An investigative report by Cobrapost has sensationally revealed how certain media houses in India had agreed to push the Hindutva agenda by accepting money.
Ranked among top 5 TV news channels by the Broadcast Audience Research Council week 9 ratings for 2018, India TV is watched by millions of Indians. Before Rajat Sharma launched India TV in May 2004, he had already earned a name for his talk shows “Aap Ki Adalat” on Zee TV and “Janata Ki Adalat” on Star TV.
Known for his journalistic candour and uprightness while talking celebrities into making confessions on his talk shows, he had promised his news channel would become Aapki Awaz, the Voice of the Public. However, the promise looks hollow. As this investigation finds, its top marketing officials would peddle any content for money, without questioning its nature. In fact, the undercover reporter, Pushp Sharma. found them overzealous while accepting his communal and defamatory media campaign.
Sharma first met Jitender Kumar, who is working with India TV as its Deputy Vice President (Sales), and Manager (Ad Sales) Gaurav Tyagi. Barely few minutes into this meeting, as Sharma begins to brief the Deputy Vice President on his agenda, Jitender shows his willingness to come on board. Contesting that his clients religious propaganda is political, he says: “Ye political jayega jo aap keh rahe ho na Hindutva political aa jaata hai connection … humare yahan nahi hai par wo dekhte hee political kee tareh hai na log ki Hindutva ko ki India TV chala raha hai Hindutv samajh rahe ho (This is political what you are saying is Hindutva … there is a political connection with it … there is no problem with us but once the people watch it that India TV is running Hindutva they will say it is political. Hope you understand it).” In the same breath, however, Jitender makes his sales pitch to show his eagerness. He says: “Sir ismein humein aapki ek support chahiye … ye chahiye ki aap teen mahine mein jo teen kee baat kar rahe hain usmein derh mahine mein derh crore jo bhi hai … wo humein billing uski March mein chahiye hogi (Sir, I will need your support in this regard … of the Rs. 3 crore you want to pay for first three months, we would like to have the billing for Rs. 1.5 crore in March).” The reason, according to him, is: “Toh wo ek target wagaireh ka pressure rehta hai (We are actually under the pressure of [completing our sales] target).” His colleague Gaurav Tyagi tells the journalist that India TV is the right platform for his campaign: “Har cheej ko karne ke liye right medium bhi select karna bhi utna hi zyad zaroori hai (It is essential for you to select a right medium for anything you want to do)… India TV is a …” His immediate boss Jitender endorses him: “India TV is a right platform.” Both further reveal that India TV has the right kind of “enivironment” for his campaign. Listen to what Gaurav says: “Ye aapki jo environment hai wo aapki jo aap karna chahte hain … wo India TV mein hi milegi (You see, only India TV has the environment for what you want to do).” Jitender complements his colleague: “Wo India TV mein hi (You will [find] that only in India TV)…” Both again reiterate that none of the channels except theirs has that kind of environment.
While the journalist explains how his soft Hindutva campaign would help create a congenial environment for the party in 2019 elections, Jitendra wants to know if their client has any commercial on Hindutva with him and seeks to watch it: “Ek baar wo dikha do main dekhna chahta hoon sara samajhna chahta hoon (Let me see that. I want to see that and understand the whole [idea]).” Both are promptly shown a video. After watching it, Gaurav says: “Ye toh purely religion promotion (This is purely religion promotion).” His boss seconds: “Ye ayega religion promotion mein (This will come under religion promotion).” Jitendra further says: “Ismein bahut issue ayenge bahut … talk of the town banega but issue bahut ayenge. Tabhi main keh raha hoon political mein aa jayega ye indirectly or directly aa jayega ye (It will give rise to a lot of issues … but it will become talk of the town. That is why I am telling you indirectly or directly it will come under political).” Then he ressures with these words: “Koi diqqat nahi (There is no problem).” Jitender wants to make this deal directly, as he says: “Ye deal na hum log direct karna chahenge … koi diqqat toh nahi hai (I would like to make this deal directly … hope you have no problem [with it]).” Here Sharma reminds them that he does not want to compromise his agenda of Hindutva. Reassures Jitender: “Done hai Sir done hai. Bol diya toh bol diya … billing hum apne according karenge thoda target ka (It is done Sir done. I have given you my word … but we will do billing according to our need [keeping in mind], the target).” Now, Jitender makes another promise. You hear him to know what it is: “Aapko milwayenge Rajat ji se unke office mein barhiya tareeke se (We will take you for a grand meeting with Rajat [Sharma] ji in his office).” Oh, it will be like icing on the cake! He can give his approval through gestures only, says the journalist. It will be enough for me. Yes such things are done in that manner only. Says Jitender: “Ye cheejein isharon mein hi hoti hain. Ye na waise khul ke nahi hoti ye cheejein (Such things are done in hints. Such things are not done openly).”
