Operation 136: Part II

Operation 136: Part II

cobrapost |
May 25, 2018

In this part of the investigation, Cobrapost exposes more than two dozen media houses, including some prima donnas of India’s holy Fourth Estate, where they all show their underbelly in its most visceral form

New Delhi: Running into several months and spanning the length and breadth of the country, Operation 136 yet again, more than two dozen media houses. Operation 136: Part II, in fact, shows Indian media’s underbelly in its most visceral form, where even the “big daddies” do not mind agreeing to undertake a campaign that has potential to not only cause communal disharmony among the citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party. This they will do if they are paid a right price, and sometimes they have no compunctions to put the price to Rs. 1000 crore, as did the Times Group owner Vineet Jain, while others showed a propensity to indulge in any kind of illegality bordering on criminality.

The cover was the same so was the ruse! Wearing the garb of a seasoned Pracharak, Senior Investigative Journalist Pushp Sharma adopted malleable identities which he used according to the situation at hand. He first used his association with an Ujjain-based ashram, claiming himself to have been schooled at Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, to have been to IIT Delhi and IIM Bangalore, settled in Australia and to have been running his e-gaming company out of Scotland. Sometimes, he claimed to be head of Madhya Pradesh unit of Om Prakash Rajbhar’s outfit Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, charged with party affairs in Karnataka, Maharashtra and the Northeast. At times, the journalist used all his assumed identities in a single meeting. As the investigation evolved to take a pan-India character, he assumed the identity of a representative of a fictitious religious organization Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, purportedly on a mission, a gupt vyavastha (secret arrangement), at the behest of the “Sangathan” to bolster the prospects of the party in power in coming elections.

As the senior journalist approached these media houses with his hideous proposition, Cobrapost saw them all crumble under the weight of a “big business opportunity” that was knocking on their doors without asking. Almost all bent themselves backward to grab this opportunity. However, there were two notable exceptions, Bartaman Patrika and the Dainik Sambad, which refused to play ball. No amount of cajoling or inducements could bring them around.

While meeting the owners and senior-most personnel of these media houses, Sharma asked them to run a media campaign on his behalf. While offering them a big fortune in terms of ad spend, which ranged anything between few crore rupees and Rs. 500 crore, he spread wide before them these essential ingredients of his agenda:

  1. In the initial phase, the first three months, promote Hindutva through customized religious programmes to create a congenial atmosphere.
  2. Then, the campaign will be geared up to mobilize the electorate on communal lines by promoting speeches of Hindutva hardliners, the likes of Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Mohan Bhagwat, among others.
  3. As elections approach, the campaign will target opposition leaders, namely, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, caricaturing them using less than dignified language like Pappu, Bua and Babua, respectively, for them, in order to show them in poor light before the electorate.
  4. They will have to run this campaign on all platforms – print, electronic, radio or digital including, e-news portals, web sites and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Negotiating hard, in what you can say a value-for-money deal, the journalist drove home all these points as they all spread a red carpet for him. The media houses doing so are Times of IndiaIndia Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Radio One, Sun Group-Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV and Open magazine.

The interactions that Sharma had with all these media houses during the course of Operation: Part II can be summed up as follows:

  • They agreed to promote Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism and religious discourse.
  • They agreed to publish content with potential to polarize the electorate along communal lines.
  • They concurred to besmirch or thrash political rivals of the party in power by posting or publishing defamatory content about them.
  • Many of them were ready to accept unaccounted cash, in other words, for the job to be assigned to them.
  • Some of them agreed to route cash through a third-party agency to turn it into white, even suggesting hawala routes such as Angadiyas.
  • Some of the owners or important functionaries admitted that they were either associated with the RSS or they were pro-Hindutva and would thus be happy to work on the campaign, forgetting the cardinal principle of journalism: neutrality.
  • Some of them agreed to plant stories in favour of the party in power in their publications, while others were ready to unleash their investigative teams to rake muck on opposition leaders.
  • Many of them agreed to develop and carry advertorials especially for this purpose.
  • Many of them agreed to develop content for this invidious campaign by employing their own creative team.
  • Almost all agreed to run this campaign on their platforms – print, electronic, FM radio or digital in its various avatars such as e-news portal, e-paper or social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Some of them even agreed to run down Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Manoj Sinha, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi, among others.
  • Some of them also agreed to run stories against leaders of BJP alliance partners, like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha.
  • Some of them even agreed to paint agitating farmers as Maoists in their stories.
  • Many of them agreed to create and promote such content as would aim for the “character assassination” of leaders like Rahul Gandhi.
  • Many of them are ready to run the content in such manner as would not look like paid for.
  • Almost all FM radio stations agreed to allow their customer to monopolize their free air time.
  • Many FM radio stations also agreed to use RJ mentions to promote the agenda: Hindutva and character assassination of rivals.

Operation 136: Part II is unique in the sense that it not only has exposed all these media houses but has also brought to the fore the fact that in a technology-driven age an agenda can find a mobile app a very effective medium to reach out to millions of users. Our expose of Paytm does exactly that. It brings home the point that one does not need an elaborate arrangement of the conventional media such TV channels or newspapers. A simple mobile app can achieve what the conventional platforms cannot: it can deliver the message with a blink of an eye. In fact, our interaction with top Paytm honchos is quite revealing in many respects, for it not only shows the company’s affinity with both the BJP government and its ideological fountainhead RSS but also shows that users’ data can be compromised.

As India has slipped two paces to 138 from its position of 136, as this investigation was underway, in World Press Freedom Index (https://rsf.org/en/ranking#), Operation 136 has found that most of the media houses are either owned by politicians themselves, particularly the regional ones, or patronized by politicians, and it is natural for them to become their masters’ voice. It was high time we coined a new phrase to define this journalism as crony journalism a la crony capitalism. For instance, ABN Andhra Jyothy, a prominent Telugu TV news channel is patronized by TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. It is no surprise if we hear its Chief Marketing Manager E.V. Seshidhar say: “We have very good connects with TDP … We have do [sic] lot of what do you call we have main official what do you call for AP government Andhra Pradesh government, we have official event telecaster rights for Andhra Pradesh government.” While this connect goes beyond the TDP, to include the BJP and other outfits, Seshidhar even goes to say that their newspaper Andhra Jyothy holds so much sway that they could influence the outcome of the Karnataka elections. Hope the Election Commission of India is listening!

On the other hand, Lakshmipathy Adimoolam, the owner of the 70-year-old prominent Tamil daily published from Chennai, wears his family allegiance to the Sangh Brotherhood on his sleeve. We are, therefore, least surprised to hear him say that he has imported especially designed software which could help in the promotion of Brand Modi: “You have newsletters … sent to … brochures, leaflets sent to party workers … say there is Modiji’s picture is there, just move your camera over here … it gives audio of Modiji.”

It was not that Cobrapost has exposed only those high ranking-personnel whose business is to negotiate a deal and bring business to the organization they are working for. In the course of this investigation, Cobrapost found some senior journalists, who have now donned the mantle of ownership or CEO, genuflecting before their big-ticket client the journalist and happily agreeing to work for his agenda. One such senior journalist was Purushottam Vaishnav who is working for Zee Media as its CEO Regional News Channels. Agreeing to run down political rivals by unleashing their SIT on them, Purushottam said: “Content meinjo aapki taraf se input aayega wo absorb ho jayega … humare taraf se jo content generate hoga investigative journalism hum log karte hain karwa denge jitna hum logon ne kya hai utna kisi ne nahi kiya hoga wo hum log karenge (Whatever input you will send in the form of content that will be absorbed … the content we will generate … we have been doing investigative journalism, we will do it for you. [Compared to Zee]None of the channels has done so many … we will do that).”      

In fact, our investigation establishes the fact that the RSS, and as a corollary, Hindutva, has made deep inroads into not only the newsrooms but also the boardrooms of Indian media houses where even owners either blatantly admit their allegiance to the party in power and its parent organization or are eager to have an association with them. For instance, Big FM Sr. Business Partner Amit Choudhary admits to the relationship between the company that owns Big FM and the party in power in no uncertain terms: “Waise bhi Reliance BJP ka supporter hee hai (Anyway, Reliance is always a supporter of the BJP).” Then we have Basab Ghosh, Regional Sales Head of Open magazine, which is owned by the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, who also confesses to their allegiance to the RSS: “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. (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).”

While the journalist had a tough time in convincing Ajay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm that he was there to fulfill the assignment received directly from the Sangathan under a “gupt vyavastha” or secret arrangement, the senior vice president of the mobile-app utility payment company candidly admitted his association with the top brass of both the RSS and the BJP. Taking his prospective client as someone belonging to the Sangh Brotherhood, he made a very shocking revelation. Referring to the stone pelting in Kashmir last year, Ajay Shekhar said: “Jab JK mein band huye the na pathar … toh humari personally PMO se phone aya tha kaha gaya tha ki data de do ho sakta hai ki Paytm user hon (When the stone-pelting stopped there in J&K, I personally got a phone call from the PMO. They told us to give them data saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users. Do you understand)?” Paytm users may now be wondering if the company has violated its policy of privacy and data safety!

Another interesting fact that has emerged during the course of Operation 136: Part II is that although they might be swearing by their allegiance to the RSS or the BJP, they don’t give a damn to Modi’s public stance against black money for which the Prime Minister did not shirk from putting the entire citizenry to untold miseries by enforcing demonetization in November 2016. Punching holes in what has been gloried as “surgical strike” against black money, we found Vineet Jain, Managing Director of the Times Group and his aide Executive President Sanjeev Shah naming some big corporate houses which could help make black money squeaky clean and even suggesting to employ the services of Angadias, a Gujarati name for hawaladars or hawala operators of illicit money, to get the job done.  While Vineet Jain says, “Aur bhi businessmen honge jo humein cheque denge aap unhe cash de do (There are other businessmen who would give us cheque against the cash you may give them). His aide Shah informs us: “Who will take that from him in Delhi suppose if Goenka says I want it in Ahmedabad so that I Angadia will have contact in Ahmedabad where they will exchange in number on a note or whatever.” Hope our Prime Minister and other arms of his government are listening!

Of all interviews that the journalist had with the owners and personnel of all these media houses in the course of this investigation, Manda Tai’s stands out in its revelations. While criticizing her own party, and claiming that it was the RSS leadership which ensured she got a ticket to fight election after she switched loyalties from NCP to the BJP, what the BJP legislator from Belapur, Pune, told Cobrapost is quite revealing: “Mere ko Sangh wale bol rahe the ki Muslim masjid todo ye karo. Main boli sorry main ye nahi kar sakti. Masjid sthal sab kachre ke maafiq dekhte hain. Itna log ko hum hay nahi le sakte hain kyonki aadhe log apne se jud gaye hain (The Sangh people were telling me time and again to destroy the masjids of Muslims. I told them ‘Sorry I can’t do that.’ They all look at a masjid something like trash. I cannot afford to earn so much ill-will of all those people [by resorting to such hate] because many Muslims have joined the BJP).”

We know it well that such open confessions of their allegiance to the ideology of the RSS could be brushed aside something as personal opinions, but given the position they hold in their respective organizations what they say cannot be taken lightly. The reason is that it is rather the business interests that have an overarching influence on the editorial policy of a media organization, and Operation 136 has once again shown it in ample measure. The first part of Operation 136 had exposed India TV, Dainik Jagaran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA (Daily News and Analysis), Amar Ujala, UNI, 9X Tashan, Samachar Plus, HNN Live 24×7, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, ScoopWhoop, Rediff.com, IndiaWatch, Aj and Sadhna Prime News.

In this part of Operation 136, we reproduce the excerpts of interactions that Sharma had with Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Paytm, Radio One, Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV, Open magazine, Bartman Patirka and Dainik Samvad.


Times of India

Pradeep V, Group Head Sales, Radio Mirchi, Bangalore; Binit Kumar, Senior Manager, Radio Mirchi, Patna; Prabhu Jha, Station Head, Radio Mirchi, Patna; Aarron D'Mello, Account Manager, Manglore; Anshuman Dey, Deputy General Manager and Head (Northeast India), Times Group; Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, Hyderabad; Srikanth Redddy, Deputy Manager Response, Times Group Hyderabad; Vishal Guleri, Deputy Manager Response, TOI Chandigarh; Bipin Kumar, Chief Manager NBT Lucknow; Atul Mehta, Senior Manager Brand Solutions, Worldwide Media, Mumbai; Priyadarshi Banerjee, General Manager Product Strategy, Mumbai; Raunaq Raje, Senior Manager (Digital Sales), Mumbai; Sanjeev Shah, Executive President (Mergers and Acquisitions Corporate), Mumbai; Vineet Jain, Managing Director, Times Group, Mumbai

The Times Group is widely held to be one of the most reputed and reliable media conglomerates of the country, not just the biggest. The family owned business is responsible for the circulation of The Times of India, the largest selling English language daily in the world, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, with an average daily sale of 3,32,1702 units. With 179 years of legacy behind them, and the force of 11,000 employees, the Times Group is a force to reckon with in the Indian media landscape. The parent company owns 16 publishing centres, 15 printing centres, 55 sales offices, 5 dailies, including two of the largest in the country with approximately 4.3 million copies in daily circulation, 2 lead magazines, and 29 niche magazines reaching 2468 cities and towns, along with 32 radio stations. By sheer force of circulation in these colossal figures, what they print and propagate is forever imprinted and archived in public memory. Over the years, The Times of India has gained a significant foothold in the industry as the touchstone of truth and journalistic veracity. And yet, they are not outside the web of deceit and treachery that paid news disseminate. The Times and its several branches and subsidiaries are more than willing to participate in the scandalous bid to maliciously malign certain parties and push the communal agenda before elections. The idea was to see whether the most reputed media brand in the country is up for sale or not. And as it turns out, it is.

The Times subsidiary, Radio Mirchi, is a nationwide network of private FM radio stations in India owned by the Entertainment Network India (ENIL), which, in turn, is a subsidiary of The Times Group. Radio Mirchi has immense reach and has a presence in 38 cities, including all major and minor metropolitan areas and townships in every state of India.

The original avatar of Radio Mirchi had been Times FM, and it had begun operation after the Government of India privatized the radio broadcasting sector and sold blocks of airtime, which were bought by The Times Group. In 2000, ENIL, owned by the group, won the highest number of frequencies in the auction of 108 FM frequencies, and started operations under Radio Mirchi. Immensely popular throughout the length and breadth of the country, Radio Mirchi is known to maintain weekly music charts for record charts in India, a ranking of recorded music according to popularity. These charts are published weekly in the Times of India.

Radio Mirchi’s entrance into the fray of public discourse signals the modernization of the auditor/listener and their willingness to recognize the revamped radio stations have led to its emergence as a new player in media war. Radio can penetrate grassroots and people in a way that is still unthinkable for social media instruments or even television or newspapers. It especially enjoys tremendous popularity in urban areas, with a record daily listenership of over 8.5 lakh in the Delhi NCR region.

Sharma exposes the cooption of the media in the power politics surrounding the saffron agenda, leading to a series of revelations of how radio channels are willing to misappropriate their social presence in order to gain monetary benefits.

The journalist met Pradeep V at his Bangalore office, who wants to know “what kind of content would go on air.” Sharma starts getting to the point, saying that he wants a corporate tie-up with the station for marketing purposes, “No, no, no…. see for me it’s a very clear understanding that I am approaching a corporate company. I am taking care of their financial things, business interest and I am requesting them, you please [in an] innovative way design something so that my political interests are taken care of.” Pradeep is curious as to “what kind of content” Sharma wants to “put forward.” Sharma is obliged to explain a bit further. Pradeep accedes to the tactic and assures that “how to push this particular concept, I will take care. What do you want to promote?”

