Karl Mistry, General Manager (Advertising), Mumbai; Pankaj Jayaswal, Associate Publisher, Mumbai and Basab Ghosh, Regional Sales Head, Kolkata, Open Magazine

Brought out in a narrative-journalism format, Open was launched in April 2009 by the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, which is worth Rs 31,000 crore, with business interests as diverse as power and natural resources, carbon black, retail, media, IT, education, entertainment and infrastructure. The group owns brands like the Spencers’ and SaReGaMa.

As a magazine, Open is known for its crisp news analysis and snazzy features on subjects as varied as politics, economy, society, international affairs and sports events, among others. Initially covering only 12 cities, the magazine has now attained a pan-India status.

However, the magazine has had its share of controversy after Indian Express published a story in April 2012 concerning government apprehension about army movements. In an interview given to Hartosh Singh Bal, who was then political editor of the magazine, Vinod Mehta had criticized the story, calling it a “plant” and a mistake. Calling the interview defamatory, the Indian Express sent a legal notice to the magazine asking for an apology, to remove the interview from its online edition and to pay Rs. 100 in damages. About a year later, Bal was sacked from the magazine as he had earned the displeasure of his employer Sanjiv Goenka who thought his writings and television appearances were “making a lot of ... political enemies.”

When journalism becomes subservient to political masters, it is no wonder if Pusph Sharma found its higher management agreeing to run his nefarious media campaign in their magazine. Sharma met General Manager Karl Mistry and Associate Publisher Pankaj Jayaswal at the magazine’s Mumbai office after which he flew to Kolkata to meet Marketing Head Basab Ghosh. All interviews are quite revealing.

For instance, after he briefed Mistry about his agenda of Hindutva, Mistry suggested the journalist to go for their special supplement of their magazine. Says Mistry: “I can also give you one more suggestion, of this. What we do is we have a separate section. Along with the main issue, we have that entire book, which is good. So, we take up topics like lifestyle, because the type of people that is there. So you can bring in … [yes] subtle Hindutva, and bring along it in that way. I will just show you the special [supplement] of this.” Mistry in the next breath “See this is something that we can conceptualize. This is what I am trying to say.” Then he seeks ideas from his client the journalist saying: “You can give throw in few ideas we can work out something. Think about it.”

Why not float an award for brilliant students, a la Ramnath Goenka Award that the Indian Express Group has instituted for journalism, the journalist is quick to proffer the idea, and Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti would sponsor the award. It would be no less promoting Hindutva award. “You can make in a way you don’t put Hindutva, you can put it in your plan,” suggests Mistry.

Fine, then you can announce that Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti is awarding brilliant students, he is told. Says Mistry, “Exactly, exactly. So it could be brilliant student it could be … [yes] … achievers in different field.” You see there is no need for us to use the word Hindutva as such for such accessions, the journalist now explains. But the Gita has a universal appeal, so has ISCON, and if we are mentioning the Gita, it invariably means and leads to the promotion of Hindutva. Mistry agrees to say: “We are not getting that word. Also we are not making it big deal, but it automatically translates.”     

After arriving at this mutual understanding to float an award to proxy promote Hindutva, the journalist now asks to send him a proposal for a combo deal. Offering him a budget of Rs. 3 crore for his media campaign, he tells him that in the semi-political phase of the campaign, he would like to have political rivals such as the Congress, the BSP and SP thrashed, and if needed you can discuss this with your team how they can accomplish this job for me. “Okay, fair enough,” Mistry is prompt in his reply. He goes to inform, “I forget to tell you we have open avenues on YouTube also.” You mean social media? He tells how they promote their magazine on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter: “In social media … because what happens when this is out, it is also, the making of this magazine, this is put on YouTube. And we try encourage via Facebook and Twitter and all that. So, public jakar ye bhi dekh lete hain wahan se mil jaata hai ([Yes] In social media … because what happens when this is out it is also, the making of this magazine, this is put on YouTube. And we try [to] encourage via Facebook and Twitter and all that. So, public do access the magazine by visiting these platforms).” He will use these platforms to promote our campaign, as he goes on to say: “So we can work out. Jingles aa gaya aapka mera YouTube bhi. I’ll work things out (So, we can work out. Your jingles have come and then there is our YouTube channel also. I’ll work things out).” This is what we are looking forward to, the journalist says. When our Hindutva leaders visit or deliver a speech to the public, the journalist now tells him, promote on all your digital platforms what those leaders do say or do. We hear a crisp reply from Mistry in agreement: “Ji (Yes).” But here the question is who will create the content. “Ismein content mere ko banaana hai ya aap bana ke mere ko doge. This is my question to you (Will we have to create the content or you will provide it to us? This is my question to you).” It is all up to you, the journalist tells him as Mistry says: “Okay.” As the parleys draw to a close, Mistry reiterates what has been discussed between the two on digital promotion. “Twitter, Facebook wo ho gaya (Twitter, Facebook is done) …” You have to promote our firebrand Hindutva leaders, the journalist reminds him. “Haan nahi nahi aapko jo bhi daalna hai aapko jo bhi daalna hai (Yes, no, no. You can promote anything you want … whatever you want).”

