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.