When the journalist mentions a parallel campaign to malign political opponents, especially the Congress, he finds a willing listener: “I get your point.” It gradually becomes clear that Pradeep is not only on board about this nefarious agenda of pushing Hindutva politics into the mainstream but also that he has done it before, for the BJP, as he liberally spills information on what he has achieved on that front, “We have done so many long run campaigns, so many… I will tell you, agar BJP ki baat karein so during election we got quite bit on radio, Madison karr ke ek agency tha... we have runs campaign for BJP… matlab... (We have done so many long run campaigns, so many… I will tell you if we talk of BJP, there was a company called Madison … we have run campaigns for BJP, I mean…).” The journalist digs deeper and asks whether the campaign was done “in a massive way.” Pradeep is enthusiastic in his description of the high profile campaign account he has handled, oblivious to his statement a few minutes back where he said as media assets, he and his team couldn’t be seen taking sides: “Absolutely, matlab bahut high decibel, bahut hhi high decibel (It was very very high decibel, high profile, I mean).” Smelling a rat, the journalist encourages more discussion on the pecuniary transactions involved in the whole thing, and correctly guesses that not only was BJP directly involved, it was done through its own committee, in which case, the party is also liable since it influenced media houses and took them on their payroll: “Wonderful, okay, so party was handling the entire thing?” Pradeep confirms his suspicion, “Yeah, party was directly handling.” But they don’t give everything in cheque? Pradeep says, “Nahi nahi ho jataa hai (No, no, it happens). It is absolute, it was done by the … committee of the BJP. It was a proper understanding.”

Pradeep suggests that Sharma may pay him via some third party: “Agar local humlog karenge toh woh [third party] shayad ho sakta hain (If we do this locally, may be an arrangement can be made).” Sharma encourages him to think that he has the same intention and openly asks if it fine with him to accept cash, as his ashram gets donations in cash. Pradeep pounces on this opportunity and advises him to use third party fronts to make payments: “If there is media agency involved, these guys would take and give it to us… that would solve the entire issue.”

The journalist met three officials of Radio Mirchi in Patna, including Station Head Prabhu Jha and Senior Manager Binit Kumar. When the journalist tells him that they can make jingles in an innovative way by using the shlokas of Gita and relating them to today’s politics, to thrash political rivals through such jingles, Kumar says: “Wo toh main aapko apne script writer se milwa doonga wo apna bana lega usmein (I will introduce my scriptwriter to you … he will create it accordingly).” These jingles will not name any politician directly.

The meeting with station head Prabhu Jha turns out to be even more interesting. Prabhu Jha also appears to be ready to run ads and programmes on Radio Mirchi Patna according to the journalist’s specifications, and endorses his ideas to ideologically brainwash and “inject” the populace. As the journalist tells him that he wants to thrash political rivals, Jha announces, “By the way, main bhi RSS se hi belong karta hoon (By the way, I also belong to the RSS).” This sets the tone of the discussion. The journalist tells him that they are targeting the campaign at 2019 elections, so we want to propagate our ideology in a big way. Jha is all help as he says: “Don’t worry…job hi humare programming head hain ya main hoon we have been brought up in RSS toh issliye aap wo aur last time hum logon ne BJP ke liye campaign bhi kiya tha (Don’t worry, my programming head and I are both brought up in RSS so you can … and the last time we did run a campaign for the BJP).” In fact, the whole team of Radio Mirchi is from the same stock, as Jha further reassures us with regard to the campaign: “Koi diqqat nahi main aapko brief isliye de raha hoon ki aapko bhi clear hai ki kahin agar humko ye sab karna hai toh humko duss jageh dimaag nahi lagaana padega wo saara jo cheej hai na wo kar doonga … toh ye aap isko content de dijiyega toh mere creative head hain wo bana denge by the way wo bhi BJP ke hee hain toh yahan poori team jo hai wahi wali hai (There is no problem. I am briefing you this because it should clear to you that if you want to get these things done here, you don’t have to engage your mind on so many things … I will get everything done … you can give this content and our creative head will create it. By the way he too is a BJP fellow. So, our entire team is the same).” It is clear that Jha and his team are sworn BJP/RSS supporters. He takes responsibility for an all-round campaign on behalf of the journalist.

When the journalist briefs the purpose behind his visit to his Mangalore office, Account Manager Aarron D'Mello is happy to receive him as they are looking for such interested parties who wish to do campaign on their radio station. But then during elections, they are bound by certain regulations. If that is the case, why not you create such content in-house which will be funny to thrash our rivals. Agreeing, D’Mello  says: “We have to integrate it into you know entertainment. And if it is going to be direct you know that we can’t do directly lot of things but what we can do …” Yes, you can do it certainly by tweaking the content, the journalist suggests. Agrees D’Mello: “Yeah, by tweaking. You need to tweak it little bit.”

Sharma’s next stopover was Guwahati where he met Anshuman Dey, who is working with Times of India as Deputy General Manager and Head Northeast India. After discussing his agenda with Dey, the journalist comes to the ethnic issues that plague Assam. Raising such issues as Bangladeshi settlers, he tells Dey that such issues should be hammered time and again. Telling us that such issues could be covered as advertorials, he says: “Yeh jo aap bol rahein hain that is either advertorial mein ayega ya editorial issues mein aa jayega (What you are saying that is covered either in advertorial or in editorial issues).” Yes, you got the issue, the journalist tells him. Dey explain how he will help: “I will connect you to my counterpart jo editorial mein hain yahan pe, lekin ussmein kya hai ki dekhiye dono ka antar samjha kijiye, ek hai ek aapne event kiya, kuchh aapne activities kiya uska coverage… that is one that will be taken care of by our editorial team (I will connect you to my counterpart who is in editorial here, but what the issue is you see you should understand the difference between the two. One is you did some event, you did some activities, it is about its coverage … that is one that will be taken care of by our editorial team).” He explains further: “Ek hai aap chahte hain ki ye cheej iss tareh se hype kiya jaye that is known as advertorial … content aap denge hum usko write-up jaisa design karenge (The other thing is you want to create hype around one issue. That is known as advertorial … You will provide the content for it and we will design to look like a write-up).” What he is telling is quite obvious to discerning minds. You mean, says the journalist, it is purely a commercial deal. Replies Dey to explain how it works: “Commercial haan, who bhi hota hain…aap dekhiyega kabhi kabhi special reports hota hain, theek hain…suppose abhi Gopashtami mela hota hain, say …ussko theme banake humne ek advertorial kiya, ussmein aaplogo ki do, teen cheezein highlight kar sakte hain (Commercial, yes. That also happens. You’ll see sometimes we have special reports, all right … suppose it’s Gopashtami, say, we shall make this the theme and then we shall highlight a few things that you are doing).” So, to get that sort of mileage we will have to pay you, wonders the journalist. “Yes, so you have year-long plan to, you have to plan it in such a way, it should not look like …,” replies Dey. This is paid news camouflaged as regular content.

The story does not end here. Dey has a shrewd business mind and wants to close the deal as soon as possible. He explains again: “Yes, it should look like a general awareness kind of thing…haan toh vaisa karke agar aap planned way mein karein toh zyada achcha hota aur agar aapke paas kuchh hai ki aapne doosre jagah mein kahan kya kiya hain ve aap share karenge mere saath toh zyada achcha hoga … (If you do this in a planned way, it shall be better, and if you have other stuff that you have used elsewhere before, you could share them with me, that would be quite good).” What if we want to thrash our rivals? The journalist asks. Dey agrees to do it as well but with a rider: “Nahi dekhiye uss type ka aapko bahut tactfully karna padega, tactfully in the sense kuchh kuchh cheez to hain jisse hum chhaap nahi sakte (No, you see. We will have to do that type of content very tactfully, tactfully in the sense that we cannot directly publish some things). Herein come advertorials disguised as news items.

The context of the journalist’s next meeting with Vijay Bhaskar Reddy in Hyderabad does not change. When the deputy manager of  the Times Groups asks the visitor the purpose of his visit, the journalist upfront tells him that he is there to promote his Hindutva agenda, Says Bhaskar Reddy: “Hindutva agenda… directly may not be calling Hindutva agenda, we will [be] calling about like…” Something like a religious congregation, the journalist suggests, Yes, he says, and then goes onto suggest that the client must organize such an event and invite dignitaries over there. His paper would happily promote that event. You mean like advertorial? The journalist surmises. Replies Bhaskar Reddy: “[Yes]Advertorial, it may not be writing advertorial here, it is a paid content.”

In order to take the deal forward, Bhaskar Reddy met again his prospective client. He was accompanied by his colleague Deputy Manager Srikanth Reddy. He lays out a plan to start events and activities collaboratively, and then draw more and more people into the circle, attracting a crowd, and instilling in them a sense of pride on being Hindu. Reddy sounds more saffron than even his client when he says: “Unn logon ko pehle samjhaiyye ki bhai aap Hindu hain, you should feel proud of it (We tell the people that brother, you are a Hindu, you must feel proud of it.)” If Reddy were on a podium giving a lecture on RSS and Hindutva ideology, he couldn’t have spoken better! Responding in like measure, their client the journalist tells him that they would start campaigns like ‘Love Jehad’ on the lines of the VHP to charge people with communal feelings. Would you help us achieve that? Bhaskar Reddy shows no scruples while agreeing to this overtly communal agenda. He nods vigorously to say, “Ho jayega, ho jayega (Yes, it will be done, it will be done).” 

 The journalist reiterates the two main points of his agenda when he met Vijay Prakash Singh. My first agenda is Hindutva, he tells the Delhi Radio Mirchi Group Head, and the second is thrashing political rivals in an innovative. Vijay Prakash easily gets on board, “Ok, sure.” We come to know from Vijay Prakash that Radio Mirchi has 53 stations. Well, the journalist tells him, we are willing to go with Radio Mirchi for the first test and trial phase. Vijay replies, “No problem … this will be under four month December to march. I will ask my team to send you plan.” Hope you got my objectives clear? “Yes,” replies Vijay Prakash promptly.

Coming straight to talking business, the journalist briefs Deputy Manager Response at Chandigarh Vishal Guleri on how he wants to promote his agenda of Hindutva and take on political rivals in Punjab, keeping in mind 2019 elections. As the deliberations proceed, the deputy manager asks: “How we will get benefit out of this model, see Times of India is a revenue base model.” Obviously, your paper is brand in itself and every service we ask for will be duly paid. Now, Guleri assures the client that ToI will facilitate their entry across educational institutions in Punjab. What Guleri tells us is revealing: “See we do these events and it is very simple we go to school we get sanction or we do things … If you go to school it will be difficult for you to get a sanction but when we go Times of India … We show them as a social cause this and that, so this way we can do but it can … we need to work on that.”

Pushp Sharma made it a point to visit the Lucknow office of Navbharat Times, a Hindi daily published by the Times Group. Here he met Chief Manager Bipin Kumar. After they have discussed the agenda thread bare, Bipin Kumar rues their fate as their group is being completely ignored by the present government causing them to lose a good and sustained source of revenue in terms of government ads. While agreeing to his client’s agenda of character assassination, he pours his heart out: “…otherwise also abhi jo halaat hain aapko bataun main humare yahan ki, ki Modi and Amit Shah is [sic] not very happy with TOI group.  So they want to do something for them, so that they are happy. Abhi ek pehla signal usse milega jo yeh business meet hain agar ussmein PM chale gaye that means he is mellowing down (Otherwise, I am telling you, actually Modi and Amit Shah are not too happy with the ToI group, so we also want to do something to pacify them. If the PM finally relents and visits the business meet, it may signal that he is mellowing down).”

Senior journalist Pushp Sharma next visited the office of Worldwide Media, a Times Group subsidiary. Here he met Senior Manager (Brand Solutions) Atul Mehta, General Manager (Product Strategy) Priyadarshi Banerjee and Senior Manager (Digital Sales) Raunaq Raje. The journalist discusses with the Hindutva agenda at length. They agree to host a Maharashtra Achiever Award at the behest of their client, as vehicle to promote Hindutva. Atul Mehta gives the project his blessing, saying, “Sir usska agar title hum post karte hain toh baithega about 1 cr. (Sir if we post the title then the cost comes to Rs. 1 crore).” They even also fix who will be the first recipient of this award, Maharashtra DGP Satish Mathur.

Coming to his pet theme of thrashing political rivals, the journalist tells them the main rivalry is between the Congress and BJP. So, the Congress should be the major target of this thrash the rival campaign, while you can also rope in Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. This has to be done through jingles. Coming with an idea, Mehta tells the client they have a website for their women’s magazine femina.com which already has a spiritual section. Mehta suggests that they will create a micro-site therein. This micro-site will be designed to function as platform of the promotion of their client’s agenda. “What it we create a micro-site uss micro-site pe itna content rahega na we can put shlokas, we can put lot of stuff over the micro-site even micro-site can be hyperlinked to Sangathan (What it [sic] we create a micro-site. There we can put so much content on that micro-site, we can put shlokas, we can put lot of stuff over the micro-site. Even micro-site can be hyperlinked to Sangathan).” He further says that they will post articles on this micro-site apart from the femina.com. His colleague Raunaq Raje chips in to explain it further: “Micro-site alag se create karenge na jo Femina ko attach karega. Usko hum log promote hee kar lenge na matla saara aapka hee base hee ban jayega (We will create the micro-site separately which will attach the Femina site. We promote that site, I mean it will become your base).”

On the other hand, Priyadarshi emphasizes that it is important for a media company to “appear neutral”, saying, “Media company hain dikhna chahiye ki neutral hain (A media house should at least have a semblance of neutrality).” They agree on the “character assassination” agenda as well. Coming to the character assassination of leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilsh Yadav, the journalist tells them that the word Pappu serves that purpose. “Haan, haan bilkul (Yes, yes sure),” says Priyadarshi. When the journalist tells them that spoofing should be aimed to render the characters laughable like those of circus, Priyadarshi laughs and says “Issmein unka khud ka bhi yogdaan kaafi hain (They are responsible for that to a great extent).”

This meeting led the journalist to Executive President (Mergers and Acquisitions Corporate) Sanjeev Shah, the group’s the most important man, second only to its owner and Managing Director Vineet Jain. In fact, it was Priyadarshi who facilitated the meeting. In this meeting, they discuss the possibility of exploiting beauty pageants to pitch in questions to candidates that relate to Hindutva, to which Priyadarshi says, “Okay, achha (Yes, all right). Funnily, the journalist asks them to frame some question for their beauty pageant around Hindutva and its icon like Savarkar. But he soon lets them know that his ultimate goal is communal polarization. Discussing with them how the Hindutva has to be played around Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna, he tells them what his objective is in no subtle way. We hear Sanjeev Shah utter: “Correct, correct, correct … bas wohi (That’s it).” Priyadarshi seconds him: “Bilkul sahi (Very true).”

After everything has been discussed, the journalist seeks to know if he could meet the final decision maker from their group. Assures Sanjeev: “That I will have to talk to Vineet … Main ek baar baat karke dekhta hoon … kuan hoga wahan jisase hum who we trust completely… see the problem is not, problem is somebody who will keep mouth shut (That I will have to talk to Vineet [Jain]… Let me speak to him once … Tell me if there is anyone who we trust completely … see the problem is not, problem is somebody who will keep mouth shut).” Secrecy is the basic mantra of such shady deals!

Before the journalist meets the boss, he had another meeting with Sanjeev. Here, he says that Vineet had been “very upset” with him because “I have not quoted any figure but he said he is ready to … you know depends on what we delivering.” According to Sanjeev, “If they are convinced they will increase the budget he said there is no question and he has personally said he is going to involve in creativity and his brain works on creativity.”  Sanjeev also claims that when Jain was presented with the agenda, his reaction was to charge them 1000 crores: “…so he told me you should quote [Rs.] 1000 crores. I told him ‘Vineet aise what is wrong with you 1000 crore.’ I said 1000 crore who is going to give? He said ‘No, no, no but we have this, we have that, show him our access.’ I said ‘Vineet vo sab theek hain I said 1000 crore confidence aise let us deliver.” Sanjeev further adds that Jain had claimed that nothing less than 500 crores should be charged for the campaign: “So he says ‘yeah but less than 500 don’t’ so I said ‘okay whatever it is I quote … it is their money it is their budget it is their agenda they have to get confident’ so I have told him this.”

Finally, the journalist is allowed to meet Vineet Jain. When the journalist asks Vineet if he was fine with his agenda and willing to go beyond a “transactional kind of relationship”, Jain emphasises the need for “appearing neutral,” amongst other things, while actually working for them: “As a corporate we have to look neutral, as neutral as possible matlab dekhne mein toh neutral hona chahiye jitni bhi koshish karke (I mean, we have to at least make an effort to appear as neutral as possible).”

