Exclusive ABP News: There is a solution for every problem

ABP News: There is a solution for every problem

Rates during election time are higher than normal rate, says official

cobrapost - May 25, 2018

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Gautam Dutta, CEO East Zone, and Anil Nair, Manager (Major Accounts Ad Sales), ABP News, Kolkata; Rakesh Kumar, National Head (Ad Sales), ABP News, Noida, Uttar Pradesh

ABP News is owned by the ABP Group. Three years short of hitting a century of its publication, Anandabazar Patrika is ABP group’s flagship. The Bengali language daily is published simultaneously from Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai and Silchar. According to the ABC, the daily has a circulation of 1.1 million copies. Star News, a bilingual, was its precursor which was launched in 1998 by Star India. When the government capped foreign investment in Indian media to 26 percent, Star India entered into a joint venture with ABP. However, in 2012, Star India exited from news business in India and after the split Hindi Star News came under ABP and was thus christened ABP News. Star’s Bengali and Marathi news channels also came under ABP’s ownership and were rechristened, respectively, ABP Ananda and ABP Majha. The group now has added a Punjabi news channel ABP Sanjha and a Gujarati channel ABP Asmita to its kitty.

At the Kolkata office of ABP News, Pushp Sharma met CEO East Zone Guatam Dutta. As Sharma began to discuss his agenda with Dutta, his colleague Marketing Head (MP and Jharkhand) Anil Nair also joins in. While discussing the agenda with them, the journalist tells them that during election time, he would like them to be offensive particularly in the panel discussions that ABP News organizes on such occasions. Dutta is not so forthcoming as he says: “Abhi toh nahi baad mein hee baat karenge wo ahbi se kaisa aapko bata sakte hain (We cannot discuss it right now. We will discuss later. How can we tell you right away).” But his colleague Nair asks: “Election ke waqt kya chahte hain aap (What do you expect from us during elections).”

You will have to keep our Hindutva agenda at the forefront of our campaign, the journalist tells him. “Ye sab uss time ho jayega … uss time kee baat hai wo kar lenge (All this will be taken care of at that time … this is about that time, we will do that),” assures Nair. Their commitment to the agenda thus secured, the journalist asks them what his ad campaign will cost. “Usmein Sir aapko sadhe teen hazaar rupaye ke aas-paas aayega per ten seconds (Sir, it will cost you about Rs. 3500 per 10 seconds),” Nair informs us. Would the rates differ for elections? Yes, of course. Nair tells us: “Dekho, election ke time par agar aap political chalana chahte hon toh uska alag rate hai (You see, if you want to run a political campaign during elections, the rates will differ).”

You see, party will separately give you their campaign programme, the journalist explains. I want to enter into a mutual broader understanding with your news channel that when you will be holding panel discussions during elections, you will ensure that our rivals are bashed. However, Nair is more concerned about the rate card. Brushing aside his concerns, their client the journalist assures him that he knows next year you will have different rate card for elections. I have no problem with that but our agenda should run. Nair is prompt to assure us: “Wo main karwa doonga Sir … wo main karwa doonga befiqr rahiye … hum log chalaate rahte hain Chhattisgarh mein kyonki boss ko bhi ye idea nahi hota ki hum log wahan se kaise convert karte hain … kami kya hai simply humein hee karna hai jo rate hai lekin humne chalaya hai usko humne usko ek alag tareeke se nikaal ke … tod har cheej ka hota hai (I will get it done Sir … don’t worry I will get it done … we often do this in Chhattisgarh because even our boss does have no idea how we people convert simply … the rate but we have run that [kind of programme] … we used a different method for that … there is solution for every problem).”

Yes, I know that, says the journalist. Appreciating his team’s zeal while undertaking such assignments, he tells Nair that this is exactly what he wants. Nair is ready to walk an extra mile but the client must have “standing power,” which in other words means paying capacity. Listen to what he says: “Sir wo all depends upon the standing power … aap kitna standing kar rahe hain uske saamne usmein wo cheejein chalti jaati hain … ab suppose ki aapne mujhe ye bola ki nau bajkar dus minute par mujhe ye cheej chahiye … you will get that but you will have to pay extra (Sir, that all depends upon the standing power. How far you are standing [financially]? So, things keep on moving. Now, suppose that you ask me you want this thing at 9:10.  You will get that but you will have to pay extra).” He again tells the journalist that if you want to run your ad after break, then you will be charged a higher premium: “Ab aapne bola ki jaise hee pehla break aayega jaise break hua mera pehla chalna chahiye uska premium barh jayega (Suppose, you tell us to run your stuff immediately after the break, then you will have to pay a higher premium).”

