"But we would like to close the entire deal in one go," Priyanka Datta, Executive Vice President, TV 18

"But we would like to close the entire deal in one go," Priyanka Datta, Executive Vice President, TV 18

cobrapost |
May 27, 2018

They will make you an anti-national for money!

Ayan Bhattacharya, Senior Manager Sales ETV News, Kolkata; Harsh Vardhan Dwivedi, National Head (Sales and Marketing), Network 18; Dheeraj Saraswat, Senior Manager, News 18 Network, Chandigarh; Dheeraj Saraswat, Senior Manager, Network 18; Priyanka Datta, Executive Vice President, Network 18; Joy Chakraborty, CEO-Forbes and President Revenue, Network 18; Deepak Luthra, AD Sales Head, Viacom 18 Media; Paroma, Viacom 18 Media

In a bid to dig deeper the nexus between politicians, media houses and corporate and to see how far paid news could be peddled on big channels, journalist Pushp Sharma turned his attention TV 18 network. A bit of an introduction is in order for the uninitiated.

Founded by Raghav Bahl in 2005, TV18 Broadcast Ltd. was bought in 2014 by Reliance Industries owned Network 18 Group based in Mumbai, which owns and operates various channels of the NBC Universal group for the Indian viewers, such as CNBC-TV18, CNBC Awaaz, CNBC-TV18 Prime HD and Time Warner-CNN-News18. A year earlier in 2013, the Mukesh Ambani owned company had taken over ETV.

TV18 has also forayed into the Indian factual entertainment space through a joint venture with A+E Networks and operates History TV18 and fyi TV18. In the regional space, the group operates a Gujarati business news channel CNBC Bajar, a Marathi general news channel News18 Lokmat and operates 10 regional news channels under the ETV umbrella and 3 regional entertainment channels under the News18 brand. The group also operates a 24-hour English news channel News18 India, targeting global audiences.

TV18 and Viacom18 have formed a strategic joint venture called IndiaCast, a multi-platform ‘content asset monetization’ entity that drives domestic and international channel distribution, placement services and content syndication for the bouquet of channels from the group and third parties. On 31 January 2018 TV18 increased its stake in the Viacom 18 joint venture to 51% taking operational control. TV18 and its subsidiaries, therefore, form a powerful media network and have substantial control of the Indian media market.

When the journalist met Ayan Bhattacharya in Kolkata, the senior sales manager of ETV News turned out to be an avowed champion of Hindutva who would be happy to run the agenda that the journalist would propose him. As the journalist discussed the main points of his agenda, including the promotion of Hindutva, thrashing of political rivals and communal polarization during elections, Bhattacharya did not need any persuasion to come on board. Although he is cagey to overstep into the editorial realm, he is open to the suggestion of their client the journalist that political rivals should be beaten black and blue in the panel discussion of their channel. Assures Bhattacharya: “Dekhiye wo poora editorial ka part hai wo pehle baat karna hai aur aapka jo panel discussion hai aap jo bol rahe hain na wo hum log nahi kar sakte … magar main aapko bol raha hoon ki aur jo aapko bhi pata hai ki mera jo channel hai wo BJP ko hee support karta hai lekin main baat karke alag se bol doonga ki isko thoda dekhein jo kar rahe hain 80 percent kar rahe hain toh 90 percent karne ke liye (You see, first I will have to speak to them with regard to the editorial part and we can’t do what you are telling me with regard to our panel discussions … but what I am telling you and what you also know well is our channel supports only the BJP … however, I would tell them to see if they could increase it from 80 percent to 80 percent).” Yes, ask them to thrash our rivals, the journalist tells him again. Man, we are already doing it! Bhattacharya tells us: “Thrash toh humlog kar rahein hain toh ... state-wise jitna bhi aap dekhiye na ... Bihar election mein ... last jo washout kar diya BJP ... (We are thrashing them … state-wise … see for yourself ... Bihar election ... BJP achieved a complete wash out … this is what we did in UP as well).” In his over-zeal, though, Bhattacharya did not mind making a factually incorrect statement.

Network 18 National Sales and Marketing Head Harsh Vardhan Dwivedi, like Bhattacharya, wears his loyalties on his sleeve. An avowed Hindu and nationalist, Harsh Vardhan met the senior journalist in a Delhi hotel and did not take much time to declare: “Acharyaji, ek hee cheej main boloonga aapko, baat karne se pehle confidence hona badee baat hai ... aap mujhe strong Hindu admee samajhiye... wo samajhie jo andar se, dil se rashtravadee baat karta hai (Acharyaji, I will tell you one thing. Before we discuss anything, the foremost thing is to have confidence in each other. You can take me as an avowed Hindu, take me as someone who champions the cause of nationalism from the core of his heart).” Look, we are targeting this campaign for 2019 general elections, so we want your regional channels to further our agenda and bring it to the forefront in an offensive manner. Money is not a problem with us. The foremost point of this agenda is the promotion of Hindutva. “Theek hai (All right),” replies Harsh Vardhan.  