When their client the journalist tells Jain that the ultimate goal of this Hindutva agenda is to take political advantage by conducting suitable field activities by riding high on this campaign, Jain agrees to say, “Right…haan [yes] so as long as we maintain that then it’s fine…” Jain also understands the second political component of the agenda, that is, thrashing of rivals, and who words like Pappu and Buwa stand for. So, when the journalist tells him that he is there to gain political mileage, we hear Jain utter: “Right.”

In the second meeting held at the Times Tower, Sanjeev claims that Jain has quoted a sum of at least 500 crores, if not more, to run the agenda. Sanjeev Shah also says that the “USP of Times” is that it reaches “65 million to 70 million people everyday” which is “higher than the population of UK” and will, therefore, have the capacity to propagate the Hindutva agenda to a massive extent. When the journalist repeats his suggestion with regard to Femina Miss India pageant, which is organized by the Times Group, Sanjeev actively considers it and says “We can bring Hinduism, Hindutva, Lord Krishna, Bhagwad Gita into anything we do … So, for example, Femina final round … Western cast so what I … why don’t you ask question about Hindutva? So it has to be thought through carefully.” Jain also agrees to pursue the plan of an event called the Maharashtra Achiever’s Award.

Coming to the payment part of the deal, the journalist tells them that his ashram gets a lot of cash money in donations. He would appreciate it if they accept one-third part of Rs. 500 crore in cash. Sanjeev Shah clearly suggests that an arrangement can be arrived at: “There is cash component which we discuss … I told him that’s not something we do but let’s see.” He also discusses the cash transaction freely, suggesting that third parties be brought in to convert cash into cheque. This is also the time where Hemendra Kothari and other industry bigwigs are named as possible conduits for routing the unaccounted cash.

In their second meeting, after discussing the core agenda, they again come back to dealing in unaccounted cash. Here, we come to know that Jain known certain big business families through which the unaccounted cash be routed and they can get be paid in cheque. It is quite revealing to know how deeply entrenched is this illegal non-banking transaction system. Here, the conduits are Angadiyas, a Gujarati name for hawala operators. Naming some GD Gaurav from one Dalmiya family, Jain tells us that the family “Mere saath hai (They are with me).” When the journalist asks them if he should speak to Gaurav and asks them to tell the man who will be trustworthy, Sanjeev tells us how the cash money would be routed: “Sir there is a person in between … He will not deliver the cash to GD Gaurav … He will not meet him also … He will give it to a Angadiya. Angadiya is a carrier … who will take that from him in Delhi suppose if Gaurav says I want it in Ahmedabad so that Angadia will have contact in Ahmedabad where they will exchange in number on a note or whatever ... So there is no direct contact at all.” While Sanjeev make it simple for us to understand how hawala money reaches its destination after a transaction has been agreed upon, Jain keeps on uttering “Hoon” here and there. After they have revealed many other established names in India’s corporate world purportedly dealing hawala, the meeting comes to a close with both parties agreeing to move forward on the stated agenda.

Zee News

Santosh, Sales and Marketing and Gauri Mahapatra, Head Sales and Marketing, Zee Kalinga; Sanjoy Chatterjee, Business Head, Zee Regional East; Purushottam Vaishnav, CEO Regional News Channels; Sagar Arora, Senior Sales Manager, Zee Punjab, Himachal and Haryana; Amit Kumar, Assistant Manager, Zee Purvaiya, and Pradeep Kumar Sinha, Territory Head Sales; Abhishek Pandey, Senior Sales Manager, Uttarakhand Zee News

Launched in July 1999, Zee News will have completed a two-decade-long run this year. Zee News is the flagship of Zee Media Corporation Limited (ZMCL), which includes three national channels Zee NewsZee Hindustan and Zee Business and one international channel WION. The network also runs regional news channels such as Zee 24 Taas (Marathi), Zee 24 Kalak (Gujarati), Zee 24 Ghanta (Bengali), Zee Madhya Pradesh/Chhattisgarh, Zee Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand, Zee RajasthanZee Punjab/Haryana/HimachalZee Kalinga News (Odia) and Zee Bihar/Jharkhand and Zee Salaam (Urdu). The network has 190 million viewers.

Apart from these news channels, the Zee group owns 9X Media, a bouquet of six music TV channels and Bollywood news portal www.spotboye.com, and Daily News and Analysis (DNA), a Mumbai-based English newspaper. Known for its avowedly pro-Hindutva tilt, Zee Media takes pride in calling themselves to be India’s only rasthravadi (nationalist) channel. It is no surprise then that Zee News, in its various avatars, has been one of the most controversial news channels. For instance, its CEO and Editor-in-Chief Sudhir Chaudhary and his colleague Sameer Ahluwalia were arrested by the Delhi Police in November 2012 on charges of extorting Rs 100 crore from the Jindal Group as a quid pro quo for not airing stories against the group in the Coal Scam. In his zeal to attract as many eyeballs as possible when he was CEO and editor of Live India, a current affairs TV channel owned and promoted by Markand Adhikari, Chaudhary aired a slanderous but fake sting in September 2007 on a woman government school teacher of Delhi, purportedly showing her as promoting prostitution. The woman teacher was almost lynched by a furious mob after this scurrilous fake video was aired by the TV channel. After it came to be known that the teacher was innocent, his colleague Prakash Singh, who had done the sting, was arrested by the Delhi Police. The channel was blacked out for three months.

Over the years, Zee News has become a champion of nationalism and Hindutva, particularly after the BJP came to power at the Centre and Zee Group Chairman Subhash Chandra won a place in the Rajya Sabha, with BJP support. In February 2016, the Jawahar Lal Nehru University in Delhi became the target of all sorts of onslaughts and slander campaign by the ruling party and its government after Zee News aired another doctored video purportedly showing some JNU students shouting anti-India slogans. The Delhi Police, who moved with speed to arrest some of the JNU Students Union leaders on sedition charges, has so far failed to prove the video was genuine, let alone identify and arrest those students who had shouted anti-India slogans.

After Cobrapost released the first part of Operation 136 on March 26, the Zee News and Zee Hindustan aired a programme sensationally titled “Cobrapost Ka Kala Sach (The Black Truth of Cobrapost).” Obviously, the sole objective of the programme, which was high on decibels but low on content, was to run down Cobrapost.

In Operation 136 – Part 1, we had exposed both DNA and 9X Tashan senior officials showing their willingness to peddle Hindutva, run character assassination campaign against certain political leaders and also run favourable stories for money. It will not be out of place to recall what Rajiv Sharma, Sr. Vice President (Advertising Sales), of 9X Tashan had promised their client, that is, senior journalist Pushp Sharma: create a buzz on Hindutva by creating theme song according to the agenda of their client. Here is what we heard him say: “Aap jo ye points bol rahe hain ismein hum aisa bhi kar sakte hain ki jaisa abhi humne brand songs hum create karte hain toh hum ye jo aapke items hain inke through bhi hum kuchh kar sakte hain. Maan lijiye song create kiya humne aur wo humari property bhi hogi toh hum usko throughout the day promote karenge wo chalega ek bade level pe toh wo ek buzz create kar dega (The points you are telling, we can also do it this way … for example, we create brand songs, we can do the same through your items … suppose we create a song, that song will be our property … we will promote that song throughout the day … this will run on a big level so that it creates a buzz [among the viewers]).”

This is what Rajat Kumar, Chief Revenue Officer, Zee Synergy, who is in charge of DNA, had committed with regard to the malicious media campaign that their client had proposed for DNA to undertake: “Bilkul main ismein bahut yuddh gati se kaam karta hoon (Sure, I will work on it on a war footing).”

Pushp Sharma met eight marketing officials who work for various regional channels of the Zee group to see if his proposition is received warmly by them or not. Surprisingly all of them agreed to do more than what Sharma asked for. Santosh, for instance, who is part of the sales and marketing team of Zee Kalinga, which was launched in 2014, in Bhubaneswar, promptly agreed to suture a corporate alliance with Zee News for his agenda: “Nahi, nahi khali Zee Kalinga ka baat khatm kar lete hain aur top level mein jo bhi ho sakta hai main yahin se karva doonga … koi problem nahi hai sab mein karwa doonga (No, let us finish with Zee Kalinga first … and whatever can be done at the top level for you, I will get it done from here [Bhubaneswar] itself … there is no problem … I will get everything done).”

You mean you can take care of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh even from Bhubaneswar? Promptly, replies Santosh: “Haan, haan link hain sab na koi problem nahi hai direct baat aap bhi kar sakte hain koi problem nahi hai khali Zee Kalinga ko lekar jo programme hai aapka uska detail mereko de deejiye aur Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh bol rahe hain Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh ke liye main karwa doonga (Yes, yes. I have links with all. There is no problem. You can also talk directly with them. There is no problem. You can send me details of your program for Zee Kalinga … and you are talking of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, I can get things done for those states also).”

Santosh was prompt to bring his superior Gauri Mahapatra on board, who the journalist met at a Bhubaneswar coffee shop. His junior has already apprised the Zee Kalinga sales and marketing head of the agenda. So, when quoting an ad spend of about Rs. 10 crore the journalist tells Mahapatra he would like to “invest” in his media campaign in three states, including Odisha, Mahapatra gives a clear indication of what is expected of them: “It doesn’t look like this is a paid for, so it will be [of] a more help.”

Yes, this is exactly what we are looking for, the journalist appreciates her understanding, and since your owner is himself associated with the party, it should not look like that your channel is unduly favouring us. Mahapatra agrees to do the balancing act in these words: “Yes, exactly… it should look like we are with all … we can always do that.”

You see, our Ashram receives a lot of cash in donations, the journalist tells Mahapatra. He then asks if they can accept payment in cash. Cash is welcome, as Mahapatra says: “Yes, yes, [a] bigger agency is there. They can always do that.”

Now, tell me how your channel can help us form governments in these three states? Here is what Mahapatra offers us: “We have days out total FPC, we call it FPC fixed point chart, like we have to plan for whole week that is our FPC. So what we have planned is we are going to remote [areas]. What is the agenda of the chairman?  So it will be like totally going to each and every panchayat, each and every block, to the local corner of Odisha. We won’t be leaving any place.  So that way we can add on like aapka kahin par kuch ho raha hai (if you have organized a programme) ... like our 30 senior [staff members] will be there in all places, and 30 will be multiplied, can go to 100, 200 people, so they will be in one network. So if it goes well, if it is okay with chairman … we will be working like a partnership programme.”

The deal with Zee Kalinga thus settled, the journalist asked Mahapatra if she could get him across to someone who could help him strike the same deal for Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where assembly elections are due this year. Mahapatra was happy to introduce Acharya Atal, that is, Pushp Sharma, to Sanjoy Chatterjee, who is working with the group as Business Head Zee Regional East. But before this meeting took place, Chatterjee had already spoken to the editorial team head and CEO of some regional channels of the group Purushottam Vaishnav.

So, when the journalist asks Chatterjee how he can help promote the agenda during elections in Rajasthan as well, it does not take much prodding for Chatterjee to make the promise: “Humare taraf se aapke iss karyakram ke liye (For your agenda, on our part), we will do anything and everything that is required to make your plan successful, that’s our commitment, okay. It has to be spread across length and breadth of the day and the evening and in the night and the afternoon because the audience is everywhere. You know to capture all kinds of audiences you have to instill [in] them the confidence about the Hindutva thing. Some speak out like you do, some don’t like I do. I am also [a] Brahmin, I am Chatterjee. So we also know that whatever our country is going through, and I am not giving you any sales talk ... okay, because sales has already been done. Let’s assume that. So, it’s good thing and before coming here we sat down with Purushottamji. He has assured that [quoting him] ‘You go and tell him every single help from the channel to make your plan successful.’ That is the one liner that we are telling you.”

Nothing can be better than what you tell me, the journalist appreciates Chatterjee. But we can pay you all in cash, Sharma tells him, which can be diverted from Australia to your account, which in other words is using channel not legal. “Everything in cash?” inquires Chatterjee. You heard it right! And last time around I was told that you people will involve some other agency for this purpose, their client the journalist says. Yes, there is a man who will help you, Chatterjee says: “Theek hai jahan tak finance kee baat hai (Okay, as far as the finance part of the deal is concerned), what we can do is we can include, you know, a person see after [sic] from our Noida office … Okay, my and her job basically is understanding your requirement, communicating, interrelate and service that requirement, okay, and the price should be [Rs.] 10 cr net. You know how the nuances of that shall be handled by a person Mukesh Jindal.”

Who this gentleman is who will help us? The journalist asks.

Chatterjee tells who this man is and what expertise he possesses: “He is based in our Noida office. He handles the finances for any such things that’s we do. He knows how we can manage this keeping your objective in mind, keeping our objective in mind.”

Nothing like it! Assured that Zee’s regional channels will play his agenda, their client the journalist now seeks to know how they will adjust the cash payment and in what ratio. Purushottam Vaishnav reassures their client: “Wo toh humari team hai wo kar dega jaisa bhi hoga humari baat ho jayegi (He is part of our team. He will do it. We will discuss it with him).” Chatterjee chips in to tell us the ratio: “Fifty percent cash aur fifty percent … (Fifty percent cash and fifty percent …).”

I am unable to understand, the journalist tells Chatterjee. “Firstly, we will look at 25 crores if you [are] looking [at] four states, 50% of the money will be in cash and 50% will be in cheque. Cheque part needs to come in totality,” explains Chatterjee.

You mean we can pay Rs. 12.5 in cash?

Yes, says Chatterjee and tells the journalist that they will have to sign a contract: “Yes, we will start signing the contract, okay. We will be giving you how questions should be designed.” Turning to Purushottam, the journalist asks if the price quoted can be negotiated. “Ye cheejein ye jaanein main patrakar aadmi hoon main isase zyada nahi jaanata (These things only he [Chatterjee] should know. I am a journalist. I don’t know much about it),” says Purushottam. Thus, claiming to be a journalist, he smartly skirts the issue.

But it would be an uphill task for us to manage Rs. 12.5 crore by cheque. So, better clear the issue of payment in cash, the journalist tells them. It is not a big issue, says Purushottam. It will be done as per your convenience. “Humari team hai jo payments ke part ko dekhati hai wo log baat karenge aapke saath aapke convenience pe ho jayega koi bada issue nahi hai … hum log uske bahut quoted unquoted commit nahi kar sakte wo aapki convenience pe ho jayega (Our [separate] team looks after the payment part. They will speak to you and it will be done keeping in mind your convenience. This is not a big issue at all … We cannot commit anything quoted unquoted. [But] That will be done according to your convenience).”

Do we need any proof that the Zee group has a well-placed mechanism to soak in as much money as their clients may be willing to pay them in cash? It is established beyond doubt when a senior journalist who serves as CEO of Zee’s regional channels commits in no uncertain terms to adjust cash as per his client’s “convenience.” Quoting a price of Rs. 25 crore for two hours across the day to run the campaign in four states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Odisha, Chatterjee explains how the entire deal will be split: “25 cr is the deal, okay, net ... yes [excluding GST], dekhiye cash ke oopar sawal nahi hai. 12.5 jo ja rahi hai wo client ko dena hai iske oopar (You see, there is no question [of GST] on the cash part. The client has to pay [GST] on the rest of the Rs. 12.5 crore [to be paid by cheque]). We will give you the deal. Ye jo humari jo deal banegi wo 12.5 crore kee deal banegi usmein entitlement diya jayega aapko (We will prepare a deal on Rs. 12.5 crore, in which you will be given an entitlement) and accordingly payment has to be made as full advance. Full advance means 12.5 [crore] which is 50 % is to be [paid] fully advance. That money will come from which account? Australian account?”

