealed. The second part of the probe will be published in April. 

The full video can be seen here

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