Explained: Cobrapost 136, India’s Biggest Media Exposé

Two months since Cobrapost highlighted how certain media organisations were ready to strike deals to promote the Hindutva agenda, the website has released a second batch of videos that show managers of major media groups giving in to the same pressure for money and to promote the same political agenda.

The sting operation that was carried out by Cobrapost on 27 media houses, was titled Operation 136 – Part 2 and released on May 25. As a part of the operation, undercover videos were shot by journalist Pushp Sharma who went and met owners and managers of media houses under a pseudonym with the offer of promoting Hindutva advertorials for huge sums of money.

Apart from Bengali daily Bartaman Patrika’s general manager (advertisement) Ashish Mukherjee and an executive of another Bengali paper Dainik Sambad, the sting operations reveal that almost all publications, including a few leading ones, were willing to go ahead with Hindutva advertorials.

Cobrapost had earlier released the videos of the first part of Operation 136 earlier this year in March. In the video, many senior-level employees of media houses such as India TV, Dainik Jagran, DNA, ScoopWhoop, etc were seen willing to plant stories in favour of the current Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

The journalist Pushp Sharma had earlier made headlines when he wrote a story for The Milli Gazette in March 2016, which claimed that the current government’s Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) did not recruit Muslims as per government policy. In the story, he had claimed that he came to the conclusion based on an RTI response.

However, AYUSH Ministry categorically denied these claims and the journalist was eventually arrested as well by the Delhi Police for allegedly fabricating the RTI response.

How Was the Operation Conducted?

The journalist Pushp Sharma, under the pseudonym Acharya Atal, went undercover posing as a representative of a Hindutva organisation with a particular agenda of creating a Hindu nationalistic discourse in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

So, Which Media Publications Are We Talking About?

Some of the big media houses whose owners or managers seemed to be willing to run Hindutva advertorials were the Times Group, Hindustan Times, Zee News, ABP, Dainik Jagran, Lokmat and the The New Indian Express.

What Were They Heard Saying?

Vineet Jain, who is the managing director of the Times Group, during the course of the conversation with journalist Pushp Sharma is heard saying, “As a corporate, we have to look neutral. As neutral as possible.”

The media honcho seemed to have no problem with peddling what was described as ‘soft Hindutva’ – preachings of Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita in the Times as advertorials for huge sums of money, even after he is told that it is for purely political purposes.

Similarly, Kalli Purrie, who is the vice-chairman of The India Today group, talks about how she has absolutely no problem in running preachings of Lord Krishna and the sayings of the Bhagavad Gita for peddling a Hindutva agenda.

However, Kalli Purie does point out that there would be absolutely no editorial interference and that they would criticise the organisation editorially if they were doing any in-field activities which they did not agree with.

Pushp Sharma also warns that during the course of the election campaigning they may take part in some polarising activities and do some ‘nasty kind of things’. Purie asks them to not do it but this doesn’t end up in her refusing to do business with Pushp Sharma.

Responding to Cobrapost, India Today has claimed that there was no relationship between the ‘business side’ of the organisation and its editorial coverage in any way.

HT Media Limited associate vice-president Avneesh Bansal even gave suggestions to Push Sharma on how he should go about doing his job for maximum impact. He urged him to tie up with media houses and give crores of rupees, which would automatically put the editorial team under pressure. On top of that, he also recommended him to hire a PR agency to control reporters who work for ‘monetary desire’.

However, Dainik Bhaskar successfully managed to get an ex-parte order from the Delhi High Court which prevented Cobrapost from making public the communication it had with the media house.

Why Is this A Big issue?

Media funding has always been a cause of concern and controversy in India. It is said that since a majority of the funding that most media houses receive is in the form of advertisements – government or private enterprise – their hands remain tied. This makes them editorially vulnerable and also prevents them from doing very powerful stories against the organisations which may be funding them.

However, these particular sting operations aren’t just about editorial independence. They are also about how these advertisements were about a particular political agenda and the reporter blatantly mentioned that the organisation would communally vitiate the environment in India before the elections if required. While it may not be against the legal framework to create and showcase such advertorials, it puts the independence of the media in jeopardy since it promotes a particular political narrative.

Whatever may be the past credentials of the reporter Pushp Sharma, no media house has come out saying that the videos are fake. Even India Today’s response does not claim that it is not the voice of Kalli Purie.

The fact that 25 media houses in the world’s largest democracy were willing to go ahead with such controversial advertorials promoting a political agenda should ring alarm bells amongst the citizenry.

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Image source: YouTube
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

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Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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