Operation 136 Part 2: India Today reacts after Cobrapost stings top executives

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Cobrapost website has released part 2 of Operation 136 expose on the Indian media despite the High Court’s restrain on the plea filed by Dainik Bhaskar group. The investigative website has released the transcripts and videos on its Facebook and YouTube channels. In this episode we reproduce the website’s expose on India Today group along with the response received from the India Today Group.

India Today

The website said that references to, and materials relating to, Dainik Bhaskar publications group will not be released at this stage. Cobrapost alleged that the Delhi High Court passed the order in favour of Dainik Bhaskar without hearing their side of the story and have vowed to challenge it.

It said, “We have received an exparte stay order from the honourable Delhi High Court on the evening of 24th May, 2018, which debars us from including the Dainik Bhaskar Group in our investigation. The honourable High Court has passed the injunction in favour of Dainik Bhaskar without hearing our side of the case, and we shall consequently be challenging the court order in the interest of truth and justice.” The website said that its sting operation had found that prominent media houses “agreed to publish content with a potential to polarise the electorate along communal lines.”

Here we reproduce its expose on India Today with the website’s permission. The report below has also included the India Today Group’s feaction, which came on Friday evening:

India Today started its journey in 1975 as a monthly India-specific news magazine for the NRIs. However, it grew in more and more popularity back home as the magazine established itself as one of the most prestigious names in news business with its incisive, investigative and analytical stories. Its foray into televised news began with Newstrack, a news capsule that was telecast by the national broadcaster DD daily in the evening. With the government liberalizing air waves, the group launched its own TV news channel Aaj Tak. Today, it is a diversified media group, both in print and in electronic. While the group’s TV Today Network operates Aaj Tak,  India Today Television, Tez and Delhi Aaj Tak,   it publishes India TodayBusiness Today and Cosmopolitan, among other magazines, and Mail Today an eveninger.

 

Pushp Sharma met various high-ranking personnel of the India Today Group to check if they were willing to run his malicious campaign with Hindutva and lampooning leaders of rival political parties as its main ingredients that would benefit the party in power. He started with India Today Impact Manager Hisham Ali Khan, at Delhi, whose support to the BJP and the cause of Hindutva was as frightening as it was real. As the journalist goes on to discuss his agenda with Khan, point by point, Khan says: “So my only motive is, my only vision is, my only objective is that BJP has to come in power.” One of Khan’s colleagues was also present in this meeting.

Coming to digital promotion, the journalist tells Khan that it would be in order if speeches and events related to RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat are promoted on the digital platform of the group. Agreeing, Khan says: “Main main occasions mein (On main occasions).” When he comes to the second phase of his campaign which is about thrashing political rivals, we hear Khan commit to it in these words: “Sir I am keeping your objective I just want you to win things sir aap agar second level par aoge main bhi second level par doonga aap agar top par jaoge toh aap kahoge inform come on you help me you come … aapne ek haath badhaya sir main do haath badaunga sir (Sir I am keeping your objective, I just want you to win things. Sir, if you move to the second level, I shall also move to that level. If you move to the top level, you ask me, inform me [saying] ‘come on, you help me, you come’ … if you take one step, I shall take two, sir).”

After securing an unwavering commitment for his agenda, it was time for the journalist to discuss the mode of payment. You see, I would like to make payment in cash, as we get most of the donations in cash money only. Assures Khan, “Befiqr rahiye aap sir (Sir, you rest assured).” Breaking his silence, his colleague chips in with his own assurance, “Sir, aap jaisa kahoge waisa hee ho jayega (Sir, whatever you say will be done).” However, Khan’s assurances know no bounds as he enthusiastically promises to bring on board his higher ups: “Sir aap haath milaiye aapne ek baar haath milaaya hai acharya sar aapne humara haath milaaya hai hum aapka haath chhodenge nahin…sir hum baad mein apne higher ups leke aate hain (Sir, you join hands with me. If you joins hands with me Acharya Sir, I will never let it go … sir, I shall bring in our higher ups later).”