No, the money will not be transferred from my account in Australia, the journalist tells Chatterjee. You give me your Australian account and the job will be done by somebody else. “Accha (Oh), when you are transferring from Australia,” Chatterjee is curious to know. Tell me if Zee has any venture there, the journalist asks. Interjects his colleague Purushottam to inform: “Worldwide hai ji Zee ka toh (Zee has a worldwide venture).” Sure, this will be of help. Says Chatterjee: “Agar wo Australia se nahi hui if in the country then obviously Zee Unimedia ke naam se cheque banega (If it is not being made from Australia … if in the country, then obviously the cheque will have to be issued in the name of Zee Unimedia).”

So, have you written it on the deal? The client the journalist asks.

Proffers Purushottam: “Zee International ke naam se deal ho jayegi usmein kya hai (The deal will be made in the name of Zee International. There is nothing in it).” The deal can be made and payments transferred in the name of either Zee Unimedia or Zee International, we come to know.

Telling them he is fine with the price quoted by them and GST that will have to paid above what is to be paid by cheque, the journalist tells them that there will be a periodical review on how Zee is moving on the deal. We hear Chatterjee say in a reassuring manner: “Wo toh maine kal jab aapko bataya tha na ki Purushottamji ka one liner view tha mere ko ki aapko jo jo help chahiye (I had told you yesterday that Purushottamji had given his one-liner view that whatever help you need) from the editorial beat we have kept in mind. We will do everything.”

Purushottam goes one step further while promising us his team will even run investigative stories to serve our agenda: “Content meinjo aapki taraf se input aayega wo absorb ho jayega … humare taraf se jo content generate hoga investigative journalism hum log karte hain karwa denge jitna hum logon ne kya hai utna kisi ne nahi kiya hoga wo hum log karenge (Whatever input you will send in the form of content that will be absorbed … the content we will generate … we have been doing investigative journalism, we will do it for you. None of the channels has done so many … we will do that).”

Both Chatterjee and Purushottam, it is apparent, have understood the agenda very well and have also cut their tasks out.

But then this AFP will serve only sermons of our Guruji. How will you provide content beyond that or how will you carry investigative stories? Asks the journalist. Purushottam reveals how they will use this mechanism: “Ye saare AFP ke part hee part rahenge … usko screen par kis taur par lekar aana hai wo script mein dekhenge toh aapko lag jayega (All what you say will be part of AFP … how that has to be shown on screen … when you will see the script you will understand).”

But there will always be tagline announcing it to be a sponsored programme like an advertisement?

Reassures Purushottam: “Wo aap chhod dijiye (Leave it to us).” His colleague Chatterjee informs how the mechanism works: “Wo newspaper mein aata hai advertorial likha hua … lekin TV mein aisa nahi aata (That appears in newspapers denoting it as advertorial … but in TV such thing does not appear).”

Some months before elections approach, the journalist tells them, you will have to be aggressive on our agenda.

We hear Purushottam reassure him: “Wo toh jo plan aap chahein … election ke time mein toh waise bhi itni agni prajwalit ho chuki hoti hai ki wo oorja alag hoti hai (Whatever plan you want [us to work for] … anyway election always creates so much fire all around. It creates a different sort of energy).”

In order to confirm that his agenda has sunk in well with them and they are committed to carry it out, the journalist tells them again that there are four points of his agenda. During election time, for instance, they will have to target political rivals, throwing all rules to the wind. Purushottam replies with a crisp “Done.”

Pushp Sharma’s next port of call was the Chandigarh office of Zee’s regional channel which covers states like Punjab, Haryana and Himachal. Here he met Senior Sales Manager Sagar Arora. The journalist apprised him of his agenda: promotion of Hindutva to polarize the electorate, propagation of speeches of firebrand Hindutva leaders and character assassination of political rivals such as Pappu and Behanji using satire. Finding Arora receptive of the agenda, the journalist tells him that it is important for his party to find a toehold in Punjab and for this it is necessary to thrash the Akalis through our media campaign we will entrust your channel with. So what about running investigative stories on them?

Replies Arora promptly: “Sir wo toh nikaalte rehte hain abi inhone bahut lagaya bahut paisa kamaya hai aur election time mein agar humara channel closely watch kiya ho Punjab mein … humare channel ne Akaliyon kee jo band bajai hai aap soch nahi sakte (Sir, we often carry such stories … [the Akalis] they have earned a lot and invested a lot in [last] elections. If you have closely watched, [you must have noticed] our channel went hammer and tongs after the Akalis, beyond your guess).”

Oh, really!

Haan, that is there … inhone Akaliyon ko bilkul nahi chhoda … inke paanch chheh dino mein ekdum change kar diya aur kuchh vote convert bhi hui (Yes, that is there. They [our channel] did not spare the Akalis even a bit … they changed the scenario within four-five days and it helped convert some votes as well),” Arora tells us in a matter-of-fact manner. His confession obviously establishes beyond doubt how powerful media can be, and it can make or mar fortunes, political or individual.

Zee Media’s foray into Bhojpuri began in 2015 with the launch of Zee Purvaiya. Bhojpuri is spoken across Eastern Uttar, Bihar, the Nepal Terai and Jharkhand. The language has travelled to countries like GuyanaTrinidad and TobagoSurinameFijiMauritius and South Africa, with indentured Indian labour. Back home, it has a vibrant entertainment industry to boast of, cinema and music. There are about a dozen news and entertainment channels in Bhojpuri, and Zee Purvaiya is one of them, which broadcasts Bihar- and Jharkhand-specific current affairs programmes. Pushp Sharma visited its Patna office and met Assistant Manager Amit Kumar, who was not so forthcoming initially. Sharma asked him if they can run content against rival political parties, such as Congress, RJD, SP and BSP, on their channel on a regular basis, Amit Kumar tells him that they have to strike a balance. He philosophizes his channel’s pro-BJP tilt: “Lakh hum kahein ya duniya kahe ki hum Bhajapa se supported hain ya Bhajapa-minded hain jo kuch bhi ho but as a channel aapko apni vishwasniyata ko banaye rakhna hota hai theek hai mere man mein jo baat hai wo toh kahin na kahin se nikalegi aur log samajhate bhi hain iss cheej ko pro hona ye log samajhate hain but directly nahi bolte (Either we or the world at large may say that we are supported by the BJP or we are BJP-minded, whatever. But as a channel, you have to maintain your credibility, okay. What I think may find an outlet given an opportunity and people also understand this. These people understand what being pro means, but they don’t talk about it directly).” Suggesting that if we want to have an upper hand over our opponents during panel discussion, for instance, we should have strong issues and should have skills in oratory, he promises he would speak to the regional head of the channel in this regard: “Wahi wahi vaakpatuta chahiye wah. Toh ye cheej main Resident Director sahib se baat kar loonga … awashayakta padi toh main aapki baat bhi kara doonga. Wo uss level par humari poori koshish rahegi pairavi rahegi ki inhein chance diya jaaye. Hope they may consider ([Yes]That, that oratory skill. So, I will talk to our resident editor on this issue and if need be I will also arrange a meeting with him. I will make every effort to help you at that level. I will ask him to give you a chance. Hope they consider it).”

The next official the journalist meets is Pradeep Kumar Sinha, who is working as territory sales head of the channel. Sharma tells him that he would like to make payments in cash for his media campaign. Sinha says they would involve a third party for this purpose: “Ismein toh humein fir agency ko involve karna padega kyonki hoga kya humare yahan kya hai na ki sab aapke GST number, PAN card jaise hee dalenge na toh white money … ya agar hum yahan se agency involve karte hain toh kuch humein agency se rasta nikalna padega (Then we will have to involve an agency because once we would enter GST number and PAN card details into the system … so that is [only for] white money … so we will have to find a way out through an agency).” You mean there may be trouble?

After knowing that they have some agency which helps cushion huge cash money they receive for payments from their clients, the journalist asks him if they can bash political rival in their panel discussions both in Bihar and in Jharkhand. Sinha says their client can have this done from Zee’s Patna station only: “Ye toh yahin se hoga wo to ho jayega Sir ye channel it covers Bihar and Jharkhand dono (Sir, this will be done from here itself. This channel … it covers both Bihar and Jharkhand).” He informs us further: “Jab humara negotiations sab cheej ho jayega toh we can manage that … wahan par log different party ke baithenge jo representative honge unko bhi baithayenge … wo koi diqqat nahi hai … wo identify kar doge ki kinke kaise karna hai kinke toh clear picture ho jayega (After we complete our negotiations and all, we can manage that … there will be people from different parties [in the panel discussions]. We also invite your representative there … that is not a problem at all … if you identify how each [of the rivals] has to be run down, it will give us a clear picture).” When a territory sales head promising us to work according to our agenda, can there be any doubt that Zee news is indulging in agenda-driven journalism?

Then, the channel will depute their reporters to give us coverage to the fullest. Says Sinha: “Jahan jahan aap karoge wahan humara reporter pahunch jayega har jageh. Even then prakhand level per humara reporter hai, block mein hai, district mein hai har jageh (Wherever you organize an event, our reporter will reach there. Even then, we have reporters at division level, block level and district level, everywhere).”

These personnel of the Zee group were so eager to clinch the deal that they even sent Sharma their proposals on the proposed agenda-driven media campaign. But when Sharma did not respond to them with equal eagerness, for obvious reasons, Amit Kumar called him over phone and once again agreed to undertake the dirty job. “Haan, ek revert kar diya jaye main call arrange karta hoon baaki saari detail maine apne deed ke saath aapne dekha hoga banking details wagaireh sab diyah hua tha usmein (Yes, you will have to revert to me. I will arrange a call. I have sent you all details along with the deed [contract], you must have seen, including banking details).” Telling him that he has indeed gone through the “deed”, the journalist asks him to discuss the agenda with Purushottam Vaishnav, his CEO, as we have a political interest. We don’t want our agenda to be neglected, he informs Amit. “Main wo bilkul discuss kar loonga Sir aaj hee main arrange kara doonga aapki call (I will sure discuss it with him Sir. I shall arrange a call for you today itself).”

Fine, the journalist says in turn. You may not mention in the proposal our agenda of Hindutva and rival bashing, but this should be in the knowledge of your boss Purushottam.

Bilkul main bilkul aaj hee call arrange karaoonga wo toh waise bhi written mein nahi ayega wo toh verbally chalega (Sure, I shall arrange a call. That will in any case not be in written form. That will be undertaken verbally),” says Amit. What Amit is looking for is the acceptance of the proposal by their prospective client, as he says in earnestness: “Haan toh aap ek revert kar dein Sir main fir Purushottamji se baat kara doonga aapki baat kara … (Sir, revert to me [with your acceptance], then I will arrange a call for you with Purushottamji …).”

Sharma’s meeting with Abhishek Pandey, Senior Manager Sales, UP/Uttarakhand Zee News, also goes smoothly on expected lines, as is the wont of the entire Zee group. In his interaction with the journalist, Pandey again reveals the journalistic creed of his employer: pro-Hindutva and pro-BJP. Sharma plays that FM Pappu jingle to him and asks if they can run a similar smear campaign. Pandey has no problem with it: “Indirect way mein hai wo toh … koi diqqat nahi hai usmein (That is to be done in an indirect way …there is no problem in it).”

Knowing his willingness to undertake character assassination on their client’s behalf, Sharma tells Pandey that there has to be an aggressive bashing of rival parties like SP and BSP. Agreeing, Pandey says: “Inhone hee sabse zyada dent mara hai Hindutva pe (Yes, these parties have dented the Hindutva the most).” Now, he asks Pandey to note down his agenda of soft Hindutva which will be run for first three months, but as the election time would approach he would like Zee to pursue an aggressive campaign on his behalf to polarize the voters on communal lines. We hear a crisp reply from Pandey: “Theek hai … haan, haan theek hai (Okay … yes it is okay).” You will have to run investigative stories against SP, BSP and Congress, demands the journalist. We hear Pandey reply in monosyllable to convey his willingness: “Ji, ji, ji hoon theek hai … hoon hoon (Yes, yes. It is fine … humm).” This will be part of editorial arrangement in the deal, he tells the Zee official, but we will not discuss it with your editorial team. “Nahi, nahi, wo hum hee karenge (No, no. That I will discuss [with the editorial department).”

When there are stories appearing in the media against any of our leaders or their kin, the journalist spells out the dos and don’ts, see to it that such stories don’t appear on your channel. Or, simply downplay them. Pandey says: “Theek baat hai. Nahi hum wahi karte hain. Sir Zee ko toh aap jaante hee hain soft Hindutva aur Bhajapa … (It is fine. No, we do exactly that. Sir, you know well soft Hindutva and BJP are Zee …).”

You see, the journalist again seeks his commitment, you will have to take care of those who are against us. “Haan, hum dekh lenge (Yes, we will take care of that),” assures Pandey. Sharma reminds him that their channel will have to bash the main three opposition parties. The journalist gets this assurance from Pandey: “Theek hai, wo toh baj jayegi … khoob baj jayegi (Okay, they will indeed receive sound bashing).”

In their eagerness to clinch the deal, the Zee officials sent three proposals complete with contract to be signed by their prospective client.

It is apparent from these on-camera confessions that for Zee Media journalism is just a charade, serving the cause of Hindutva and BJP.  

India Today

Hisham Ali Khan, Manager, India Today Impact; Jaykumar Mistry, General Manager Impact; Akanksha Singh, Deputy Manager, India Today; Anita Khanna, Assistant Vice President, TV Today, Mumbai; Rahul Kumar Shaw, Chief Revenue Officer, TV Today, Noida; Vice Chairperson Kalli Purie, India Today Group, Noida

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.


Dainik Jagaran  

Vaibhav Gupta, Sr. Manager (Ad Sales, Radio City), Chandigarh; Mayank Shrivastav, Sr. Marketing Manager and Anurag Gupta, General Manager, Dainik Jagaran, Dehardun; Anil Reddy, Sales Manager, Radio City, Hyderabad; Rajesh Kumar Mahasha, Advertising Manager, and Rajneesh, Dainik Jagaran, Kangra, Himachal; Manoj Walia, General Manager (Marketing), Dainik Jagaran, Delhi; Ravi Kumar Pandey, Associate Vice President (Marketing), Dainik Jagaran, Noida; Anil Gupta, Regional Sales Head, Radio City, Delhi

With four million copies sold every day, Dainik Jagaran is undoubtedly one of the largest Hindi dailies. Published simultaneously from nine major cities, with separate editions coming out from Uttarakhand, Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab, Jammu, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal, the newspaper has grown into a diversified group. In Part One of Operation 136, we had exposed Sanjay Pratap Singh, who works with the paper as area manager for Bihar. Singh had not only agreed to run our agenda in his newspaper by deploying his creative team to create suitable advertorials but had also agreed to work to help make West Bengal a Hindutva bastion employing all tricks of the trade. He had said: “Haan hum kar denge aap nishchint rahiye. Hum aapko Bengal ka bhi yahin se release kar denge … theek hai. Toh usase kya hoga? Hum jo aapko bolenge wo wahan par log likh ke article bhi de denge hum aapko time to time news bhi dete rahenge (Yes, we will support you, don’t worry. I will release your ad from here itself … okay. What will happen? If you tell us they will write and publish articles for you. We will also publish your news from time to time).”

He was not only willing to deploy a large network of people he knows well to carry out all kinds of dirty jobs for his client but also agreed to run a slander campaign in his paper targeting Mamata Banerjee government: “Mamata Banerjee tarnish ho? Sabse pehle toh apne jo stronghold hain jo Hindu holds hain wahan pe aapke log ghoomein wahan ke social life mein mix karein wahan pe dheere dheere dekhiye sara khel perception ka hai aaj ek player top player hota hai kal neeche chala jaata hai aur perception rehta hai usmein media kya karta hai un cheejon ko reassess karti hai … barhaati hai aur sath-sath articles likhna ye sab cheej mein logon ko rally wally in sab cheej mein logon ko involve karna (Mamata Banerjee is tarnished? First, your people should roam around areas which are Hindu strongholds. They should gradually mix in the local social life. You see the whole game is all about perception. Suppose, someone is a top player today, tomorrow he may go down and there is certain perception about him. What media does is it reassesses those things … yes promotes [that perception], and then writing articles along with that, involving people in rallies and all such activities).”