You have to come up with credible and authentic news items against our rivals. As they would play their cards to polarize the election scenario so would we. You will have to work 90 percent when we are into this kind of aggressive campaign, he is told. The rest we will manage. But you have to play it ethically while delivering our political message. “Correct,” says Mistry as the journalist tells him that he wants to book the entire ad space of their magazine and digital platforms, so that nowhere are the rivals seen or heard. It is only us all the way to be heard and seen. “Correct, correct,” says Mistry in agreement.

It is Mistry who arranges a meeting with Pankaj Jayaswal. Apparently, the associate publisher has already been briefed by his colleague as Jayaswal comes straight to talking business. Now, listen carefully to what Jayaswal says: “Jahan tak mujhe lagata hai as far as agenda is concerned koi bhi agar sponsorship karega koi bhi agar advertise karega koi bhi promote karega uska agenda toh rehta hee hai (I think as far your agenda is concerned, anybody who is doing sponsorship or who is advertising or promoting something, their agenda remains very much there).” Telling him to freeze the deal for the first phase of the campaign, the journalist asks Mistry if he has briefed his colleague completely on every point of his agenda.  Yes he has dene that. “Haan ji (Yes, Sir). That has already been told, but if you want to brief I may discover something,” Mistry tells us.

To ensure that Jayaswal also hears his agenda loud and clear before formally agreeing to run it in their magazine, the journalist begins to brief him again. As he has already told you, the first phase of test and trial would focus on the promotion of Hindutva only. You can give me a combo deal for Rs. 3 crore which includes both print and digital, and then there has to be digital promotion of our Hindutva leaders. “Social media aapne bola tha na (Yes, you had talked about social media),” recalls Mistry. Yes, social media, the journalist seconds Mistry. Book all the ad space for my campaign, he tells them. “Mujhe aap teen-chaar din ka time deejiye, isko kaise aage lekar jaana hai … mujhe editorial mein bhi baat karni hai iss baare mein isko kaise genuinely aage lekar jaana hai (Give me three-four days time. How we can take if forward … I will have to discuss with my editorial team how genuinely we can take it forward),” Jayaswal says.

Do it certainly, the journalist encourages him, and also discuss ethical issues. So, at the end of the day we both come out with clean hands.

Agreeing fully with their prospective client the journalist, Jayaswal says: “Ji, theek hai absolutely. Jab hum uss cheej ko aage lekar jayein toh koi hurdles na hon aur hum usko confidently aage lekar jaayein … jaise abhi aapne kaha na kuch cheejein aayengi kuch negativity aayegi uss cheej ko humne side karke … (Yes, it is fine, absolutely, so that when we take it forward, there should be no hurdle ... as you said a short while ago there will crop up some things, some negativity. We have to keep that thing aside …).” Yes, you got it right, the journalist says. You don’t have to even think of such negative things. Agrees Jayaswal: “Sochna hee nahi hai ([Yes] We don’t have to even think about it).”

