Ahmedabad: Friday evening saw several top media houses left rattled after investigative news portal Cobrapost published sting videos online which showed top media house executives and officials agreeing to push communal content and attack the opposition upon being paid lucrative sums. The sting, titled Operation 136-II, has exposed owners and high-ranking personnel of more than two dozen media houses, both mainstream and regional, from the biggest to the smaller ones, the oldest ones and the newer ones too.
In a string of 30 video clips of the sting operation conducted by journalist Pushp Sharma, top executives of major media houses agreed to run the malicious campaigns on their platforms that would not only cause communal disharmony among citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party. The media houses agreeing to run the campaign were 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.
Sharma approached these media houses posing as a seasoned pracharak of a fictitious religious organization, Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, purportedly on a mission, at the behest of the 'Sangathan' to bolster the prospects of the party in power in the coming elections. He offered them huge sums of money in return for running campaigns that promoted Hindutva, polarized the electorate on communal lines and targeted opposition leaders, namely, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. Some of the owners and important functionaries of the said media houses admitted that they were either associated with the RSS or they were pro-Hindutva and would thus be happy to work on the campaign, forgetting the cardinal principle of journalism-neutrality. Almost all agreed to run this campaign on their platforms such as print, electronic, FM radio or digital in its various formats such as e-news portal, e-paper or social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but in such a manner that it would not look like it's a paid content.
Of all the outlets, only two media houses-Bartaman Patrika and Dainik Sambad- refused to play ball and couldn't be convinced for this 'campaign'. The Bartaman Patrika is broadsheet Bengali-language daily, which is the second most widely circulated Bengali newspaper in India after Anandbazar Patrika. Dainik Sambad is also a Bengali-language newspaper, but it is published from Tripura.
On the evening of May 24, a day before the expose, Cobrapost had received an exparte stay order from the Delhi High Court which debars them from including the Dainik Bhaskar Group in their investigation. The court had passed the injunction in favor of Dainik Bhaskar without giving a chance to Cobrapost to present their side of the case. This made evident that the Dainik Bhaskar Group too was a part of the media houses stung by journalist Sharma.