Star India: "There is nothing unethical about it!"

Star India: "There is nothing unethical about it!"

cobrapost |
May 25, 2018

Star India officials promise to "give ideas" to Hindutva media campaign while making best use of IPL season

Karthinarayanan Krishnaraj, Ad Sales Department (Delhi); Saurabh Srivastava, AD Sales Department, Kolkata; Arghya Chakravarty, Executive Vice President (Ad Sales), Mumbai, Star India

A fully owned subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, Star India owns several popular entertainment channels such as Star Plus, Star BharatStar GoldChannel VStar WorldStar MoviesStar Utsav, Movies OK and Hot Star. The conglomerate has a separate portfolio for sports called Star Sports, which runs a dozen channels in various Indian languages. Recently, the network won IPL media rights for Rs. 16,347.5 crore for 2018–2022. Star India is also known for launching STAR News, India’s first dedicated news channel, in 1998. Over the years, the network has expanded into down south, with acquisition of Vijay TV and Asianet Communications Ltd. Generating 30,000 hours of content every year and broadcasting more than 60 channels, it is no surprise then the network reaches out to about 720 million viewers a month across India and more than 100 countries.

But for Pushp Sharma the big question was: Would the media behemoth behave the same way as other media houses?

However, Sharma was disappointed when he met Star India’s Karthinarayanan Krishnaraj in Delhi who not only agreed to work for his malicious agenda but also suggested some big ideas. Offering an ad spend of Rs. 100 crore to Star India for his media campaign, the senior journalist tells Krishnaraj that the propagation of Hindutva is designed to create a congenial atmosphere for the party in 2019 elections. “What exactly you have in your mind,” he asks to know. Yes, we want to engage all possible verticals of Star India for this campaign, be it electronic or digital. Krishnaraj tells his client that they have a host of platforms like entertainment channels, they also have South Indian language channels and then they have Hot Star. At this point, the journalist plays that radio jingle on Pappu.

As Krishnaraj appreciates the jingle, saying “very cleverly done,” Sharma again comes back to his core agenda of Hindutva. We are not using the Ram and Ayodhya plank this time around because the issue has been milked enough, he says. It was high time the tack was changed for good and that is why we are using the preaching of the Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna to promote Hindutva so that our agenda gets through to the electorate. Hearing with undivided attention what his big-ticket client is telling him, Krishnaraj is all praise: “That is why I am saying it is a very interesting, I am very happy to see even though limited number of people of your kind but it is very interesting to see.”

After the first phase of promotion of Hindutva through the preaching of Gita, the journalist comes to the second phase of his campaign, our campaign will enter into the semi-political phase in which you will be bashing political rivals such as Congress, BSP and SP. But since our fight at the national level is with the Congress, you have to ensure that 80 percent of this campaign is trained on Pappu, which in other words means Rahul Gandhi. The Star India manager understands well what he is being told as he asks: “Pappu ke oopar ([You mean we have to] focus on Pappu), and means you are direct creative.” Encouraging him, the journalist says that the fellow does not have a patent on Pappu and in case he files any complaint we will withdraw the campaign targeting him. “He is between devil and the deep see now,” says Krishnaraj.

Finding him to be now fully interested in his dirty proposition, the journalist comes to the most diabolical part of his agenda, that is, polarization of the electorate on communal lines. You see as election time approaches, the journalist tells Krishnaraj, every political party will play dirty cards. So, we will also play our communal card to polarize the electorate for the obvious reason. We hear Krishnaraj utter a crisp: “Hoon.” Hope our agenda is clear to you, asks the journalist. We again hear a crisp “Hoon” from Krishnaraj. We would expect you to run our agenda all the time on all channels of Star India. “Hoon,” replies Krishnaraj.

Saying “Hoon” is no endorsement or acceptance of such a diabolical proposition, you must be wondering. But hold your breath! Krishnaraj leaves nothing to imagination when he asks the name of the party which should be named in the deal. Listen to what Krishnaraj is asking: “Deal will happen to which … it’s a…?” The deal will be formalized in the name of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, the journalist tells him. “Okay, okay ... understand ... Very good, all in place ... and you have Bhagwad Gita creative’s also?” asks Krishnaraj. Yes, we have those creatives ready with us. “And it can be started immediately?” Krishnaraj is curious to know. Yes, why not. He is told. “Very good,” says a satisfied Krishnaraj. He goes on to ask again: “Fine sir I got it now. What is the next step now I should give you the proposal … covering the entire ….” Yes, please do and send me by mail, he is told. Buoyed by the prospect of a good business deal coming his way, Krishnaraj asks his client the journalist why should not they make best use of the IPL if they can increase the budget for their media campaign. The TV viewership in India during IPL is the highest and thus the tournament provides a good opportunity for any ad campaign to get the message across the audience effectively. Star Sports has the sole media rights for IPL for the next four tournaments. Appreciating the idea, their client the journalist raises the budget to Rs. 250 crore. “I will give you ideas, don’t worry … I understand you very well…,” Krishnaraj is unable to hide his glee.

After concluding his meeting with Krishnaraj, the journalist visited Star India’s Kolkata office where he met Saurabh Srivastava, who too was ready to spread red carpet before his client supposedly with deep pockets. It was a coincidence that Saurabh was on an official visit from Mumbai to Star’s Kolkata office. Present in this meeting also were his colleagues. As the journalist begins to brief Saurabh on his agenda and its various phases, Saurabh asks: “So it will be done through like normal commercial ...” Yes, of course, he is told.  “So part 1, for example, is more like subtle these thing of …,” says Saurabh, understanding the nature of the job and how it has to be executed. Yes, this is how Hindutva is to be promoted, in a subtle manner.