While Sharma’s encounter with Singh was quite unique in its character that gave a peek into a mind that is no less criminal, the interactions that the senior journalist had with other senior officials to the ranks of regional head and vice president of Dainik Jagaran and Radio City are no less revealing.

For instance, while agreeing to run the malicious campaign in both the print and the radio, Vaibhav Gupta, who not only works as senior sales manager for Jagaran’s Radio City but also doubles up for the newspaper, at Chandigarh, is ready to facilitate half the payment in cash employing a third party.

As Pushp Sharma met Vaibhav in Jagaran’s office, he briefed him on the first two important points of his agenda. After running our Hindutva agenda, he tells Vaibhav, we would like our rivals to be thrashed to dent their image in public, using their nicknames like Pappu. Vaibhav is quick to understand what his client the journalist is looking for. “Everybody knows [who] you are … targeting,” says Vaibhav. You got it right, the journalist tells him, while saying that nobody has any patent rights on nicknames. Appreciating, Vaibhav again says: “I mean … would say targeting the rivals in [a] sophisticated [way].” Yes, this is what I am telling you. As they discuss how the campaign should be placed in their various verticals, Vaibhav says: “I would say premium position … Premium position toh hum aapko teenon verticals mein de sakte hain, talking about print, FM, digital also. FM mein what we can do ad break start hot hai. Very first ad would be yours only. So that talking about the trend would not say saari add breaks ko har koi sunta hai lekin ek do ad toh saare hee sun lete hain (I would say premium position … We can provide you premium position in all our three verticals, [I am] talking about print, FM, digital also. In FM, what we can do is when the ad breaks start, very first ad would be yours only, so that … talking about the trend, I would not say all ad breaks are listened to by all listeners but they sure listen to one or two of those ads).” The journalist met Vaibhav some days later and asked him about the budget Vaibhav had quoted in his proposal for the first three months of the campaign. “Ye three months ka jo maine aapko propose kiya with taxes 2 crore 8 lakh nine lakh (For the [first] three months I have proposed [a budget] of 2 crore and 8–9 lakh with taxes),” informs Vaibhav. Would our campaign run on your FM Radio? The journalist asks him. “FM and jo maine aapko digital ka diya tha that is also again 18 percent ([Yes] FM and the price I had quoted for digital that is also again 18 percent),” replies Vaibhav. What about agenda? The journalist asks him again. Have you discussed with your bosses all what I had told you the other day? Yes, he has informed not only his superiors but also his team members there. He tells us: “Maine print ad jo aapne mujhe sample radio ka diya tha apne bosses ko bhi suna diya tha if we can carry this or not aur wo maine yahan par bhi apna sabko suna diya tha. This is the message which is going to be floated … Majorly it is about Hindutva only, indirectly  targeting the opposition in this case targeting the state government only (I have [discussed] print ad [and] I have also played the sample radio [jingle] you had given me for my bosses [asking them] if we can carry this or not, and I have also got it played here for all our team. This is the message which is going to be floated … Majority it is about Hindutva, indirectly targeting the opposition; in this case, targeting the state government only).” So, were they all comfortable with my agenda? The journalist is curious to know. We hear him say a crisp “Haan (Yes).”

It was now clear that the entire senior management and his team members had agreed to play the nefarious agenda for money, and it was time the money part was discussed with him. What about the mode of payment? The journalist asks. Have you checked it with your bosses? “Paise ka maine check kiya tha. I mean what is your comfortable mode of payment ([Yes] I had checked about the payment. I mean what is your comfortable mode of payment)?” asks Vaibhav. Cash, he is told. Now it is our turn to be shocked as Vaibhav makes a revelation. Listen to him as he informs us: “Cash haan hum le lenge but we will be routing it through some agency, direct toh hum le nahi sakte we will be routing haan lekin wo kar lenge apne level par (Yes, we will accept [payment in] cash, but we will be routing it through some agency as we cannot accept it direct. We will be routing it, but we will manage it at our level).” You mean you can accept 50 percent payment in cash? The journalist asks again, to know if there is something more to it. Yes, there is certainly, as Vaibhav explains it further how the whole transaction will materialize turning the cash into white. Here is what he tells us: “Wo hum kar sakte hain kyonki humein toh by cheque hee aayega payment but we will route it through other sources. Agencies hoti hain trade partners hote hain toh hum unke through route karte hain (We can do that because we will receive [the payment] by cheque only, but we will route it through other sources. There are agencies, then we have trade partners, so we route it [cash] through them). ” You mean you have surrogate partners for this kind of routing cash money? The journalist is curious to know. Vaibhav explains us again: “Surrogate partner jitney bhi hote hain unke through karaa lete hain in-house usase humara saara ka saara … ([Yes] Through all our surrogate partners we do all our money in-house converted …).” You mean it is safe, asks the journalist. “Nahi nahi humare ko matlab billing saari white mein dikhani hai toh apne level par usko adjust karenge jaise karenge (No, no. I mean we have to show billing completely in white, so we will have to adjust it at our level whatever it takes),” he says. You mean there are ways? Yes, there are. “There are ways that we can accommodate,” he tells us.

When Sharma visited Jagaran’s Dehradun office, he found Sr. Marketing Manager Mayank Shrivastav and his boss General Manager Anurag Gupta quite willing to run his invidious media campaign in their paper, both print and digital. Here, the journalist first met Mayank and briefed him on his agenda. As he found Mayank agreeable, he asked him to note down all important points, and while he reiterated those points including polarization of the poll scenario and digital promotion of firebrand Hindutva leaders, Mayank followed suit word for word while noting down those points. For instance, when the journalist tells him that after the Hindutva phase will follow the semi-political phase, Mayank replies in agreement: “Semi-political.” After the semi-political phase will come the polarization phase, he tells Mayank. “Humm,” utters Mayank. Coming back to the digital promotion of firebrand Hindutva leaders like Mohan Bhagwat, Uma Bharati, Vinay Katiyar and Rajju Bhaiya, he asks him to run their videos on their digital platform.

The next point on my agenda is thrashing political rivals. Referring to the Pappu jingle that he has already played for him, the journalist asks him how they would be able to carry that in the paper. Yes, they can do it certainly.

Mayank explains how they can do it: “Print mein innovative creative aap bana sakte hain (You can make innovative creative for the print).” You mean as a cartoon caricature? The journalist asks again. “Yes,” replies Mayank. His colleague adds: “Amul wala … (That of Amul …).” Complements Mayank: “Caricature aap bana sakte hain ([That way] You can make the caricature).” He further explains how this idea can work for them: “Uspe best idea jo diya isane Amul ka current affair mein jo chal raha hai usmein relate karke aap bana sakte ho toh wo zaldi recall ho jaata hai (The best idea on the lines of Amul that he [his colleague] has given us, if you can create caricatures by relating current affairs [in a similar way], it has a quick recall value).” Well, when I say thrashing our political rivals, the journalist explains him who such caricatures will target, they include the Congress, the Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. “Yahan par toh Congress hee milegi mostly toh (Here you will find mostly the Congress [as rival]),” Mayank chips in, making it clear to us that the agenda has been driven home well.

After settling how the agenda will be run in their paper, it was necessary to talk money. So, Mayank took the journalist to meet his boss Anurag Gupta to discuss this part of the deal in detail. The journalist had quoted a budget of Rs. 1.5 crore for Jagaran to run this campaign. Saying that he would like to make some part of the payment by cheque or RTGS, the journalist tells him that the rest will be paid by other means. “[You mean]In cash,” the general manager is prompt to ask. Yes, he is told. “That is not an issue. Koi diqqat nahi hai (That is not an issue. There is no problem).” So out of Rs. 1.50 crore that we would pay for this campaign, the journalist asks him, what percentage will you be able to take in cash? Turning to his boss, Mayank says: “Usmein Sir ka point ye bhi hai ki bill kum ka hee chahiye hoga (There Sir [referring to the journalist] has another point that he should be issued bill for a lesser amount).” We will pay you 50 percent by RTGS. The rest will be in cash, suggests their client the journalist. Charge the GST accordingly. This is what we had come to understand earlier. Mayank says: “Theek hai (It is fine).” Assures his boss: “Chaliye dekh lenge wo toh once it takes forward, we will see (Don’t worry, we will see that. Once it takes forward, we will see).”

Sharma’s next stopover was Hyderabad where he met Anil Reddy who works with Jagaran’s Radio City as its sales manager. While briefing him on his agenda, point by point, Sharma also played the Pappu jingles for him. He tells Reddy that the promotion of Hindutva has to be done using preachings of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and nowhere should the name of our Sangathan be used as sponsor of the campaign. Package it in such a way so that we both are on a safer side. Says Reddy in agreement: “Yes, yes … We are on a safer side.” You got it!

The second point of our agenda is to thrash political rivals, the journalist tells Reddy, on the lines of those jingles in an innovative way. “Okay,” says Reddy. Smelling a good business opportunity, Reddy comes straight to discussing business. As Reddy says, “Toh hum log ek kaam karte hain Swamiji we can play Hindi jingle also we can change Hindi jingle which is also direct of Hindi jingle (So, let us do it this way Swamiji. [Either] We can play Hindi jingles [or] also we can change Hindi jingle which is [sic] direct [adaptation] of Hindi jingle).” This is exactly we want, replies the journalist encouragingly. In the same breath he tells us: “We direct conversation also we do it and now getting to commercial parts and all. We need to know how many days and all, generally we do. I will tell you this is not for political rate.”

What Reddy is trying to explain is that they will do what is being asked for and now he wants to discuss the commercial part of the deal, which is natural for any manager worth his or her salt. During the 2014 elections, Reddy tells us, the rate of commercials on Radio City was Rs. 600 per second. But they can do it for Rs. 550 per second this time around. Whatever you would charge is fine with us, the journalist tells him in turn. But there is a rider. You will not show this deal on paper. You can show it is being done for a social cause. Agreeing, Reddy says: “Free kind of publicity, just to logon ko jaagruk karne ke liye (Free kind of publicity, just to make people aware).” We can make payment through some third party, the journalist tells him. “Samajh mein aa gaya understood (I got it, understood).” Is that clear to you, asks the journalist. “Understood,” Reddy says again.

Tell me if you can adjust some cash against this payment? “Cash? Yes, will take for sure,” Reddy informs us. Are you sure, the journalist wants to make sure. “Yes, yes,” we hear him say. “Now ye aapke points the aur ye jo jingles hain … forward kar denge aur uske oopar ye major rahega paisa jo aap denge isi ka denge (Now, these were your points and then there are these jingles … [yes] forward them to us and this [promotion of Hindutva] will be the major [thrust]. Whatever payment you will make it will be against this only).” No, we will show the payment on paper only against this phase, the journalist explains. We will pay you for the campaign against political rivals but we will not make it on paper. “Paper par nahi ayega that come other way … Okay (You mean, it will not be made through papers. That [will] come [some other way] … Okay).”

The deal between the parties has been settled for Rs. 1.20 crore for the first six months. Now, after these six months, the journalist tells him, they will take it forward if everything works out well. Suddenly, Reddy asks the journalist whether his organization gets donation by cheque or not. Understanding well why he has raised the issue, the journalist tells him to see if they can adjust 50 percent of payment in cash. “Aise kar sakte hain ([Yes] We can do this way),” Reddy is happy to agree.

Before closing the interview with Reddy, the journalist asks him if he was clear about what is looking for from his radio station. Here, Reddy begins to reiterate all points of the agenda one by one. It is interesting to listen to what he is saying next: “I am very much clear… one is Hindutva ka packaging hona hai aur jo bhi packaging karoonga that and with Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti ke through hee jana hai … sangathan ko nahi ana hai. Number 2 in funny or humorous way creative’s banaana … political rivals ko thrash karna hai (I am very much clear … one is the Hindutva’s packaging and whatever packaging will be done and that will go through the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti only … Sangathan need not be mentioned. No. 2 we have to make creatives in a funny or humorous way … [to] thrash political rivals).”

Satisfied that his agenda has been driven home fully, the journalist asks him to unearth scams indulged in by those rivals. We are working on an agenda and if need be run the agenda in such a way that there is communal tension as this would help us garner more votes. Endorsing what his client the journalist is asking for, Reddy says: “It’s a agenda okay … okay, okay aur jingles par aap kuchh ghatiya baat nahi kar rahe to be very frank jo baat hai wahi kar rahe hain (It’s a[n] agenda okay … okay, okay, and you are saying nothing bad in those jingles. To be very frank, you are telling what is a fact).” So, when we organize any event, the journalist tells him next, you can cover that as well. As if in a cue, Reddy promptly interjects: “Yahan par le gaye RJ aayega (Here, our RJ will go there).” Yes, you are right, the journalist tells him. There should be RJ mentions about our agenda in their programmes. Agreeing, Reddy reiterates what the journalist is asking for: “Beech beech mein mentions hoga (There will be [RJ] mentions in between [their programmes]).” Then, you can always invite any noted pracharak on your radio if he is coming to town. Agreeing, Reddy says in an appreciating manner: “Mere ko toh bada study karke aapne (I see you have done a thorough study).”

In order to cover as many offices as possible and to see if the streak of agenda-driven journalism ran across the group, Pushp Sharma visited Jagaran’s office at Kangra in Himachal. Here he met Marketing Manager Rajesh Kumar Mahasha and his colleague Rajneesh. As he began to discuss the first item on his agenda, that is, Hindutva, Rajneesh asks: “Aapke paas ye proposal banaya hai kya hai (Do have a proposal of this ready with you)?” No, the journalist tells him. I usually discuss our agenda point-wise and move forward only when there is consensus around them with the other party. So, the Hindutva agenda will be the first phase of this campaign which will run for the first three months, up to March 2018. As the journalist tells him the real objective behind this campaign, he moves on to discuss the mode of payment with them. You see, the journalist tells them, most of the donations we get in cash. It would be better if you could accept payment in cash. “Cash mein koi diqqat nahi hai wo kaise bhi aap kar sakte hain (There is no problem with cash, and you can pay the way you want),” says Rajneesh. Assures Mahasha, “Kar sakte hain wo koi nahi hai aisi problem (You can pay in cash. There is no problem as such).” That settled, the journalist hopes they will promote our vision with regard to 2019 elections. Says Rajesh categorically leaving no doubt:  “Iska karenge iska ek baar na rate discuss karke (We will do it but let us discuss the rate first).”

Now, knowing that the Hindutva agenda would be taken care of, the journalist pushes the envelope as he asks them to dilute stories which are against the BJP, its leaders and their kin. Such stories can always be given in inner pages. “Theek hai (All right),” says Mahasha. You can even publish something else to divert the attention of the readers, suggests the journalist. What the journalist is suggesting is not new as most of the Indian media houses of late have been adopting such diversionary tactics so that people seldom get a true picture of government failure on various issues. Well, Jagaran is already doing that, Mahasha tells us. What he reveals is quite telling: “Aap dekhte honge ki akhbaar mein BJP ke paksh mein hee hota hai kabhi bhi usmein koi doosara nahi aata aap dekhte honge. Balki humare jo owner hain Sanjay Gupta ji unka khud ka Sunday ko aata hai ussi ke oopar wo bhi ussi ke oopar adharit hota hai ki usmein Modiji highlight hon … yaani daily main dekhta rehta hoon ye hai toh office se chala hua hai yahan bhi aise hee rakhte hain hum Himachal mein bhi same ussi pattern ke oopar ab akhbaar hai humein news toh publish karni padegi opposition kee bhi karni padegi nahi toh log bhi pasand nahi karte iss karke ye hai (You must have noticed our newspaper always takes BJP’s favour. You must have seen nothing else is covered there in the paper except the party. Then, our owner Sanjay Gupta himself writes a column on every Sunday which mainly strives to highlight Modiji … I mean I observe this daily here. This [policy] is run from our [head] office. Here in Himachal also we follow the same pattern. Since it is a newspaper, we have to publish opposition news as well. Otherwise, readers wouldn’t like it. This is how things are).” His colleague tells us this is how the paper strikes a balance. Rajesh makes another revelation: “Kiska zyada karna hai kiska kum karna hai, wo toh kar lete hain hum (Which party has to be given more coverage and which has to be given less space, we manage all that).”