After this Hindutva phase, the journalist now goes on to tell them, the second phase will be political in which they will have to attack political opponents using their nicknames like Pappu. The journalist asks them to repeat Pappu so often in the campaign that our objective of character assassination is effectively achieved. Jitender understands the purpose of this kind of campaign to say: “Lage ki 2019 tak ke liye jaa rahe hain … samajh gaya (So that it becomes clear that you are aiming for 2019 [elections] … I got it).” So, why not make a detailed proposal and send it to me, the journalist asks them. Promises Jitender: “Aaj main aapko sham tak de doonga (I will send it to you by today evening).” Fine, but funds will be transferred only after he is able to see the owner of India TV, the journalist tells them, as my organization has instructions to release payment only after he has met the owner. As they have already promised a meeting with their owner, Rajat Sharma, Jitender again says: “Sir wo directly kabhi nahi kahenge wo kahenge hum aapke saath hain bas. (Sir, he will not discuss anything directly. He will say ʻwe are with you.ʼ That is all).” Yes, that is all what I want, Sharma tells him.
Sharma’s meeting with Sudipto Chowdhuri went on expected lines. In fact, he met Sharma twice that day to take forward the deal. As Sharma met the Executive President (Sales) of India TV, he hoped Chowdhuri has been briefed by his colleague Jitender. Welcoming their prospective client, Chowdhuri says: “Hum logon kee meeting mein internally baat hui toh wo jo commercial hai usmein halka sa changes karne padenge (We had had a meeting to discuss it internally. We will have to make some changes to the commercial).” Sharma simply refuses to buy this argument but to convince him why it is required, Chowdhuri says that the content is overtly religious and legal team will not allow them to do this kind of campaign. What if members of other religions groups also come to us to promote their religion, he adds. He suggests: “Ek disclaimer toh chala sakte hain na disclaimer kyon nahi chala sakte hain main bol raha hoon na (We can run a disclaimer in the end of the content. I am telling you we can certain run a disclaimer).” Finally, he adds: “Toh I am saying ki let it look like a proper … Ye hai na last mein rahega ki you please call up so and so number and for to avail Gita or books or log onto web site … khatm karo toh that is all I am asking (So, what I am saying is that it look like a proper [ad]. This will be in the end that you please call up so and so number and for to avail Gita or books or log onto web site … that is all I am asking).” There could not be two opinions on that.
Now, what Chowdhuri wants is to close the deal then and there. Hear him: “Abhi hum kya karenge deal ko structure kar lete hain letter heads humare saath hain toh abhi printouts bhi le lete hain printouts leke aapse sign kara lete hain … theek hai humein half an hour and forty minutes dijiye hum log deal structure kar lete hain (What we will do we will structure the deal. Take printout on our letter heads and get your sign[ature] on it … okay. Give us half an hour and forty minutes. We will structure the deal).”
