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Operation 136 : What the Cobrapost stings reveal and conceal

Cobrapost today released Part 2 of its Operation 136 on YouTube. In Part 1 of the series, they had stung media houses such as Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, DNA, Punjab Kesari, ScoopWhoop, India TV, Rediff and UNI. In Part 2, videos show staff of prominent media houses such as Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Radio One, Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV and Open magazine.

The main point of all these stings is to show how media houses agreed to run “Hindutva” content in various forms and stages. Based on this, Cobrapost asserts:

In fact, our investigation establishes the fact that the RSS, and as a corollary, Hindutva, has made deep inroads into not only the newsrooms but also the boardrooms of Indian media houses where even owners either blatantly admit their allegiance to the party in power and its parent organization or are eager to have an association with them.

On the face of it, this assertion may be valid. But to come to a conclusive view on this, an important question needs to be answered:

Would the answers of the persons in the sting have been the same, if an anti-BJP party had made similar offers of crores of rupees in exchange of what is essentially paid news?

Based on the answer to the above question, another point emerges:

Can it be then said that “RSS” has made deep inroads into media, or is the media ideology-agnostic and just cares about the ideology of money?

These questions need to be asked since we have time and again seen how the very media houses named above, have been partial to anti-BJP parties especially Congress and the Left, and at the same time have been highly aggressive towards the BJP.

Hindustan Times ran the biased “Hate-Tracker“, ABP News is run by the same group which runs The Telegraph and publishes coarse anti-BJP routinely, Lokmat is owned by a Congressman. Is Cobrapost trying to tell us that these media houses, besides others who have regularly posted false and biased anti-BJP content, have now suddenly turned “Sanghis”? Or is it just the power of money?

There is absolutely no question that the moral standards of Indian media, by and large, are very low. Many have covert links to political parties, but India has not yet evolved to a stage where channels can openly flout their political ideology, yet continue to report the news. In the USA for example, the audience knows which media house tilts on which side. This honesty helps the audience judge the content. In India, dishonest channels brand themselves as “neutral” while misguiding the audience.

Coming back to Cobrapost, it also does not have any sting on some media houses which are quite clearly pro-Right Wing such as Republic. Or some which are quite clearly aligning to the Left, such as NDTV or Mirror Now. Was it the case that these houses refused to fall for the sting? or did they not give answers favourable to the narrative? Or will there be a Part 3 featuring these houses?

One would also wonder whether these sting operations are actually a mere ploy to keep media left-leaning. Now that some reports and opinions, which don’t conform to the radical leftist narrative, are making their way to some corners in the old media, this sting aims to tar all such views as “paid”.

After all reports or allegations about “paid news” is hardly new. This sting tries to make it political and ideological, thus giving a leeway to those who indulge in paid news.

Cobrapost also needs to be questioned regarding one extremely pertinent point that most seem to be missing. What is the credibility of the portal and the report, when the journalist at the helm is Pushp Sharma of fake RTI document fame? 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. Since Cobrapost is casting aspersions on media as a whole, and since media ethics is at an all-time low, their assertions are actually plausible, will they also reveal why their own journalist was arrested earlier for spreading fake news and whether he peddled that information at the behest of some leftist entity?

When they came out with the part 1 of their sting operation, Zee News had stung the stingers. Will Cobrapost also reveal which media houses didn’t fall for their sting, in all fairness?

Cobrapost can also add to the credibility of the stings by releasing the raw footage of the videos. The videos have been sliced and diced at multiple places, thus giving leg-room to the channels to claim they have been misquoted. Further, in some cases, they may truly have been misquoted by Cobrapost. One example is the conversation with Ajay Shekhar of PayTM. He does flaunt his closeness to RSS etc. but expresses his surprise when he learns that such a campaign is planned and he is not aware of it from his sources. He then states that he can undertake the campaign only after confirming from his sources.

Cobrapost takes this surprise as an admission that Shekhar is in the close circles of RSS and hence is dismayed at being left out. It can also be that Shekhar had gauged that he may be getting conned by someone posing as a person related to the Sangh, and by saying that he will verify with his sources, he may scare the possible imposter out of such a deal.

Nevertheless, if the tapes stand forensic scrutiny, and the raw footage proves that the victims are not misquoted, a serious investigation needs to be launched into the activities of the media houses. The question of corruption may be answered, but as mentioned earlier, is this ideological corruption or purely financial corruption?

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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