When support the BJP is the stated policy of Dainik Jagaran, can we expect the paper to be neutral in its approach? Unlikely!

So far, Sharma had spoken to managers who were technically not that important in the hierarchy of the newspaper. It was in order, therefore, for him to discuss his agenda with senior management. A visit to Jagaran’s Noida office gave him occasion to meet General Manager (Marketing) Manoj Walia and Associate Vice President (Marketing) Ravi Kumar Pandey. Telling him that the first point of his campaign would be Hindutva agenda, the journalist asks Walia to note down all points. When Walia refuses to do so, the journalist tells him that there are three main points. Seeking their support for packaging the campaign in an innovative way, he tells them that it is a lot easier to thrash political rivals such as Congress, the BSP and SP on radio as there are RJs who add their own twist to the tale. But doing so in print is tricky. Tell me how you can go about it, he asks them, so that our rivals are exposed, so are their scams, on a regular basis. Walia tells the journalist that they won’t be able to extend creative support as they don’t have required skills for the job. It is better to hire third party agencies adept in handling such a job. Walia then goes on to make a revelation why his newspaper establishment is close to the BJP: “Aap jante hee hain Dainik Jagaran jo group hai wo thoda hum log support toh BJP ko karte hain usmein koi do rai nahi aur hum log jude hee hain unke saath purane samay se wahin se Rajya Sabha ke MP bante rahe hain yahan ke directors toh ye toh ek baat usmein main chah rah tha ki aap bataa rahe the aapko ki ye clear cut ho jayegi aapka agenda thoda creative ko daal diya attachment mein jaye iss type ka hum run karein maan lijiye quarter page quarter page aap samajhate hain (You know it well that Dainik Jagaran as a group supports the BJP. There is no two opinions about it and we have been a supporter of the party for a long time as our directors have been elected as MPs to the Rajya Sabha from this party only. This is one thing. Now, I want to say that as you were telling me, it should be clear cut for us. Your agenda can find a place in the form of creatives in separate attachments, this type. We can run it, suppose quarter page. Hope you know what a quarter page is).” Yes I do, he is told. We would prefer jackets and we have set aside a budget of Rs. 20 crore for your paper.

“Okay,” say Walia promptly, unable to hide his happiness. In order to instill confidence in his client that they can do the job, Walia took the journalist to meet his boss Ravi Kumar Pandey. Reiterating his agenda before the associate vice president, the journalist seeks support for his campaign in all the three verticals of the group, print, radio and digital. Perfectly understanding what their client is looking for, Pandey says assuring: “Haan print humaara flagship hai ek baar print mein hum logon ek understanding par aa gaye ki ye advertisement, ye creative, ye advertorial toh mere ko nahi lagta ki digital mein ya radio mein kahin par bhi aise complication aayengi (Yes, print is our flagship. Once we arrive at an understanding for print with regard to advertisement, creatives and advertorial, then I don’t think any complication will arise there in case of digital and radio promotion).” Eureka!

Pandey further explains: “Haan jab hum print ko dimaag mein toh wo humare liye issue nahi hai. Humare aur aapke beech mein jitna mere ko samajh aa raha hai ya jo Chhatrapal Sahib ka abhi issue bhi hoga ye hoga ki the kind of advertorial he wants to go … give whether that can go as it is ya it needs certain modification … the kind of creatives could be he wants to get released that require certain modification (Yes, print is not an issue at all. Whatever I have understood after discussion between you and us or one issue that Chhatrapal Sahib [the journalist] must be having is the kind of advertorial he wants to go … give whether that can go as it is or it needs certain modification … the kind of creatives could be he wants to get released that require certain modification).” You got it right, the journalist tells them, he would definitely like some modifications in those creatives or advertisements. Maybe a slight tweaking here and there! “That ideology thing, I ask Chhatrapalji whenever,” says Walia, understanding well what kind of tweaking the client is expecting in the content. Interjecting, Pandey says he is willing to walk an extra mile as far as promoting the agenda is concerned. It is interesting to listen what Pandey is saying: “Iske andar main clear kar deta hoon aur main ek step aage jaakar as far as marketing, sales perspective is concerned obviously these are things getting revenue also as a revenue centre I don’t see  there would be large formal challenges. Challenge kahan par aayega when it goes completely against the organization guidelines and ethics … (I must make it clear and I will go one step extra as far as marketing, sales perspective is concerned. Obviously, these are things, getting revenue also. As a revenue centre, I don’t see there would be large formal challenges. Challenge will arise when it goes completely against the organization guidelines and ethics).” Ethics and Jagaran? We wondered.

But when there is a problem there has to be a solution too. As Pandey says again to reassure us on this count as well: “Uske liye there is a team also for editorial also toh normal case par bhi challenge rehta hai humein toh kisi bhi advertisement ko lekar aaj bhi badi saari cheejein aati-jaati rehti hain toh there is a team of ourhaan haan advertorial, editorial, brand ke saath inke saath combine meeting ho jaati hai aur uske basis par we go ahead toh I don’t see there would be some such challenges and your requirement would be … in all these department or may be other vertical also. Once we receive communication for jaise Manojji ne kaha ye communication hai iske baad mein jo aapki expectation hai in terms of creatives ye saari cheejein clear kar dete hain we can immediately let’s say within 24 hours we are in position to get back to you ki haan theek hai this is … (There is a team for this also, for editorial also. So, in normal cases there are also challenges with regard to advertisement. Such things always happen. So, there is a team of our … Yes [we have a team of professionals]. These professionals do have a combined meeting with advertorial, editorial and brand teams and on the basis of that meeting we go ahead. So, I don’t see there would be some such challenges and your requirement would be … in all these departments or may be other verticals also. Once we receive communication for [a go ahead], for instance, Manojji says this is the communication [from you], after that whatever your expectations are in terms of creatives and all such things he makes clear to us, we can immediately let’s say within 24 hours we are in position to get back to you that it’s okay this is …).”

His explanation, though quite circuitous, is clear enough for even a layman to understand that the entire Jagaran team will be at our service provided they get a communication for a formal contract from their client the journalist.

Like his other counterparts both in print and radio, Anil Gupta, regional sales head of radio city, Delhi, is ready to play ball. As the journalist discussed various points of his Hindutva agenda, Gupta tells us that although as a medium his radio station cannot promote what the prospective client is proposing, yet there are ways of doing it. The journalist has already played those jingles before him. “Radio as a medium cannot promote or … any policy and all but yes there are ways on FCT me encapsulate karke chala sakte hain waise kar sakte hain usko (Radio as a medium cannot promote or … any policy and all but yes there are ways. We can certainly run on FCT by encapsulating that way).” You mean, asks the journalist, by packaging it in the commercial?  Gupta goes on to explain how it would be done: “Haan waise kar lenge wo dikhayi waise de content hai par content ho na ho waisa kar lenge sunai de ki content mein jaa rahe hain lekin content na ho FCT bola abhi (Yes, we will do it that way. It should look as the content but if there is no content then we will do in such way that it should be heard in such a way that it is going with the content. But if there is no content then as I told you it will go as FCT).” What Gupta is trying to explain is that he would camouflage to make it sound as part of their programme, and if the content is not available, then it will go as a commercial. After discussing how he would run the campaign on various stations of Radio City under his command, Gupta reiterates what he has been asked to do. Look what he says: “Theek hai toh teesra Mohan Bhagwatji ke jo Dusshere wale speech hain encapsulate karke usse hum kaise chala sakte hain … Multiple jaise on air rahe ya digital platform ke oopar hai bas hum aapke content ko kaise advertorial wise not directly but advertorial wise content mein usko portray kar sakte hain. Fir aapne bataya kisi shlok ko lekar bhi hum ek ko bataya fir wahan se humne relate kar diya (All right. The third point is how we can run Mohan Bhagwatji’s speech on Dusshera by encapsulating it? … [Yes] Multiple [times] it is on air or runs on our digital platform. The question is how we can portray your content advertorial-wise not directly, but how we can portray advertorial wise. Then you told me that we can pick up any shloka [from the Gita] and can relate it [to the situation).”

Yes, you got it right, the journalist tells him. This is how you can connect those shlokas to politics in similar way to “So Sorry” on Aaj Tak. You can follow the same route, suggests the journalist. “Karenge karenge correct (We will do it. We will do it. Correct),” Gupta finally says. The meeting comes to an end after the client the journalist that he has set aside a budget of Rs. 20 crore for this campaign.


Sudhanshu Gupta, Vice President; Ajay Shekhar Sharma, Sr. Vice President, Paytm, Noida

Paytm began its journey in 2010 as a mobile app-based utility payments facilitator. It was founded by One97 Communications founder-promoter Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Its biggest break came in 2016 when the BJP government at the stroke of mid-night declared demonetization on November 8, banning with immediate effect currency notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 denominations. Overnight, the company became a house-hold name while demonetization reportedly helped it earn revenues of more than Rs. 813 crore that fiscal ending March 2017, as it saw a steep surge in its wallet user base from 150 millions to 200 millions, whereas common citizens found their hard-earned money to have become worthless and were forced to stand in queues for hours before banks to deposit old currency notes. More than 150 common citizens lost their lives during those 50 days as the government made it necessary for every transaction, even while buying grocery, to be made through digital modes of payment. Millions of citizens stood aghast when they saw in a video Vijay Sharma, apparently drunk high on this overnight phenomenal success, making mockery of their plight, even calling them names, while saying in a celebratory function, “We are killers, we are killers … jo humare saath nahi hain wo royenge … ek saal mein wo kiya jo unhone dus saal mein nahi kiya … kaleza diya, khoon diya, jaan dee, sab kuch laga diya [swear word] (We are killers, we are killers … those who are not with us will cry … we achieved in a single year what they could not in ten years … you [the citizens] paid the price with your blood and life and lost every single penny [swear word]).” With more than 7 million registered merchants and more than 200 million wallet users across the country, a number which is increasing with ticking of the clock, Paytm is now a much diversified e-commerce company, becoming indispensable for Indian shoppers, second only to Flipkart in valuation.

Knowing full well that in this technology-driven age, when there are hundreds of apps available for every single activity a man can imagine, Sharma decided to check it out if Paytm too could promote his agenda on their apps. Surprisingly, he was not disappointed when he met Vice President Sudhanshu Gupta and Sr. Vice President Ajay Shekhar Sharma. These interviews proved to be quite revealing and shocking, as the top honchos not only boast of their close association with the RSS but are also candid enough to confess to have shared the data of millions of their app users with the central government.

It was Sudhanshu Gupta who Sharma first met to discuss his agenda. No sooner the journalist has begun briefing about it, Sudhanshu is quick enough to reveal the association that his company has with the government of the day. Showing a Paytm app, he says: “By the way main aapko ek cheej aur dikhata hoon in case you should obviously know our political affiliation … this is our Paytm app. Nowdays Mr. Modi is right here. Unki book aayi hai abhi extra Exam Warriors. We are … We are actually promoting this book … (By the way, let me show you one more thing, in case you should obviously know our political affiliation … this is our Paytm App. Nowdays Mr. Modi is right here. He has written a book extra [sic] Exam Warriors. We are … we are actually promoting this book …).” He goes on to tell us they are also promoting the PM’s book in its e-format. Trying to give him a shot of what he is looking for, the journalist seeks another meeting with Paytm vice president, but Sudhanshu is curious to know more of it. As he says: “So mere ko na what I will have to do is I really have to understand how do you want to propagate and what is your content (So I have to … what I will have to do is I really have to understand how do you want to propagate and what is your content).”

So, to satisfy his curiosity, the journalist tells him all about his agenda and how he would like Paytm to play it out. As soon as he has finished, Sudhanshu begins to share an innovative idea: “While you talking I am getting some ideas of that … toh hum kya karte hain na hum Paytm app pe quiz chalate hain … hum aapki Bhagwad Gita ke round chala denge (While you talking I am getting some ideas of that … so what we do is we run a quiz on Paytm app … we will run a quiz round on Bhagwad Gita on it).” Nothing would be better than this, the journalist tells him, for promoting our agenda of Hindutva. “Bilkul. Wo hee quiz chala dete hain log matlab aap vishwas nahi karoge kuch toh daily kum se kum pachees–tees hazaar log aakar ye quiz khelte hain … ye chala dete hain hum aapke liye (Yes, sure. We will run that quiz. You won’t believe at least 25–30000 people play that quiz daily on our app … we will run that quiz for you),” informs Sudhanshu.

This short meeting led to another meeting some time later in Delhi hotel. Accompanying Sudhanshu for this meeting was none other than Paytm Sr. Vice President Ajay Shekhar Sharma, the younger sibling of Vijay Shekhar Sharma, who runs the company on his brother’s behalf. After pleasantries are over, and when Vijay Shekhar asks what he can do for their client, the journalist reiterates what he has already told his colleague. His agenda is promotion of Hindutva through Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti. We would not like to bring the Sangathan in the picture as sponsor of this campaign. “Sangathan ko saamne nahi layenge? Main toh Sangh se bahut juda hua hoon (You will not bring the Sangathan. I am closely associated with the Sangh),” Ajay Shekhar shoots back, revealing his association with the RSS. Then he goes on to dropping names of the likes of Arun Kumar, Krishna Gopal, S.K. Mishra and even Shiv Raj Chauhan. He interacts with all these big leaders of the Sangh, he tells us, mostly for business purposes. “Sangh mein centre mein mila hua hoon Arun Kumarji, Prafull Kelkar jo editor.  Matlab mere kabhi discussion mein ye baat aayi nahi nikalkar jo baat aap bol rahe ho matlab mere har tareh ke discussion hote hain (Among the Sangh leaders at the centre, I have met Arun Kumarji and Prafull Kelkarji who is editor. I mean what you are telling us never propped up in our discussions ever. I mean I have discussions with them of every kind),” he raises a pertinent question. But the journalist knows how to deflect such doubts. He is smart enough to tell them with all innocence that he is working under a “gupt vyavastha”, that is, a secret arrangement, and then Sangh is known for working as clandestinely as any secretive organization across the world does. But he is unable to believe his prospective client that even the big leaders of the Sangh were not privy to such an important undertaking. Finally, as a master stroke, the journalist tells Ajay Shekhar that even the RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat had visited his ashram and he knows him personally. If Ajay Shekhar doesn’t believe him he can always check on the net as everything is available there. This somewhat assuages the curiosity of Ajay Shekhar, who while still wondering why such important thing did prop during all those discussions says: “Itna bada kaam kar rahe hain aur hum toh kya batayein hum kya- kya kaam kar rahe hote hain kuch hum bhi nahi bata sakte aapko matlab kuch aise kaam humse karwaye Sangh ne main aapko bata nahi sakta theek hai (Now, what can you say when they are doing such big job. I too cannot share with you all those kinds of jobs we also have done for them. I mean the Sangh has got us do such jobs for them that I cannot tell you at all, okay).” But the ultimate revelation is yet to come. Hold your breath!

Telling us how the Panchjanya Editor Kelkar is a good friend, he reveals: “Arre meri dosti toh unse dosti hai matlab aap agar Panchjanya ko uthayenge na toh usmein Paytm ke ad dikhenge aapkp aap dekhna kabhi jaake aapko dikh jayega … wo unke kehne se kare hain humne (Oh, we are really very good friends. I mean if you pick up any issue of Panchjanya, you will find Paytm ads there through and through … we have done all those things upon his word).” But he again insists he will speak to his friends in RSS and particularly Kelkar before undertaking the assignment. Why the RSS should approach them adopting such a circuitous route, he wonders aloud, when they could have got it done by directly communicating with him. Dropping again some more names of the RSS and BJP ministers, he wonders: “Main thoda confidence … confidence kya meri samajh nahi aa raha ki humse kyon nahi kah rahe wo (I am talking of confidence … confidence. I am unable to understand why they are not asking us directly to do this).” Losing his patience over his insistence on “no confidence”, the journalist cuts him short him by telling him to upload the videos of his Guruji on their app. “Nahi nahi wo sab hum kar denge agar RSS kahega kyonki RSS toh humare blood mein hai (No, no. We will do all that provided the RSS asks us to do. RSS is in our blood),” assures Ajay Shekhar at long last but with a rider. He goes on to explain why: “Main poochhoonga karana hai toh fir unko bata kar karenge hum bhi to apne number banayein seedhi see baat hai jab itna kar chuke hain toh karna kya hai (I will do it after telling them. After all we also would like to make our numbers with them. It is as simple as that. When we have done all those things for them, then why not this).” What Ajay Sharma, who says he is close to RSS from childhood, is telling us makes business sense.