Alluding to how newspapers charge according to their page, Nair says: “Jaise peparon mein hota hai front page premium pages hote hain wo bilkul waisa hee hota hai … everything is possible (We charge the same as newspapers treat their front pages as premium pages … everything is possible).”

Now, the journalist pitches for the last part of his agenda. You see, he tells Nair, as elections would approach we will pursue our agenda aggressively against our rivals for those two-three months, as our rivals will raise issues such as that of the farmers. So, we need to arrive at an understanding with you in which we would expect ABP News to do investigative, document-based stories targeting rivals. This would help us a lot. Understanding the need of his client, Nair promises using what is now a familiar phrase “everything is possible”: “Haan Sir, wo sab ho jata hai sir lekin kya hai ki specifically aap pehle bol ke chakiyega ki ye cheej chahiye to sab mana kar dega … hone ke baad everything is possible (Sir, as I told you everything is possible … Yes, Sir. Everything is done. But Sir if you ask beforehand you need something specifically, nobody will say yes to that … but after … has happened, everything is possible).”

So, let us start with AFP, that is, advertiser-funded programming, the journalist tells him. This will help make an understanding.

Understanding … pehle aap ye bataiye ki aapka budget kitna hai. Mujhe maloom pade uske hisab se main aapko guide kar doonga (Understanding … first tell me what you budget is. If I know that I will be able to guide you accordingly),” Nair seeks to know. Well, we have a budget of Rs. 10 crore, which we will increase if you wish so. For election period, we have additional budget for you. But we have to have an understanding that this money will be paid in black simply because our Ashram gets donations largely in cash. Nair does not have any problem with accepting black money from his client as he says: “Wo main karwa doonga (I will take care of that).”

Pushp Sharma had another meeting with Anil Nair in Raipur, the capital city of Chhattisgarh. Here again, the journalist asks him to deploy investigative journalists to bring out stories on rivals, and he would not mind if he has to pay them extra for such an undertaking. “Ho jayega Sir lekin abhi dhyan rakhiyega dheere dheere start hongi cheejein … ekdum attack nahi hoga … dheere dheere (That will be done Sir. But keep it in mind that things will start gradually … we will not launch an attack abruptly … [it will be done] gradually),” we hear Nair commit again.

We knew well that Anil Nair is not big enough, although no less important. Therefore, the journalist sought a meeting with someone higher in decision-making hierarchy of ABP News. The next meeting that Pushp Sharma had with Nair was in Delhi where he was accompanied by National Marketing Head Rakesh Kumar. Nair had already briefed his superior about the agenda. Telling him that his larger agenda is Hindutva, Sharma seeks support from ABP News to provide coverage to events such as a visit by the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat. Interestingly, Rakesh asks if they are lacking in giving such events coverage, not without reason. Listen to what Rakesh is saying: “Hum toh karte hee rahte hain nahi karte hain kum hai kya … aisa lag raha hai ki kami lag rahi hai aapko … ABP ko chahiye tabhi toh support bhi kar raha hai kyonki … you are so … actually toh agar kum hai toh batayein (We often do that[coverage]. Don’t we do? You think it is not significant … you think we are not doing enough [for you] … ABP needs … that is why we are supporting … you are so … actually. If we are lacking then tell us).” No, it is fine with us, the journalist says. You see there are things which will be laid down in black and white and for the rest we will have to arrive at a broader understanding.

Rakesh asks the client the journalist to open up as he says: “Sir aap humein khul ke bole … main aapse khul ke baat kar raha hoon … without any hiccup inside… trust me… and jo bhi baatein hongi wo isi band kamre ki baatein ho rahi hain (Sir you can talk to us openly … I am talking to you openly …. without any hiccup inside… trust me… and what we are discussing will remain within the confines of this room).” Well, you will have to adjust cash payment, he tells Rakesh, as our Ashram gets cash in donations. Then, there is our agenda of Hindutva. The problem is that ABP News often hits out at our ideology.

