What is media integrity? Media integrity refers to the ability of a news media outlet to serve the public interest and democratic process, making it resilient to institutional corruption within the media system.
The recently released sting, Operation 136 by Cobrapost reveals how 27 media organisations including Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, Paytm, and many more make you question whether the Indian media is fit to be seen as righteous and trustworthy.
A noticeable pattern across these media houses, corporates and publications can be seen. These are three of them.
Media houses are not only apathetic but also hypocritical about the use of black money. Applauding Modi for his demonetisation move seems to have gone to waste as most of these publications are entrenched in the illegal bank transaction system. They were ready to accept unaccounted cash. Senior manager Sanjoy Chatterjee of Zee News is caught saying:
“You see, there is no question [of GST] on the cash part. The client has to pay [GST] on the rest of the ₹12.5 crore [to be paid by cheque]. We will give you the deal. Ye jo humari jo deal banegi wo 12.5 crore ki deal banegi, usmein entitlement diya jayega aapko (We will prepare a deal on Rs. 12.5 crores, in which you will be given an entitlement) and accordingly, payment has to be made as full advance. Full advance means 12.5 [crore] which is 50 % is to be [paid] fully advance. That money will come from which account? Australian account?”
Their best buddies are Angadiyas or hawala operators who route cash to convert black money to white. They are found tutoring the undercover reporter (Pushp Sharma) on how to go about this endemic hush-hush process.
It is alarmingly evident in the tapes that they agreed to promote Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism and religious discourse. Publications show no reluctance in agreeing to publish overtly communal agendas and Hindutva propaganda.
The deputy manager of the Times group is more saffron than the undercover reporter himself when he agrees to start campaigns like ‘Love Jihad’ on the lines of the Vishva Hindu Parishad to charge people with communal feelings. Another manager is found saying that Times of India will facilitate their entry across educational institutions in Punjab. They will show the propaganda as a social cause, and it will be easy for Times of India to get a sanction to do these events in school. We see that most publications have good grip not only over the political class but also over the election bureaucracy.
The reporter’s demand as the elections approach, was that media houses target opposition leaders, namely Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, caricaturing them using less than dignified language like “Pappu”, “Bua” and “Babua”, respectively, and character assassinating them in order to show them in poor light before the electorate. Not only did they agree to publish such material but also lend editorial and creative services for it.
Hindustan Times’ deputy manager is quoted as saying “Dekhiye hum jab Hindutva ke agenda ko lekar nikle hain toh by hook or by crook kaam humara hona hain. Dekhiye lekin agar aap 2017 ka chunav aap dekhe to BJP ko jitna jyaada humne support kiya Hindustan ko kiya…main manata hoon ki Shashi Shekharji ne bahut achchha support BJP ko unhone is chunav mein kiya (Look, when we take out the Hindutva agenda, then by hook or by crook our work has to be done. But if you look at the 2017 election, the amount of support we gave to the BJP… I agree that Shashi Shekhar supported the BJP in the elections).”
Another house agrees to bar campaigns of rival parties to be aired on their stations. “Yes, that is there. If we are able to block the road, then we can do something like that because when there will be no space available to run any more campaigns, then.”
Some other senior executives of these media houses agreed to package content in such a manner that shows the events of deaths of Kar Sevaks in police firing at Ayodhya, and then the Godhra train fire to fan communal passions as a build-up to 2019 elections. “Nowhere should Hindutva be diluted in our campaign,” met with a crisp “Haan vo toh hai.”
All but two media houses run by the motto ‘make as much profit as possible to keep the investors happy’. They do not distinguish between advertorials and editorials as most content that’s paid for is run as regular news. In all the tapes we see Pushp Sharma (the undercover reporter) interviewing management teams who have more control over what gets published. They are the decision makers. Is this what journalism is? As Vineet Jain (the Time’s Group managing director) puts it, “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business.”
So, does the Indian Media has any substance of value in its publications?