You scratch our back, as they say, I will scratch yours!

In a rush to prove how close they are both to the government and to the RSS, Ajay Shekhar makes the ultimate disclosure: “Jab JK mein band huye the na pathar … toh humari personally PMO se phone aya tha kaha gaya tha ki data de do ho sakta hai ki Paytm user hon (When the stone-pelting stopped there in J&K, I personally got a phone call from the PMO. They told us to give them data saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users. Do you understand)?” Hope, Paytm users are listening to what Ajay Shekhar is confessing on camera!

This is in utter violation of their stated privacy policy: “We will not sell, share or rent your personal information to any 3rd party or use your email address/mobile number for unsolicited emails and/or SMS. Any emails and/or SMS sent by Paytm will only be in connection with the provision of agreed services & products and this Privacy Policy.” While sharing the data with the government, Paytm also violated its security policy which states: “Paytm has stringent security measures in place to protect the loss, misuse, and alteration of the information under our control. Whenever you change or access your account information, we offer the use of a secure server. Once your information is in our possession we adhere to strict security guidelines, protecting it against unauthorized access.”

Coming back to dropping names of the top BJP and RSS leadership, Ajay Shekhar makes another revelation. Referring, apparently, to Kailash Vijayavargiya, BJP National General Secretary, Ajay Shekhar says: “Dekho ye jo Kailashji hain ye mere bahut acche dost hain bahut acche dost hain. Matlab inhone humare bahut kaam kiye hain. Mera ek dost Bengal mein IPS hai, inke liye bahut kaam kar raha hai wo iss time. Ye Shivrajji hain inse toh matlab ye jaante hain Ajay Shekhar (You see, there is Kailashji who is a very good friend. I mean he has done us a lot of favours. I have an IPS friend in Bengal. He is also doing a lot of work for them at this time. Then there is Shivraj ji, with him … you know, all these leaders know Ajay Shekhar personally).”

Seeing his insistence on undertaking the agenda only when the RSS people ask him to do so, the journalist finally tells him that Mohan Bhagwat visiting his Guruji at his ashram is not something that you can brush aside as a non-significant event. This leads to Ajay Shekhar commit to the agenda but again with a rider: “Nahi chhoti nahi hai main maan raha hoon lekin jab main Mohan Bhagwat ji ke saath saare kaam kar raha hoon aur Mohan Bhagwatji kahe bhaiya tum ye kar rahe ho toh unko bata toh doon ki aapke liye kar raha hoon (No, this is not something insignificant, I agree. But when I am doing all kinds of things for Mohan Bhagwatji and when Mohan Bhagwatji asks me you are doing this [your campaign], then I will tell him that I am doing this for you).”

Such revelations of their close association with the top RSS brass and the BJP governments at the center and in other states make one wonder if Paytm’s meteoric rise has something to do with the Saffron brigade’s ascension to power at the centre and its decision to go for demonetization. Barely within a year of the BJP forming government at the Centre, the company entered into an agreement with the Indian Railways in April 2015 making Paytm wallet acceptable for ticketing-related transactions, and in December the same year, IRTC announced its catering services could be availed of using Paytm app. This was the year when Paytm and its holding company saw an uplift in its fortunes with investors like Jack Ma of the Chinese e-commerce major Alibaba investing in Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s venture. When Ma visited India in March that year, he also met Prime Minister Modi. Four months down the line, the BJP government began its push for digital India. The push came to a shove when the government went whole lock, stock and barrel for demonetization in November a year later. However, two months before the much-touted “surgical strike” began, Paytm had become ubiquitous in its presence across, occupying full pages in newspapers and prime time television free commercial time, in what was no less a blitzkrieg. The company had the gumptions to even depict Modi as its brand ambassador in one of its ads to the utter shock of the nation, which was later on conveniently withdrawn. No wonder if Vijay Shekhar in one of its ads applauded Modi for his bold decision. But, as the company made its fortune out of demonetization which pushed the citizenry to untold miseries, its ads became rare and rarer with the passage of time.

The confessions of the top honchos of Paytm make us wonder if one should read between the lines!

Hindustan Times

Shailja Sinha, Manager, Hindustan, Patna; Avneesh Bansal, Associate Vice President HT Media LTD, Gurgaon; Saurabh Mishra, Senior Vice President and Business Head (South India and International Business), Fever 104 FM, Bangalore; Gaurav Sharma, Chief Programming Officer, Fever 104 FM, Bangalore; Abhishek Gosain, Senior Manager, HT Media Ltd., Noida; Vineeta Narula, Ad Sales Department, HT Media Ltd., Noida; Richa Mahajan, Manager Sales, FEVER 104 FM; D.K. Mittal, Head Media Marketing, Chandigarh, HT Media Ltd.; Indrajeet, Unit Head, Dehradun; Saurabh Gupta, Deputy Manager, HT Media Venture Limited, Meerut; Praveen Mishra, Asst. General Manager, HT Media Venture Limited; Anil Dua, Chief Revenue Officer, HT Media Venture Limited, Delhi 

Hindustan Times Media Limited, which publishes Hindustan TimesHindustanKadambani and  Nandan, also owns as a subsidiary the Fever 104 FM Radio. In addition, the group publishes Mint, a financial daily, in partnership with the Wall Street Journal. These apart, there are news websites that run in parallel. Chairperson and Executive Director Shobhana Bhartia was a Rajya Sabha MP from the Congress Party from 2006 to 2012. The flagship Hindustan Times has a great deal of presence in print, electronic and digital. The KK Birla Group has a large stake in HT Media. Starting in 1924, the Hindustan Times newspaper today, circulation-wise, is the largest newspaper in the country.

What would happen if a good deal of funding were to be offered to HT Media Limited News? Would it be enough to run a special agenda or propaganda in their newspapers and channels? Are there compromises with the basic principles of journalism?

To know the answers to these questions,  senior investigative journalist Pushp Sharma visited the Patna office of  Hindustan Times newspaper and met there Manager Shailja Sinha. The journalist tells Shailja Sinha about his Hindutva agenda to which Shailaja responds thus: “The portion you are talking about it’s kind of political advertorial I know you have chosen other way but end of the day my reader will also come to know we are aiming to.” The journalist understands what her idea is and asks her to do it with slight tweaking. Shailja teaches him new tricks of the trade and advises him to run the agenda via brand promotion: “Exactly… see we have that … one of our product [is of] that kind… it is not product, it is a byproduct like it appears in Hindustan but we call BP brand promotion so what happens actually it’s a surrogate way of advertising we call it that way.”

You mean, advertorial? The journalist asks. Yes, we are told as Shailja goes on to how they do it: “It will be advertorial lekin (but) [it] will be a write-up it, it won’t be an ad.” She further explains how they do it: “It is an advertorial only but we don’t write advertorial jaise aap advertorial mein aap dekhenge ADVT likha rehta hai in brand promotion we don’t write ADVT (It is an advertorial only but we don’t write advertorial, for example, in an advertorial you will see ‘ADVT’ written therein. In brand promotion, we don’t write ADVT).” I see, this is how you push an agenda using deception! Agrees the manager: “Exactly like it’s a surrogate advertising.”

The journalist tells her that his organization has the intention to convert the Hindutva campaign. Agreeing, Shailja says: “Haan agar humare log Hindu dharm ko follow karte hain toh kaheen na kaheen apne aap ko RSS se karte hain RSS se apne aap ko associate karte haintoh hum BJP se automatically ho jaate hain (Yes, if our people are following the Hindu faith then they are already somewhere following the RSS way, they are automatically associating themselves with the RSS … so then we are naturally aligned with the BJP).” 

When the journalist met Avneesh Bansal in a Delhi hotel, the associate vice president HT Media was quite forthcoming on the agenda. But what was needed to see it through was good money. “Mera aapko personal suggestion yeh hain (It’s my personal suggestion) that I am sure media strategy is very, very big part of Sangh strategy toh you should attack in two ways one is tying up with the media house so if you are giving me couple of crore rupees right, to talk positive about you right, automatically my editorial is under pressure … not to go deep negative,” says Avneesh. The associate vice president explains further how the flow of good, big money helps keep this negativity at the ebb: “You know being an employee of an organization, I will tell you is one route is keep funding the media house so agar hum ek positive cheez ke liye fund kar rahe hain they will refrain from being deep negative (You know being an employee of an organization, I will tell you is one route is keep funding the media house so that if you are funding them for a positive news, they will refrain from being deep negative).” Assuring the client that they will create the content for their campaign on Fever 104, Avneesh proposes a complete solution across all platforms: “That’s not an issue, that we can create. Then it will be part of this larger solution which we will create for you … as far as the three publications are concerned Hindustan Times, Hindi Hindustan, Mint plus Fever radio FM.” Their client shall have one “contract point” from where a “structured campaigning” will be launched.

At their Bangalore office of Fever 104 FM, the journalist met SVP and Business Head Saurabh Mishra and his colleague Chief Programming Officer Gaurav Sharma. As the journalist briefs him on his agenda of Hindutva, Saurabh says that they will have to strike a “balance.” While agreeing to undertake the assignment, he says: “Toh ussi zone mein we can convey your message … Right toh aapka show create karna hain show banaa sakte hain hum aapke liye (We can convey your message in that zone only … Right, so if you want a show created we can create that show for you).” While pitching for a long-term agreement with their client, his colleague wants to make his radio station a “content partner” for conceptualization and development of content from any part of the county. “Par main kah raha hoon ki kyonki hum pooree team set karenge humara toh phir hum aapke campaign partner ho gaye jab hum poora ka poora content agar MP mein bhee aapko kuchh karna ho toh wo humaree team banegee (I am just saying since we shall set a whole team and devote it to you then we would become campaign partners with you so that if you want content created for MP then our team gets to create it).”

With regard to Karnataka which was due for elections in few months, Saurabh suggest how they will create jingles or like content to hit at the Congress: “Sir dekho yeh hum banva dete hain--Economy Crisis Live yeh dekho grocery bill market mein sab kuchh mahanga ho gaya grocery na hua sona ho gaya mujhe to lagata hai ki is mahangaee ke chakkar mein ghar kharidna bas ek sapna hee rah jaega kab tak iss mahangaee se joojhte rahoge mahangaee mitegee badlaav sse kyonki badlaav kee taakat bade badon ko hila detee hai badlaav laiye apne sahee chunaav se Karnaataka kee janata ke liye Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Samiti dvaara janahit mein jaree phir doosra beta baap se bolta hai baap mall le chalo, baap kahta hai nahin kab tak apne shahar mein darte rahoge phir economic crisis kah kar dhokha diya phir ho gaya farmer suicide Karnatak ka important topic to ussmein sentimental vaala emotions ki main vo hoon jo aapke ghar mein anaaj leke aata hoon main vo hoon jo kadee dhoop mein nangee peeth mehanat karke zameen o seenchata hoon usske baad scam lottery scam land scam  (Sir look we shall make for you Economy Crisis Live…look grocery bills everything is expensive in the market, so much so that grocery is costlier than gold, due to inflation and rising prices, buying a home has become a distant dream, how long are we going to fight this inflation, we can change this by opting for change in Karnataka…in public interest the Shrimad Bhagvad Geeta Prachar Samiti has brought you this message…a second one where a son asks the father to take him to a mall, the father replies, how long shall we live in fear in our own city then economic crisis and farmer suicides…play some sentimental type emotions that I am the one who brings grains into your home I am the one who in summer heat toils bare backed and then we discuss the scams lottery scam, land scam…).” He goes on to add: “Badlaav ki takat bade badon ko hila detee hai (The power of change can topple even the greatest).”

Saurabh continues his plans and gives him ideas to sell the partnership with Fever FM with the Sangh: “Ab din mein din mein hum promote karenge ki listen to this, very very relevant and contextual show run by Acharyaji about today’s journalists and how they are … available in…usko din mein chalayenge 5 se 6 show ayega lekin din mein 6 baar usse promote karenge RJs baat karenge … every day of every month (Now in the day we shall promote it saying ‘Listen to this very, very relevant and contextual show run by Acharyaji about today’s journalists and how they are …available in… from 5 to 6 the show will but per day we shall  promote  it 6 times and RJs will talk about it …every day of every month).” 

His visit to HT Media’s office in Noida yields another interesting encounter with Senior Manager Abhishek Gosain and his colleague Vineeta Narula. After discussing with them the promotion of Hindutva through teachings of Bhagwad Gita to be advertised on jackets, the journalist comes to his pet theme of thrashing of political rivals in an innovative way. Asks Gosain, “We need to come up with media plan or you want creative ideas as well?” Vineeta too seeks to know: “You want to book some creative, then we?” Precisely, this is what I am looking for, the journalist tells them. “So its media and creative both,” says Gosain, understanding what their client is looking for. 

The journalist next meets Fever 104 Sales Manager Richa Mahajan in Delhi. As he begins to discuss his hidden agenda openly, he finds Richa upfront about her support of BJP and RSS. She also seems to conflate her passionate ideological beliefs very quickly with her professional role and seems pleased that their client connected with her instead of someone who might not have had the same passion for the Hindutva.

It is illuminating to hear what Mahajan says: “I don’t think sir mujhe yeh first meeting mein bolna chahiye I am a hard core RSS believer. Matlab maine kabhi kuchh attend nahin kiya hai but yes. I am 32 years old so I believe in BJP from that point of time jab Atal Behari Vajpayeeji 13 days ke liye the. That point of time I was in 5th or 6th class mein thee mai matlab ek belief hota hai aap internally associate karte ho ek thinking ke saath kisee ek policy ke saath… So I am hardcore Hindutva yes whatever happened in Gujarat is right, we don’t have any issue matlab theek hain it’s something ki theek hain aapko Arindam sir se milna thaa its destiny ki I am meeting you (I don’t think I should mention this in our first meeting sir, but I am a staunch RSS believer. I have never attended anything political but yes, I am 32 years old and I have believed in the BJP from the time Atal Behari Vajpayee came to power for 13 days. I must have been in 5th or 6th grade back then, but there is an internal belief you associate with, a policy … So I am hardcore Hindutva yes whatever happened in Gujarat is right, we don’t have an issue I mean it’s something that you had to come and meet Arindam sir but you met me by destiny).”

After discussing the Hindutva agenda and how it has to be promoted through their platforms, the journalist comes to bashing of political rival like Congress, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, BSP with the help of those Pappu jingles. It has to be done in an innovative way without offending anybody. Initially she is cagey but after she listen to a sample Pappu jingle, she comes on board saying: “Haan theek hain yeh toh sab okay hain koi problem nahi (Yes … all right. They all are okay, there is no problem).”

Pushp Sharma met again Abhishek Gosain and Vineeta Narula in Delhi. Present in this meeting were Richa Mahajan along with her boss Vice President and Sales Head Arindam Pal. Here, the journalist asks Vineeta if she has discussed the agenda with her superiors. Are they comfortable with that? Replies Vineeta promptly: “Yeah … Yes we discussed … Exactly so we have spoken the team who handles the political ad also, so then you know there will be two categories, one if anything has political that will go on that category …” You mean with slight tweaking as I had told you? The journalist asks. “Yeah,” replies Vineeta.

During the discussion, these officials offered the sponsorship for the Jai Bajrangi programme, apart from which other events and the Bharat Positive campaign were also cited as areas possible involvement. To give Hindutva a big push through their platforms, Mahajan lays out a plan before us, “Ismen jaise sir humare event hain uspe ek specific property bana sakte hain plus humari ek property hai Jai Bajrangi jissmein humlog jo Hanumanji hain unki life stories jo hain unnko capsules bana ke on air karenge… usmein bhi humlog poora property ka sponsorship aapko de sakte hain (For instance, sir, we have events or specific property we can create plus we have a property called Jai Bajrangi where we make smaller capsules out of the stories about Hanuman’s life and take it on air … in that also, we can give you the sponsorship of the whole property).”       