The journalist met Chowdhuri and his team again after they had structured the deal. Chowdhuri quoted a price of Rs. 16 crore for the first phase of the campaign and if all three phases were taken into account, the total deal was going to cost Rs. 48 crore. As the journalist tells him he would prefer to keep Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti at the front of this campaign, Chowdhuri emphasizes that it was better if they got the go ahead the next day: “Bilkul bilkul mera sirf ye hai ki agar kal dopahar tak ya early morning tak ho jaye toh really it will be helpful for us (Sure, sure. I would say that if it we get a go ahead by tomorrow afternoon or early evening really it will be helpful for us). ” Sharma smartly dodges the issue.
Chowdhuri is a quick decision maker and walks an extra mile when it comes to taking an initiative. Before meeting the journalist, he has already taken permission of Ritu Dhawan, wife of Rajat Sharma and co-owner of the channel, to clinch the deal. Here is what he tells us next: “Isiliye kal jab humari baat ho rahi thi hum logon se phone par aapse baat kiya hum logon ne socha dekho aap itne busy ho aap Guwahati, Kolkata ya fir Nagpur jaoge jo bhi aise hum expect karnenge mail bhej ke apna aaram se baithe rahenge toh wo initiative nahi hota hai let us take initiative aur ussi waqt humne baithe ke apne paise se ticket karai boss ko mail likh diya ki boss okay … jo bhi likha parhi wala kaam hai na kagaz wala she said okay (So, when I spoke to you over phone yesterday, I thought you are a very busy person. You were to go to Guwahati, Kolkata and Nagpur. In this case as it is expected I could have shot a mail to you. Now this is not an initiative. Let us take initiative and then and there I bought a ticket and shot a mail to my boss … all the documentation work. She said okay).”
The journalist seeks reconfirmation from the team if his Hindutva agenda will be run on India TV. Chowdhuri is prompt to confirm: “Promote karenge na humne ye kiya promote kiya (Yes, we will promote it. This is what we will promote).” Jitender chips in: “Humne alag se koi paisa charge nahi kiya jo ussi mein (We are not charging anything extra for this).” Explains Chowdhuri further: “Jo basic rate hai ussi mein charge kiya aur usmein poora saal ke liya kya kiya. Everyday aapka 30 second tak ka 10 advertisement chalega wo accha se karke hum aapko bhej denge aapko accha pasand bhi aayega (We are charging only basic rate and we have done it for the whole year. Every day we will run 10 advertisements of 30 seconds each. We will develop it properly and send it to you. Hope you will like it).”
Sharma tells them to also include national anthem in their Pappu jingles so that nationalism agenda also runs concurrently. At this point, Chowdhuri suggests a way out while agreeing to run the Pappu jingle: “Iska legal tareeqa bhi hai agar maan lo ek letter aa jaye mail aa jayega sangathan kee taraf se ya Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti ki bhai we indemnify you kuchh problem hoga hum withdraw kar lenge (There is a legal way out. Suppose we receive a letter or a mail from the Sangathan or Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti saying that we indenify you and if there is any problem then we will withdraw [the ad]).” Nothing could be better than this, the journalist tells him, promising them all help in case there arises any problem with the police authorities. This is how an understanding with India TV is arrived at.
A few days before the release of this story, Sharma called Deputy Vice President Jitender Kumar again over phone. The objective was not only to seek reconfirmation of what the India TV top honchos had agreed to do in their personal interviews with the journalist but also to make certain wacky and bizarre demands to see if they can agree to fulfill them, as well. In this telephonic conversation, Sharma asked Jitender to bash not only certain leaders and ministers from the party in power but also those of the NDA partners. Here, we reproduce some of those gems.
As soon as Sharma refers to the resounding defeat that the BJP has received in recently held byelections in Uttar Pradesh, Jitender reveals: “Jo haar gaye … Sir hum toh chala hee nahi rahe na haarane wala (About what they lost … Sir, we are not running that story of [BJP’s] defeat [in byelections]).” The revelation makes it explicit the biased role that India TV is playing by blacking out stories which are inconvenient to their political masters.