Pushp Sharma made a dash for Mumbai where he met General Manager Impact Jaykumar Mistry and Deputy Manager Akanksha Singh of India Today Group. After Mistry has heard how they have to run the soft Hindutva campaign, he says: “This would be a theme par uske alag-alag creatives honge, alag-alag roop honge (This would be a theme but we would have different creatives for this in different forms).” Yes, but all these forms would carry the same value, he is told. More or less, this will go both in the print and in digital media. Coming to the agenda of thrashing political rivals, the journalist tells him that there has to be constant attack on Pappu. So, think of creating a funny character on the lines of Pappu. Agreeing, Mistry says: “Kuchh bhi ho sakta hai Mera Bhaarat Mahaan se le ke … (Anything can be done, ranging from Mera Bharat Mahaan to …).” Yes, why not, the journalist tells him. After Pappu would follow attacks on Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, using their nicknames Bua and Babua, respectively. Create a “circus” around them so much so that nobody takes these leaders seriously. This will serve our objective of character assassination. Mistry does not have any problem with it, either, as he says: “Right.”

These points agreed, Mistry tells their client that they will have to payment cent per cent in advance. No problem, the journalist tells him. “Haan wo advance mein hi aati hain toh usmein toh yeh cash mein hoga ya cheque mein hoga ya kaise… (Yes, it comes only in advance, then will it  be in cash or cheque or how)?” Mistry asks. We can pay about 20 percent by cheque the rest will be paid in cash, they are told. “Haan theek hain that I will come back to you (Yes, it is fine, then I will come back to you),” says Mistry.

It is clear that Mistry will try to see it to that the rest of the payment is accepted in cash. “Now, I will come to very important question iske jo creative honge animation ke hum bana sakte hain (Now, I will come to very important question. Can we make the creative animation of this campaign)?” asks Mistry. Yes, go ahead and make them in-house, he is told. They can certainly accomplish the job as Mistry says: “Production team humare paas hain … uske liye bhi approval on paper aapko de denge (We have a production team and we shall give you special approval on paper).” Our approval is always there, he is told.

Sharma also met TV Today’s Assistant Vice President Anita Khanna. Also present in this meeting was Jaykumar Mistry. Here, Anita reels off the complete plan and promises their client that the property would be created to his specifications. As they settle down for discussion, Mistry tells us: “Iske oopar humne plan bana bhi liya hai (We have already prepared a plan for your campaign).” Chips in Anita: “TV ke plan maine banaya hai (I have made the plan for TV).” While telling us that she has made the plan for all news channels of TV Today Network for a period of two months, Anita delineates: “Ek humne ‘So Sorry’ ke jo apne bola hai animation lekin wo bahut hi political hain humne usse subtly jo apne points diye hain uske hisaab se property create karenge but it will be an animated like which will have a story on it (You said you wanted something like ‘So Sorry’ like an animation but that is very political. We will create property according to those points separately to play them subtly, but it will be an animated like which will have a story on it).” You mean it will be a surrogate advertisement? The journalist asks them. “Surrogate, surrogately aur ussmein ek story hogi apni ([Yes] Surrogate, surrogately … and it will have your story).” You mean, you will be targeting primarily to Pappu, Bua and Babua, the journalist asks them, I mean Congress, BSP and SP? Replies Anita: “Anita.” Mistry inform us: “Yeh bahut effective ho jayega because… (This will be very effective because…).”

In order to take the deal forward, when Chief Revenue Officer Rahul Kumar Shaw met their prospective client at Delhi, he had already been briefed about his agenda by their Mumbai team. While discussing the potential ways of thrashing political rivals, Shaw seeks to know: “Aur kis tareh ke creatives chahte hain subject kya rahega (What kind of other creatives you want and what will be their subject).” The journalist tells him to create them using quotes from Lord Krishna Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, so that vibes of Hindutva are created all around. Asking the client if he wanted them to carry the campaign in both TV and print, Shaw informs us: “I say I must tell you I am very, very pro very pro to the government.” The journalist tells Shaw that he would like them to carry his campaign on every platform that their group has on offer, bet it TV, print, digital or events. “Aapko lagta hai India Today Conclave mein aap aana chahoge sponsorship mein (Do you think you can go for sponsorship of the India Today Conclave)?” Shaw is quick to ask, assuming the client has deep pockets. Telling us how close he is with top brass of the group, Shaw says: “Kalli ko Kalli bulata hoon whatever toh Aroon AP involve hai but baagdor ab ye hee sambhal rahi hain toh bahut zaroori hai … inka haan bolna bahut zaroori hai … har cheej mein (I call Kalli by her first name, whatever. So Aroon [Purie] AP is involved but she holds the reins. So, it is very essential … her approval is very essential … for everything).”

