Cobrapost has recently come out with a report claiming that many media houses were ready to peddle Hindutva narrative in exchange for money. The key person behind this sting report in Pushp Sharma of fake RTI document fame. Cobrapost has given their sting the name Operation 136. 136 refers to the rank of India on world press freedom index published by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) in 2017.
Media houses who was targeted by Sharma include India TV, Dainik Jagran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA (Daily News and Analysis), Amar Ujala, UNI, 9X Tashan, Samachar Plus, HNN 24*7, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, ScoopWhoop, Rediff.com, IndiaWatch, Aj and Sadhna Prime News.
Pushp Sharma, is a journalist who had been arrested for spreading fake news. He had fabricated an RTI reply which claimed that there was no recruitment of Muslims in AYUSH ministry.
Zee News in its ‘Operation Rashtravaad’ revealed that a Cobrapost journalist Pushp Sharma disguised as Acharya Chatrapal Atal who wanted to conduct a sting operation got stung himself. Sharma met the personnel of Zee News to lure them into a deal. Acharya Atal pretended to be the representative of an ashram and Guruji. He had got in touch with Zee through a middleman named Shishir Gomang. Shishir is the son of a former Odisha chief minister Giridhar Gomang.
Under the guise of Acharya Atal, Pushp Sharma offered ads and money to Zee personnel with a demand of spreading communal news. His interaction with Zee News reveals that he wanted to portray media houses with an inclination towards nationalist agenda could also be bought for money by right-wing elements. However, the attempt of Sharma failed as Zee personnel said that they would stick to journalistic ethics and standards. Sharma met Zee personnel at a hotel in Bhubaneshwar.
Sharma had tried to portray Zee Channel as one that can be lured with money and ads in exchange for content. Since Zee personnel reiterated that they would stick to AFP (advertiser funded programme) standards, Sharma was unsuccessful in his attempts. Pushp Sharma also tried to drop in the name of BJP leaders and RSS in the conversation. Zee News claims that Acharya Atal was trying to fool the news channel by using the name of the ruling party.
Pushp Sharma also offered the Zee News chief a meeting with his guruji to talk about a ‘deal’. However, Zee personnel told him that their chief has told them to stick to facts and national interest. He also clarified that their chief does not talk deals. In a key part of the video shot by Zee News, the person is seen saying the following.
Pushp Sharma: Before the election I want you to take the official line. In that, I want some anti-Muslim issues and I also like the issues to be communalised.
Zee News personnel: Even today our channel’s line is nationalist in nature.
Pushp Sharma: Rashtravaad is a dicey word. What I am saying is, I am asking for some content in the form of political demands.
Pushp Sharma: I want the issue to communalised and the issue must give dividends equivalent to that of five years of governance in a single day.
Zee personnel: We do not hide the truth. We report the truth in Zee media. Our organisation in an honest one.
Zee has not explicitly claimed that Pushp Sharma has targeted them as a part of Cobrapost sting operation in their program ‘Operation Rashtravad’. Their program is entirely focused on the manner in which Pushp Sharma tried to lure them into the deal. However, it appears that Zee was also on his hit-list as part of the Cobra post sting. Unfortunately, the predator became the prey in this episode.
The full program can be seen below.