Suggesting that their channel needs to focus on certain pockets like Hyderabad, Neemuch and Mandsaur, the journalist tells him that you don’t have to thrash our rivals by running negative stories against them. There are other ways of doing that. Says Harsh Vardhan: “We got it.”

The journalist now asks him to invite him on their panel discussions where they could confront any minority leaders or preachers who harp on Sharia, with of course the help of the anchor, while we would go about defending the Constitution. “Jahan bhi hoga jo bhee iss tareh kee cheejein hongi wahan har jageh main involve rahoonga (Whatever happens and whenever it happens I will involve myself in all those places).”

Giving him an idea how they could promote Hindutva by creating content including animation on Bhagwad Gita teachings and what his Guruji preaches and run on their TV network, he asks Harsh Vardhan to prepare a plan for Odisha, MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, which are due for elections in 2018. Reeling off yet another important component of his malicious campaign, the journalist tells him that they have to work on perception building. Then, he seeks his channel’s support to run investigative stories against rivals in West Bengal and Odisha. Harsh Vardhan does not blink an eye before saying “Theek hai (All right).”

Pushp Sharma’s experience with Dheeraj Saraswat, who works as senior manager with News 18 Network at Chandigarh, also proves to be very smooth. He encounters no objections when he when he discusses an overtly communal agenda before him. Whatever their prospective client looks for, Saraswat is ready to help. For instance, when the journalist tells him that their political rivals have to be thrashed in an innovative way, using funny lampooning like those jingles, Saraswat has no problem with it as he says: “Theek hai (It is fine).” Suggesting his client that FCT could be an appropriate vehicle to promote Hindutva, Saraswat says how FCTs can be taken advantage of: “Dheere-dheere daalo wo ho jaata hai (You have to inject in slow dosages and it works).”

Coming to the promotion of the his agenda, the journalist suggest that he would appreciate it if they tweet supporting the cause Hindutva, Saraswat has no problem but they would do it inindirectly: “Koi diqqat nahi hai … dekho direct apan karenge nahi imderectly toh sab kuch chalta hai wo chalega koi diqqat nahi hai (There is no problem … you see we would not do that directly. Indirectly, you can do anything. So, it will be don, there is no problem).” Saraswat is also willing to invite their client on the panel discussions on their channel where they will be given an edge over rivals. Here is what is says: “Humaare programme hai ‘Chakravyuh’ jaise ‘Seedhi Baat’ hoti hai round the table discussion hota hai … usmein hum aapko baitha lenge ji aao kya aapka mudda hai batao fire kee tareh hoga wo aapse question teekhe bhi honge wo pehle se aapko bata denge (We have a programme called ‘Chakrvyuh’ like that of ‘Seedhi Baat’ where there is round the table discussion).”

Pushp Sharma met Associate Vice President Sales Edwine Crasto at the Network 18 Mumbai office. However, this meeting was very brief as after listening to the visitor, Castro sought another meeting saying: “I will brief Priyanka … so tomorrow we will have a meeting.” In the meeting that followed, the journalist saw Network 18 Executive Vice President Priyanka Datta Network 18 President (Revenue) Joy Chakraborty, who also doubles up as CEO of Forbes. The journalist effortlessly regurgitated his malicious agenda in detail as to how Hindutva has be packaged and how political rivals, such as Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadva have to be run down using not so elegant nicknames for them. Throughout this retelling, we hear an acquiescing Priyanka utter “Yeah, yeah” and “Sure, sure” here and there. When the journalist quotes a budget of Rs. 50 crore for the first two phases of his campaign, Priyanka interjects to say his third, aggressive phase will come with a higher price. “Closer time obviously will be much higher,” she informs their client the journalist. Don’t worry, we have no dearth of funds, the journalist assures her.

Coming to the third, aggressive phase of his agenda, the journalist tell them when all parties will play their minority card they two would like to polarize the poll scenario. Agreeing to what their client is expecting their channel to do, Priyanka says: “Yes … Absolutely.”

As the discussion moves further, Priyanka comes to discussing payment structure. As soon as she is finished with her description, Chakraborty says: “We are in creative’s, Sidharth is landing now.” Says Priyanka: “Haan [Yes]… it’s a simple creative so that part we will work it out.” Chakraborty asks her again: “Have you already shared with her [sic]?” Returns Priyanka to tell her boss: “No, he is yet to share, he shared the concept with us.”

