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The Cobrapost Operation 136 Exposes The Rot In India’s Media Industry

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Cobrapost, a non-profit journalism company founded by Aniruddha Bahal (the co-founder of Tehelka), recently released its new sting operation clip titled Operation 136. The clip was supposed released in two parts (part 2, however, was not released due to a restraining order from Delhi High Court) and it exposed the malicious reality in prominent media companies.

In the first part of the clip, CEOs, marketing heads and various top executives of reputed news agencies could be seen accepting money to spread potentially polarising news items, or to spread messages of Hindutva. In a classic sting operation, an undercover reporter, posing as a person close to RSS, offered a deal to promote a specific ideology in order to affect the results of the upcoming 2019 elections. The media houses in the sting include Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd., the ZEE group, DNA and many others. Only two newspapers, Dainik Sambad and Bartaman,
refused to accept the offer.

The sting was carried out by undercover journalist Pushp Sharma, who posed as “Acharya Atal”, identifying himself as a person close to the Nagpur-based RSS. In the video posted by the Cobrapost website, Pushp Sharma can be clearly heard discussing the deals with the executives of various news channels. As he states, this was to done in three stages. The first step would be about ‘religious messaging’, while the second would be about spreading negative stories against Oppposition leaders (including Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati). Finally, the third step would entail the polarisition of the Hindus and the Muslims.

It was shocking to see that many prominent news agencies accepted this ‘cash for coverage’ deal, while also agreeing to spread messages that could disturb the communal harmony. The video clearly shows the degraded state of journalism in India, where not only the CEOs but the heads of certain media houses also agreed to the deals.

Media is supposed to be the fourth pillar of democracy. However, corrupt people and media organisations can lead to its destruction, which will, in turn, be a threat to democracy. Millions of people watch news and other informational programmes aired by these media groups on a daily basis. They put their trust on these channels and organisations, and they hope that all they are hearing is true and can be relied on. But the sting operations reveal a grave danger to the peace and harmony of this culturally-diverse nation.

These media groups enjoy a large viewership – and any wrong, sensitive or provocative message to the masses can cause discomfort, stoke tensions and even cause riots. This was seen earlier after Indira Gandhi’s death, which led to Hindu-Sikh riots leaving thousands dead. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the journalism and media houses remain unbiased and corruption-free. Media organisations need to understand their responsibilities and stop indulging in malpractices. More importantly, the government should also look into this matter and stop the spread of corruption in journalistic organisations, without curbing their freedom.

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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.

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        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        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.

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        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
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        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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