You see this defeat is the result of internecine clash of interest between Maneka Gandhi and Manoj Sinha, the journalist explains Jitender why BJP lost its winning streak in byelections. While Manoj Sinha wants to replace Yogi, Maneka wants her son Varun Gandhi to be coronated as UP CM. So, if you have any story against these leaders, he directs him, play it forcefully, never tone it down. We hear Jitender agree with a crisp “Okay.” Next demand that Sharma puts before him is simply outrageous. We will provide the sex CD of Varun Gandhi and his wheeling dealing with those arms dealers. See if you can run that CD on India TV, the journalist tells him. Replies Jitender: “Okay.” You know we used to criticize the Aadhar scheme when we were in opposition, he tells Jitender, but now it is our government and we are linking everything with Aadhar. So, you must run stories favouring Aadhar scheme. What we hear next from Jitender reveals the pro-establishment stance of India TV: “Aadhar ke favour mein toh hum campaign chala rahe hain agar aapne dekha hoga toh dekha na bahut barhiya hum campaign chala rahe hain prime time par … wo toh chal hee raha hai Acharya Ji … jaise aap keh rahe hain UP wali baat wo jismein haare the seats toh humne jo UP Samvad kiya tha na wo uske baad hum logon ne on air hee nahi kiya kyonki accha nahi lagta na unhone bola tha Yogi ji ne ki hum log jeetenge seeton par sab toh isliye hum logon ne wo mellow down kar diya dikhaya hee nahi channel pe zyada (If you have seen we already running a campaign in favour of the Aadhar … oh you saw it. We are running a good campaign in prime time … That is already running Acharya Ji … As you said that you have lost seats, we had done a programme UP Samvad after the elections. But we did not put that on air because we did not feel good about this defeat, especially when Yogi Ji had claimed that they will win all seats. So, we mellowed it down and we did not run it much on our channel).” It is apparent that serving the political masters of the day is the policy of India TV.
Finding him compliant on every count, Sharma pressed for more. Telling him that his supreme leader might ask to run down a particular minister or two, he asks Jitender to convey the message to his boss when such occasion arises. Agrees Jitender: “Theek hai wo hum meeting ke time unke kaan mein daal denge (All right. That I will whisper into his ears at the time of meeting is held).” Appreciating his forthcoming approach, Sharma now asks him to promote Yogi even better than Modi. Well, they are already doing it Jitender informs us: “Aapke bina kahe hum log karte hain sab wo toh hum log ka sab wo toh aap jaante hee hain Achary Ji (We do all that without you telling us … we all … you know it well Acharya Ji).” Appreciating their proactive approach, Sharma now tells him another cock and bull story. You see the Finance Minister has taken certain unpleasant decisions in the past 4 years which have sullied the government image. Now your boss and the Finance Minster were classmates. So, if you ever have something unsavoury about him, don’t shy away from running that story. Our Sangathan will keep at an arm’s length. “Toh aap ye keh rahe ho unke against bhi chalte rahna chahiye (You mean we should run stories against him as well)?” Jitender wonders. Yes if need arises, the journalist tells him, as the minister is becoming a liability. We get an affirmative reply from Jitender, as he says: “Samajh gaye, samajh gaye (I got it, I got it).”
Then there are certain partners in our alliance, Sharma sounds him out, whose leaders often give us pinpricks. So, when you are able to dig out something against Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha, just air the stuff to run them down. We hear a crisp rely from Jitender: “Okay … samajh gaye (Okay … I got it).”
India TV’s reaction:
Sudipto Chaudhuri, Executive President, India TV, via e-mail:
At the outset, we categorically deny the contents of your e-mail. However, since we have received your e-mail at around 12 noon today, we are in the process of appropriately responding to your allegations. In the meanwhile, we call upon you not to release any story or statement proposed by you in your trailing e-mail without our comments. Any such release of story or statement prior to receiving our response shall be unethical, unfair and illegal, and would constrain us to take recourse to appropriate civil and criminal remedies. Therefore, refrain from releasing any comments and story without our prior comments as subsequent publication of the same would lead to irreparable loss to our reputation and goodwill and will be violating all norms of journalistic ethics. We shall be sending you the response within the next few hours.
(Reproduced with permission from Cobrapost.com)