Alarmed, Rakesh seeks to know: “Iski koi ghatna jo aapke jehan mein ho (Tell me if you may recall any such related incident).” Smartly dodging the issue, the journalist says when there are panel discussions it would in order if you thrash our political rivals. You see, such discussions help create a perception among the electorate. “Iski koi bhi ghatna jo ki humare channel se media se aapko yaad ho koi bhi jo dekha ho agar (Recall if you have seen any such event on our channel or media),” Rakesh seeks to know again. Now, the journalist tells him that anchors like Abhisar Sharma and Neha Pant always take a hard line against us in their programmes. So, it will in order if you pay some attention to help us in this regard. “Filhaal humare jo do vyaktiyon ke naam bata rahe hain ye do aapke jehan mein aa rahe hain jo matlab kahin na kahin pe … (So, the two names you are quoting among our staff, these two names are coming to your mind, who I mean somewhere …),” Rakesh is insistent. Yes, you got it right, the journalist tells him. They take a tough stand against us. Let us not get into detail on this issue, the journalist cuts him short. You see, there was firing by the police in Neemach. Sometimes it happens that our governments inadvertently commit such mistakes inadvertently and things go out of control and then our rivals are always there to make a political capital out of such events. So, tell us how you can support us in keeping such events low on your channel. “Tabhi maine aapse poocha (That is why I asked you),” says Rakesh, now fully understanding what his client is looking for. As the discussion moves on, his colleague Nair informs: “Maine aapko proposal bheja tha Sir chaar cheejein thi bas ye cheejein aur kuch nahi (I had sent you the proposal, Sir, which has all these four things, nothing else).”

Rakesh seeks to know where the focus area of the media campaign would be. “Iske andar mein kahin na kahin humara focus area Chhattisgarh aur Orissa hai ya poore Hindustan ke jo bhi cheejein hoti hain (Tell me if our focus areas of this campaign are Chhattisgarh and Orissa or we have to cover the whole of India),” asks Rakesh. The journalist now tells him that he knows their channel has a wide reach. You colleague Nair has already discussed the financials with him and if it needs to be increased, we have no problem. He had also said that your investigative team would also do offensive stories against our rivals. If your team brings out investigative stories it would sure help us. So, let us begin with AFP for the first three months and as our relationship moves on we can do something more. But you have not done any investigative story on those who are ruling Hyderabad! This is what they do, Rakesh tells us. He says: “Agar dhyan se dekhiye toh unke jo sabse bade messiah jo sardar bane firate hain filhal jo MP bhi hain unke hum bahut kapade faadate hain … agar kabhi aapko observe karne ka mauka mila hoga toh hum log jab bhi bulaate hain unke bahut kapde faadate hain (If you have observed it closely we have literally torn their Messiah, who is also an MP … you had have the occasion to observe, we literally tear the guests apart).” Yes, what you say is true. But we need a dedicated team to keep a close eye on their activities, where they are investing. Those leaders have prospered by pilfering funds from government schemes. You can get a lot of information through RTI. I mean you can deploy a team, for instance, for West Bengal also.

Agreeing with the journalist, Rakesh refers to the case of Lalu Yadav in these words: “Ab dekhiye karne ko toh kuch cheejon ko Lalu Prasad Yadav ne kaafi zyada highlight kiya. Ek interesting see cheej bataon aapko toh Lalu Prasad Yadav when he became Chief Minister … (Now, you see if we do something then for instance, Lalu Prasad Yadav highlighted it to a great extent. Let me tell you an interesting thing about Lalu Prasad Yadav. When he became Chief Minister …).” Yes, we know how the media built perception around him, the journalist tells him, and with some help from IB he was done in. Rakesh interjects to inform us: “Tabhi maine aapse bola ki dekhiye jahan tak main is company ko samajh paya hoon ki this company actually carry huge journalistic values and I exactly precisely I told you kahin na kahin we are in proper divisions uss division ka kya kaam hai unko acchi tareh se pata hai (That is why I told you. You see as far as I know this company, this company actually carries huge journalistic values and I exactly precisely I told you. So somewhere I feel we are in proper divisions. Every division knows it very well what its job is).”

There is no doubt about it given their willingness to play ball!

ABP News: Response

We have not yet received any response from the Group to the detailed questionnaire we have sent them regarding the investigation, till 4 pm, 25th May, 2018. In case they do send in their reply, we shall update it in the next few days or weeks.

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Operation 136: Part 1


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