Coming to his agenda of thrashing political rivals such as the Congress, the BSP and the SP, the journalist asks how they will do it on their digital media. Why not organize an event or seminar and hire a mimicry artist, the journalist suggests them, to do the job for us. So when the audiences are enjoying tea there comes a fun moment. Both jump at the idea. So while Mistry says, “Wo bhi ho sakta hai (Yes, that can be done),” Jayaswal asks him, “Usmein likh lo (Note it down there).” This will have an impact if such mimicry is broadcast on TV screens, suggests Jayaswal. “Screen lagi rahti hain usmein. Agar chal jaye toh bahut acha usmein kya hota hai ekdum visibility different milti hai (Yes, screens are already installed there. If it is run, it will make a great impact, as it gives you a visibility of a different kind),” says Jayaswal. He goes on to appreciate the idea: “It’s an innovative. Koi bhi cheej innovative way mein project ke saath match kar rahi hai toh why not. Dekhiye kuch cheejein nahi karengi kuch cheejein karengi bhi … right jo bhi karna hai confidently kar rahe hain … … tabhi accha hai (It’s an innovative [way]. If an idea is matching with the project in an innovative way, then why not? You see some ideas will match, some won’t [You are right] … Whatever has to be done has to be done confidently ... it is fruitful only then).”

Agreeing with him fully, when the journalist tells him to work on his proposed campaign accordingly, Jayaswal says: “Isiliye maine aapse thoda sa hee time manga hai mujhe bhi kuch logon se baat karni hai kyonki ye process hai toh aage iss cheej ko lekar jaana chahta hoon confidently aage lekar jaana chahta hoon (That is why I sought some time. I will have to discuss it with others [in the organization] because it is a process. So, I want to take it forward. I want to take it forward confidently).” Finally, Jayaswal reveals where his loyalty lies as he informs us: “Ye bahut accha kaam hai. Ye mere thought process ke saath match kar raha hai … main aapko ye bhi bata doon main isase hoon … isase ye personal aapko (This is really a very good deed indeed. This deed matches my thought process. I want to tell you personally that I too belong to this [ideology]).”

So, when we have a man like Jayaswal who shares both the ideology and the enthusiasm the job in hand requires, there is no question of Open not doing agenda-driven journalism. His colleague at Kolkata, Basab Ghosh, also reveals that Open, as magazine, supports the Modi government. As he begins to brief Ghosh on how Hindutva has to be promoted using preachings of the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna, he tells Ghosh that there has to be no compromise on his Hindutva agenda. “Bilkul hatna nahi hai (Yes, there should be no compromise).” If somebody does not like Hindutva, the journalist says, it is their problem. We have to promote Hindutva. Seconding the journalist, Ghosh says: “Aur koi ghalat bhi nahi hai (And there is nothing wrong in it).” But this time around, the journalist tells him, we are not using the Ayodhya issue as it has been milked enough for the past 25 years by the party. We are using Bhagwad Gita which has a universal acceptance and does not carry any controversy like Ram and Ayodhya. We will capitalize politically on its universal appeal.

In the second phase, our objective is thrashing political rivals using those Pappu jingles. We have invested a lot of “sweat equity” to create this intellectual property so that he is not taken seriously by the people. Our political objective of character assassination will be served if these jingles are promoted on your digital platforms. While responding with a “Humm”, as the journalist explains his agenda, Ghosh finally says this on character assassination:  “Correct, correct.” So our agenda is to cut Pappu down to his size, the journalist again says after he has done with explaining. Says Ghosh in agreement: “Downsize.” Yes, this is what we want to achieve. Reiterating the two main points of his agenda, the promotion of Hindutva and character assassination of political rivals, the journalist tells him that he wants to communalize the scenario during elections as the rival parties will play minority card. “Humm, definitely … humm,” we hear him say as the journalist makes his communal agenda loud and clear to Ghosh.

After the first two phases, we will take the campaign to the next level, the journalist tells him. Understanding the agenda very well, Ghosh reveals the pro-Modi editorial policy of Open. Listen to him what Ghosh is saying: “Acharyaji shayad aap bhi busy rehte hain aap shayad Open dekhte nahi hain regular. Main aapko ek baat bataata hoon. Open jitna support karte hain sangathan ka shayad hee koi karta hoga. Aap thoda samay nikaaliye mere paas purana issue hain inka … aap agar kasht karke thoda time nikaal ke dekhiyega mera toh copy aane wala hai ye issue bhi cover Modiji ke oopar hee hai (Acharyaji, perhaps you are a busy man and maybe you don’t read Open regularly. Let me tell you one thing. Nobody supports the Sangathan [RSS] as much as does Open. Spare some time. I have their old issue … if you don’t mind to spare some time, take a look at the latest issue, I am going to receive my copy soon, you will see there we have a cover story on Modiji in this issue as well).”


Open Magazine 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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