Appreciating his approach, the journalist tells him that all he wants from him is emotional connect to his agenda. That mere liye actually honestly I want to do it … I am saying personally I want to do it (That for me actually I want to do itI am saying personally I want to do it).” As he had suggested, Shaw arranged a meeting with his boss, India Today Group Vice Chairperson Kalli Purie. Shaw has obviously briefed her in advance. Yet, Sharma makes it a point to brief Kalli on his agenda.

After deliberating on the promotion of Hindutva, the journalist asks Kalli if she had any problem with that. Answers Kalli with a crisp: “No.” Why not make creatives in-house based on the quotes of Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna. “That’s fine,” we hear her say. Coming to targeting political rivals such as Pappu, Bua and Babua, the journalist now refers to his jingles, which according to him are meant for public awareness asking them to vote using their discretion well. Understanding the point, Kalli says: “No but Rahul any way for any kind of advertising the content is not decided by us. Any way anyone is allowed to put whatever content they want on the platform as long as it is within the guidelines or what…?” Meanwhile Kalli suggest that their client should not seek editorial interference. This is fine, the journalist tells her, but when elections will come every party would play dirty so would we. In this aggressive phase of our campaign, we would also try to polarize the scene through our field activities. Kalli discourages her client by saying, “Don’t do it.”

We cannot decide everything, the journalist explains, but when someone is playing dirty should we take it for granted. “Agreed,” says Kalli. When the journalist reminds her that she had promised there will be an emotional connect with regard to all three phases of his campaign, Kalli says: “Phase 1 I have no problem with emotional connect … Second phase I do have a problem with emotional connect.” It is they who will create the content internally, the journalist tells her. But if we are able to polarize using those creatives through our field activities, then we would not be answerable to you as well. “Agree, but at the same time if you are doing some infield activities that we don’t agree with editorially we will be criticizing you,” Kalli throws in the rider.

A few moments later, the journalist comes back to his communal agenda telling her that when they would be polarizing the situation, they would not listen to what other parties say. Here Kalli offers an advice: “But you will have to separate all two things right I stand by being a friend of yours but we don’t necessary agree on everything.”

The meeting ends after Kalli asks their prospective client the journalist to help bring RSS supremo accept invite to their conclaves.

India Today reacts:

Soon after Cobrapost ran the story, India Today released a statement, which was as follows:

It has come to our knowledge that your organization has posted online a story titled “OPERATION 136-Part-II”, which has certain references and claims to India Today Group.

At the outset, we vehemently deny the portrayal of India Today Group as a media house that will compromise its editorial integrity. It has never happened in the past and there is no question of it ever happening. In fact, in the meeting with our senior management, your reporter was told in no uncertain terms that the Group will not do anything unethical, and that any advertising creative that divides the country on religious or caste lines will not be acceptable, and will not be aired on our channels. However, in your video posted online, this has not been adequately reflected and has distorted the truth.

We have sufficient checks and balances to ensure no inappropriate content would be broadcast or published. India Today Group has always stood for the highest standard of journalism.

It is clear that the said broadcast is out of context and has been manipulated with clear intention to sully, tarnish, disparage, discredit and to running down an otherwise impeccable standing and reputation of the India Today Group.

You are hereby called upon to immediately stop and suspend the broadcast regarding the India Today Group otherwise we will be left with no option to pursue strict civil and criminal remedies against you.

Pizza Hut

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