Turning to their client, Priyanka asks: “So…. Sorry… These three periods are you talking about?” Yes, you heard it right, she is told. “Lekin hum poore ka deal hum saath mein karenge (But we would like to close the entire deal in one go),” suggest Priyanka. What she is saying is that she would like their client to close the deal for all three phases of his campaign. It is up to you, she is told. But her boss advises otherwise: “Saath mein mat karo, saath mein mat karo … aankhein barhti hain aankhein barhti hain (No, don’t do the entire deal in one go. It will lead to all eyes training on you).” What her boss is suggesting is that going whole hog into the deal may attract undue attention. Agreeing with her boss, Priyanka is prompt to correct herself: “Nahi nahi aggressive campaign baad mein kar lenge first two campaign ka kar lete hain (No, no, we will see the aggressive campaign later. We will take up the first two campaigns first).” Chakraborty adds to sound Priyanka out on the deal, “And also we will do ‘Sorry Sahab’... This deal, only you and me will get involved, not anybody of team, because I don’t want anybody come to know.”

The journalist had another meeting with Priyanka, where they discuss the deal and Priyanka also apprises their client of the progress her team has already made. Here, the journalist reminds her that he had discussed all three main requirements of his agenda, including soft Hindutva. “Haan ... To start with soft [Hindutva] and when you said rest you have, for the second phase you have the edit with you ready,” says Priyanka. Yes this is what I had told you, says the journalist. Now she informs us: “For the first toh maine ek aise hee na teaser banwaya hai … taaki just to see ki kaisa dikhta hai (For the first [phase], I have already got a sample teaser ready … so as to see how it looks).” Priyanka further says: “I even met them you know Joy jingle listen also and taaki pata ho and maine ye bhi bola kyonki aapne kaha tha Radio Station par chal raha hai maine kaha baaki log toh chala rahe hain (I even met them you know Joy jingle listened also and so that they know and I also told him, as you [the client] told that they are already running on radio stations. I told him that other people are running them).” At Network 18, the work on this agenda has already begun. “Waise toh baaki maine ye bhi bata diya that humaari jo conversation hui thi ki agar kuch hoga part jo humko uncomfortable lag raha hia toh we can balance it out. Usko dekhenge ki kaise usko neutralize kar lein ki (Anyway, I have briefed them about our conversation and told them that if we are not comfortable with any part we will balance it out. We will see to it that it is neutralized),” explains Priyanka. Before wrapping up the meeting, the journalist hoped her boss Joy knows everything about the campaign, Hindutva and all. Replies Priyanka: “Sab pata hai … sab sir Hindutva toh maine unko creative bhi dikha diya ha wo bhi bata diya wo (He knows everything … Everything Sir including Hindutva. I have already shown him the creative and told him about that as well).” 

The meeting with Deepak Luthra, National AD Sales Head, Viacom 18 Media, was no different. Accompanying him in this meeting was his colleague Paroma. The journalist briefs him on his agenda in detail and tells him he wants to launch his media campaign on all channels and other platforms their group owns. He asks Luthra to package the campaign in an innovative way. “Aapke paas already kuch create kiya hua hai (Do you have something created on it)?” Yes, we have the stuff ready with us and even videos. The client the journalist tells him that he wants to run in all 44 channels including Viacom and its digital platform. Luthra is awestruck to hear the sheer scale to which their client wants to play his campaign. He is more than ready to play ball, and referring to the reach they have on digital medium, he informs us: “Yeah digital is very big … So digital and social as well Voot, social facebook pages of MTV only on social media we have 200 million followers.” As the discussion moves on, Luthra asks: “Aap content create karna chahoge like you want to create (Would you to create content like you want to create)?”. Why not you do it in-house for us, the journalist suggests. Luthra, in turn, suggests: “Humaare yahan hai third party vendor aapko mila denge aap unke saath content create karo … aur humein do we will put it on TV and promote it everywhere (We have a third party vendor. I will introduce to them. You can get them create content … and then you can pass it over to us we will put it on TV and promote it everywhere).”

The creative part of the campaign thus discussed, the journalist comes back to running down rivals, Pappu, Bua and Babua, in the semi-political phase. Luthra knows who these rivals. While agreeing to run that part of the campaign, he says: “Haan, ye hona chahiye … haan haan pata hai mujhe teenon pata hain (Yes, this should be done … yes, yes I know well who all three leaders are).” We will create jingles on these leaders, the journalist tells them. At this point, Luthra gives us a sales pitch as he says: “With MTV you have such an opportunity because MTV can get away with anything making fun of people and still get away.”

Now, before drawing the meeting to conclusion, the journalist harps on his pet theme of nationalism and how the leaders of rival parties need to be depicted in the media as anti-national. Here, Luthra’s colleague interjects to say: “So that is something we will work on. We also need to concentrate on nationalism and your association in terms of good things that has been done in a patriotic way will focus on that.” She has understood well how it has to be done.

Yes, you got it right. Rivals have to be shown as anti-national. The journalist again tells them. “Dikhana hai. I wil mention that (Yes, they have to be shown [them as anti-national].I will mention that),” says Paroma. You can do that by creating new property, the journalist tells them. Agrees Luthra, “Yeah yeah.” We want them to be branded as Pakistan supporter or anti-national, the journalist suggest again.  “Okay great,” says Paroma in agreement.

TV 18 Response 

We have received the response from TV18 Group to our detailed questionnaire. To read in full, please visit (click here).


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