After the first three months of the soft Hindutva phase, the client the journalist tells him, the campaign will enter into the semi-political phase in which you will bash our political rivals particularly Pappu, that is, Rahul Gandhi, but using satire. Why we want to bash him? It is only because pan-India the Congress is our main opponent. So, we will create videos, something like Pappu Returns, similar to the jingle you heard, and these videos will be run as part of our campaign. “Okay, let us …,” responds Saurabh. We will give you instructions phase wise, the journalist tells him. He asks: “Hoon … aur fir then phase three (Hoon … and then phase three)?” Well, in the third phase, there will be no set rules to follow. If they play dirty so will we. Interjects Saurabh in wonderment: “Haan but main ek cheej tha ki RSS never been so publically on media that party kabhi biased show nahi kiya... party wise nahi but organization level RSS has built BJP (Yes, I wanted to know that … RSS [has] never been so publically on media that party, they never showed any bias … not party wise, but [at] organization level RSS has built BJP).” That is why we are using Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti for this campaign.

So, let us enter into a deal for six months, the journalist tells Saurabh. Saurabh promises to take the deal to the right level. Listen to him what he is promising: “Theek hai (Okay). We will take it ahead to the right level or your meeting with right level also.” Before closing the interview, the journalist asks Saurabh if he found anything unethical about his agenda. Saurabh says in a reassuring manner: “Unethical kaa toh wo baat hee nahi hai, but how can we best made your objective and say in the right manner. What is our point of view on that… broad possibility hain ... (There is nothing unethical about it, but how can we best make your objective and say in the right manner. What is our point of view on that … there is [a] broad possibility...).”

Although what Krishnaraj and Saurabh reveal is enough to establish beyond doubt that Star India has an unstated policy of supporting the present dispensation and can peddle for money malicious content, Sharma decided to see if any higher official would agree to promote his agenda. Making a dash for Mumbai, he visited the Star India headquarters to meet Arghya Chakravarty who joined Star India in September last year as Executive Vice President, Ad Sales. It was, in fact, Saurabh who had told the journalist to visit their headquarters at Mumbai to meet their EVP. Present in this meeting there was one of his colleagues. We are targeting for 2019 elections, the journalist begins to brief him. There are two main points. The first is the promotion of Hindutva through the preachings of Lord Krishna and Shrimad Bhagwad Gita. This is purely to create a congenial atmosphere for the party to reap political benefit in coming elections. In the second phase, the campaign shall target political rivals after which will follow the aggressive phase. “You want it only in the mainline Hindi channel Star Plus …” Chakravarty asks. Every channel that Star India has on its platter, the journalist tells him. You mean in also English, Bangla, Marathi and even south Indian language channels? The Star India EVP wants to know. We want the entire bouquet of channels that Star has on offer for this campaign, he is told, and even all your digital platforms. “Aapka aisa kuch how much Star Plus? How much? Ye kaun decide karta hai? Ye hum decide karenge yaa aap decide karenge (Have you decided how much [you want to set aside for] Star Plus). How much? Who decides this? Will you decide it or we will decide it,” Chakravarty is curious to know the provision of the budget that their prospective client might have made for Star. You can decide it, the journalist tells him. You may quote me a budget. It is as simple as this.

But Chakravarty insists to know: “Dekhiye aap ek budget bataiye (You see, tell me a budget).” His question is logical as he further explains: “Usko ek budget mein alag-alag channels alag-alag prices (There has to be a budget as we have different prices for different channels).” I got your point, the journalist says, and these prices are fixed as per respective TRPs. “Okay so kitna exposure chahiye aapko (Okay. So, tell me how much exposure you are looking for),” asks Chakravarty. After discussing how the budget has to be allocated for various channels, Chakravarty again asks: “What is the likely budget?” I have already quoted it to your team, the journalist replies. “Nahi wo chhodiye (Leave that aside). Now we will get …” says Chakravarty. His colleague also chips in to tell us why they want to know the budget: “Immediately hum ussi ke saath … (Immediately, we will … with that budget),” he says as Chakravarty completes what his colleague had left unsaid: “Hum ussi ke saath planning karenge (We will be planning according to that budget only).” 

Seeing their insistence, it was time for the journalist to throw the bait at them. You see we have set aside a budget of Rs. 500 crore each for Times Now and Star India, he finally tells them. But for the initial phase you will be getting only 10 percent of the budget set aside for you, that is, Rs. 50 crore. This is just to make a beginning with your network. We will welcome healthy suggestion from you. Then our internal team will assess the deal. Chakravarty is quick to interject: “Nahi nahi bilkul wo toh hum interested hain (No, no. We are surely interested [to take the deal forward]).” His colleague seconds him: “That’s right. Ki shuru kaise ho (That is right. [The point is how to make a beginning]).”

Sensing a good business deal coming their way, Chakarvarty asks their client to give an outline of his proposed campaign. “Mota mota plan bata do fir hum suna denge at least kyonki we will start with 100 and then we will see … how it goes. Otherwise, wo plan hum freeze kar denge toh baaki sab wo so we will start with the 50 to 100 ke beech mein plan karenge then we then we will see how it will go long (Gives us some outline of the plan. We will then get back to you, at least, because we will start with a budget of Rs. 100 crore and then we will see … how it goes on. Otherwise, we will freeze that plan and then the rest … So, we will start with the Rs. 50 crore to Rs. 100 crore. We will plan anything between [these figures].  Then we will see how it goes along).” Done, says the journalist. You can freeze the deal and begin working on it.

The meeting thus comes to an end after the EVP and his colleague agree to run the agenda.

Star India Response

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