The meeting that Sharma had with D.K. Mittal at Chandigarh turned out to be equally revealing. For instance, when the journalist tells Mittal that his ‘Sangathan’ is skeptical about running their agenda  in the HT Group platforms, as HT Media Group’s chairperson and editorial director, Shobhana Bhartia has been a Congress Rajya Sabha MP. However, the Media Marketing Head is quick to assure, Sir wo bashak Rajya Sabha se Congress ki MP bani thee lekin wo she is very close to Arun Jaitley (Sir, she was no doubt Congress Rajya Sabha MP, but she is now very close to Arun Jaitley).” In the course of the conversation, DK Mittal also said that events related to the propagation of the agenda may also be organized, but without directly naming HT: “Nahin wo hum log manage kara denge lekin HT ka naam nahin de sakte ussmein.... haan vo sab manage ho jayega we have our activation team vo sab manage ho jayega jo team vagairah solid hogee bouncer vagairah bhi mil jayenge sab ho jayega (no that we shall manage but we can’t put HT’s name in it…yes, all that we shall manage we have our activation team all will be taken care of, the team is solid, the bouncers etc. will all be available everything will be done).”

Next, Sharma met HT Media’s unit head Indrajeet in Dehradun. As usual, the journalist found a willing listener when he talked about his Hindutva agenda and thrashing of political rivals. So much so that Indrajeet is confident that lampooning politicians and parties doesn’t even need much thought or discussion, saying openly, “Nahin jingles toh mein jingles sse mujhe zyada matlab nahin hain you could write about whatever you said in that (I mean the jingles I don’t care much about that stuff you could write about whatever you said in that).” He also goes a step further and assures that there shall be coverage of events organized by their client for the promotion of their agenda. He explain how it is going to help their client the journalist: “One advantage you will have doing a local connect if you do some activities and all we can cover that up … we can cover that up if your … we have local tie up on advertisement and all we can do that also.” You mean you will provide us editorial support? The journalist asks him. “Yeah definitely,” returns Indrajeet promptly. 

Now, the journalist decided to visit Meerut where he met HT Media’s Deputy Manager Saurabh Gupta. After listening carefully to his agenda, Saurabh Gupta offers him heavy discount on company rates, citing personal affiliation to right wing politics as his reasons. He says, “Dekhiye hum jab Hindutva ke agenda ko lekar nikle hain toh by hook or by crook kaam humara hona hain (You see, when you are working for the Hindutva agenda, the job will be done by hook or by crook).” This indicates that he is prepared to go to a very great extent to prove his loyalty to the Hindutva cause. He goes onto assure that he would do anything for the client provided a relationship is started.

When the journalist expresses doubt about HT’s affiliations, saying that Shobhana Bhartia has been a Congress Rajya Sabha member, Saurabh Gupta assures him that times and loyalties have changed: “Dekhiye lekin agar aap 2017 ka chunav aap dekhe to BJP ko jitna jyaada humne support kiya Hindustan ko kiya…main manata hoon ki Shashi Shekharji ne bahut achchha support BJP ko unhone is chunav mein kiya (But see, if you look at 2017 elections then we have really given a lot of support to BJP…to Hindustan…I truly believe that [Hindustan editor]Shashi Shekharji has given a lot of support to the BJP in this election).”

The journalist thereafter met HT Media Venture’s AGM Praveen Mishra in Lucknow.  Mishra suggested various ways for the promotion of Hindutva. One such way was brand promotion. He says, “It will be much better and refined version of what you see on an advertorial overall and will have a great impact.”

When the journalist met Chief Revenue Officer Anil Dua in Delhi, Regional Head (Media Marketing) Manish Jha, from Lucknow, was also present there. The journalist discusses all points of his agenda, including the promotion of Hindutva using Bhagwad Gita teachings, thrashing of political opponents by creating innovative jingles on Pappu, Bua and Babua and finally digital promotion of firebrand Hindutva leaders like Mohan Bhagwat. Dua says, “So third one honestly.. come back … first two is possible …dekhiye aap jo apni taraf se karna chahte hain ussmein humein karne mein koi problem nahin hain (you see what you want to do on your part we don’t have a problem with doing that).” For him, there is no problem with regard to the promotion of firebrand leaders and digital promotion of Hindutva.

Before the meeting comes to a close, Dua insists on freezing the deal as soon as possible and displays an excited eagerness to follow through on the next level meetings: “I am okay with 1 year by the way I am absolutely okay with 1 year but jo Bhartia ji se milwane wali baat hai (as far as fixing your meeting with Bhartiaji is concerned) that I want to go once we start doing business with each other so that we know each other better only then we kind of push up that is my word to you I will get you to meet her that’s not a problem right but I can’t do that right away when nothing has started that’s a promise I can get you to meet my CEO and then we can start.”


Bartaman Patrika

Ashish Mukherji, Sr. General Manager (Advertisement Sales), Bartaman Patrika, Kolkata  

In this age when agenda-driven journalism has become the norm rather than exception and when news is just another commodity to be sold or traded keeping in view the bottom line, Cobrapost stumbled upon two rare exceptions. One is Bartaman and the Dainik Sambad is other exception, and both are regional newspapers. These two vernacular dailies are exceptions in the sense that it is the regional media where the phenomenon of paid news or agenda-driven journalism is order of the day, as Operation 136 amply shows.

Among the two, Bartman Patrika is the second-most popular Bengali newspaper after Anandabazar Patrika, with three editions published simultaneously from SiliguriBurdwan and Midnapore in West Bengal. The daily was started in 1984 by journalist Barun Sengupta, who until then was working with Anandabazar Patrika. Pushp Sharma visited Bartaman Patrika’s Kolkata office to meet Senior General Manager Ashish Mukherji. Initially, the senior general manager is quite hospitable a soul, but as soon as the visitor has stated the purpose, namely, promotion of Hindutva and defaming political rivals, Mukherji outrightly rejects the agenda saying: “… that is not permissible.”

Now, it was the journalist’s turn to be shocked for he had not heard no so far. He tried to sugarcoat his agenda by increasing the budget for his media campaign from Rs. 1 crore to straightaway Rs. 10 crore. But Mukherji refused to take the bait. “It’s not …” I see, the journalist again tries to persuade him, you won’t give up your idealism for this much of money. Mukherji is firm on his rejection of the agenda. We hear him utter a crisp “No.”

Although the journalist, who made his brain child one of the most read dailies in the state with his bold political analysis written in a simple diction, died a decade back, the values he cherished and nurtured the paper with have remained intact. The vicissitudes of time have not dented those values as they have his erstwhile employer the Anandabazar Patrika, as our expose of ABP shows.

Dainik Sambad

Unkwon Official, Dainik Sambad, Agartala, Tripura

Sharma’s next stopover was the Agartala office of Dainik Sambad, a prominent Bengali daily published from the capital city of Tripura. Dainik Sambad is popular among Tripura’s predominant Bengali population for simple diction. Here Sharma met an official who not only refused to play ball but also refused to share his calling card with his visitor. The interview did not last long but it is interesting to give a snapshot of what transpired between the journalist and this sales official of Dainik Sambad.

Introducing himself as representing the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, the journalist told him about his agenda and sought to place an ad campaign in their paper targeting 2019 elections. Rejecting the offer, the official says: “Ye humara policy hai hum koi dharm ka vigyapan nahi chhapenge (We have this clear policy to not publish any religious advertisements).” You see, the journalist tries to persuade him, we are not talking about religion in ads. The official says: “Matlab aap jo bol rahe hain na Gita ke baare mein jo bol rahe hain jo advertisement aap dikha rahe hain humko uss type ke advertisement hum log nahi chhapte (I mean what you are talking about the Gita and the advertisement you are showing me, we simply don’t publish those kinds of advertisements).” But friend, this ad campaign would target the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and on politics, the journalist tries to bring him around. The official again refuses to buy the argument. Look we also have a political paper called Ganashakti, but our policy does not entertain political advertisement. “Nahi, political advertisement nahi … hum log only dharm wala advertisement nahi chhap sakte koi bhi ho (No, not political advertisement … we cannot publish only religious advertisement whatever it is),” the official says with finality.

These refusals come as a whiff of fresh air in otherwise a stultified media milieu, to rekindle hope in us that everything is not lost.


Manda Mhatre, Owner and BJP MLA, MVTV, Belapur, Thane, Maharashtra

Scant information is available in public domain, except that MVTV is a “24 hour ‘News and Entertainment’ broadcast TV channel, with the mission of delivering vibrant, youthful, and value-oriented programs for entire family”. The Marathi channel is owned and run by Manda Mhatre, former NCP-councillor-turned BJP MLA from Belapur. The channel basically focuses on Belapur and its neighbourhood in Thane district of Maharashtra. Married to a civil contractor, she is popularly known as Manda Tai. Although we knew the encounter with the BJP legislator would go on expected lines for her political allegiance, yet the revelations Manda Tai made on camera stunned us, so would you be. As Pushp Sharma began to apprise her of his agenda of Hindutva playing the preachings of Bhagwad Gita, Manda Tai is prompt to inform us: “Wo toh humara chaloo hai (We are already running that agenda).” It is fine if you are running it, the journalist tells her, but we also want you to run our agenda on your channel. “Haan chaloo rakho usko karo na. Mera mandir hai khud ka main khud Hindutvavaadi hoon par dikhati nahi (Yes, you can carry on what you are doing. You see, I have a temple and I am a supporter of Hindutva but I never show that).” Perhaps, she has not understood what we mean, thought the journalist. You see, we also want your channel to run our Hindutva agenda, reitrerates the journalist. “Chaloo hai chaloo hai chaubees ghante chaloo hai aapne dekha nahi kya (It is already running there. It is running 24 hours. Haven’t you seen that),” telling us what exactly her channel is doing she asks to set aside all doubts. I have seen that, he tells her, but we want it to be done in our own way. “Toh wo tereeqe se de do na CD dete jao na … dete jao chalate jayenge (Oh that way! Then give me CDs [of your content] … you give it to me, we will run that),” she assures us. You see, the journalist cajoles her, I came to know that you are a BJP legislator and own this channel. Since my agenda is purely Hindutva, and sometime channel owners refuse to play it, so I came to see you. It is purely a business deal. Manda Tai tells us again: “Abhi dekho mera poora time channel mein ye hee chalta hai BJP ka hee chalta hai prorgramme chaubeeson ghante (You see my channel runs this only all the time. We keep on running only BJP-related programmes 24 hours).”

Talking of the overtly riot politics of the RSS and the contradictions of the party she leads in her constituency of Belapur, Manda Tai makes a startling revelation: “Mere ko Sangh wale bol rahe the ki Muslim masjid todo ye karo. Main boli sorry main ye nahi kar sakti. Masjid sthal sab kachre ke maafiq dekhte hain. Itna log ko hum hay nahi le sakte hain kyonki aadhe log apne se jud gaye hain apni sarkar se jud gaye hain abhi wo Pasha Bhai hain lakhon kee zyajaad daalte hain apne BJP ke Modiji ke Amit Shah bolo kaise kuch kar sakte hain aur apne karyakarta ke paas ek paisa nahi hai aur apni BJP har baar kuchh kamane nahi de rahi hai toh kahan se layenge barhiya poster programme pe programme deti jaa rahi hai karo karo karo (The Sangh people were telling me time and again to destroy the masjids of Muslims. I told them ‘Sorry I can’t do that.’ They all look at a masjid something like trash. I cannot afford to earn so much ill-will of all those people [by resorting to such hate] because many Muslims have joined the BJP. They are now part of the government. There is this Pasha Bhai, for instance, who is donating fortunes to the party at the behest of Modiji and Amit Shah. So, how can you harm them? Then our workers have no money and the BJP is not allowing us to earn anything. So from where all these fancy posters materialize? They just float a programme after programme telling us to implement them all).” She is unstoppable. Referring to the headache Jignesh Mewani, Alpesh Thakur and Hardik Patel caused them in Gujarat, she says: “Isliye toh kitna teen bacchon ne dum chhak kara diya (That is why three kids had squeezed their breaths out there).” Yes, in Gujarat, the journalist tells her. “Kyon kara dee, kyon Pappu karna hai kya zaroorat kya hai. Abhi toh Congress hai bhi nahi. Yahin main aur Ganesh Naik mein jhagda hai yahan baaki kuchh nahi hai aur mujhe kisi kee zaroorat bhi nahi hai. Main usase saksham hoon ladne mein. Uske bahut saare mandir hain uske teen mandir tootane ko aaya apne BJP sarakar usko bacha rahi hai. Kyon bacha rahi hai. 400 crore kee jageh acquire kee ek mantri ne aur BJP sarakar usko bacha rahi hai mandir ke liye aur uss mandir mein bhagwan bhi nahi hai (How were they able to do that? Why should we bother about Pappu? Where is the need? There is no Congress [in power] right now. There is an ongoing tussle between me and Ganesh Naik here. There is nothing else to worry about and I don’t need anybody to help me. I am able to handle him. He owns many temples. Recently, when three temples [owned by him] were about to be demolished, the [Maharashtra] BJP government came to his rescue. Why it is doing so? A [former] minister [that is Naik] has acquired land worth Rs. 400 crore and the BJP government is trying to save his temples and then there are no gods installed in those temples),” Fumes the Belapur legislator. Manda Tai is talking about the alleged illegal encroachment of government properties in Belapur and Pawane under Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation by Naik’s family members. A PIL was also filed in the Bombay High Court in 2013 by an RTI activist in this regard.

After revealing the communal face of the RSS, Manda Tai also tells us how a RSS leader helped her secure a BJP ticket in the last state assembly elections, which she won by defeating the sitting NCP minister Ganesh Naik.


Martin; Lakshmipathy Adimoolam, Director, Dinamalar, Chennai 

“Dinamalar” in Tamil means morning flower, and like a morning flower the daily shined on the media landscape of the country under the watchful eyes of noted freedom fighter, philanthropist and anti-caste crusader Thazhuvia Ramasubbaiyer, popularly known as TVR. Founded by TVR on September 6, 1951, Dinamalar grew from a single city edition to a multi-city edition published simultaneously from Tirunelveli, Tiruchi, Chennai, Madurai and Erode during his lifetime. Selling  about a million copies daily, today the newspaper is published from 10 cities of Tamil Nadu including Chennai, CoimbatoreErodeMaduraiNagercoilPondicherrySalem, Tiruchirappalli, Tirunelveli and Vellore, apart from Bangalore in Karnataka and Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. But the values with which TVR nurtured Dinamalar have been long foresaken by the third generation of his family as our interview with his grandson Lakshmipathy Adimoolam establishes.

In the course of this pan-India investigation, Pushp Sharma visited the Tamil daily’s Chennai office where he first met Martin. Seated along with Martin are some of his other colleagues. As Sharma settles down to brief Martin on his agenda, he tells him that there are three important points of the media campaign. The first and foremost point is the promotion of Hindutva, which should in no way be diluted, through the preaching of Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna. The second point is thrashing of political rivals such as Pappu. Hope you know who this Pappu is? “No, okay,” replies Martin, whereas his colleague chips in to inform: “Pappu is Rahul Gandhi.” The campaign has to be designed, using this nick name, so as to fulfill our objective of his “character assassination” through satire, and this has to be hammered consistently. Apart from Rahul Gandhi, you have to target the character assassination of Bua and Babua, that is, Mayawati and Akhilesh, respectively, using the same trick. As his colleague seeks to know, “This is five months campaign?” Martin tells us: “And the thing is after our editor also created it, we need editorial approval.”

What is left in the story, you must be wonder, as did Sharma. But, to his surprise, this seeking of editorial approval first was simply a ruse as when the journalist met his boss Lakshmipathy Adimoolam, the Director of the Tamil daily far from shunning the malicious agenda was willing to go an extra mile to give it space in his newspaper. The reason was more than business, as we found him wedded to the ideology of the RSS.

After exchanging pleasantries, as Sharma settled down to discuss his agenda, we come to know that Martin has already briefed his boss in detail. Says Adimoolam: “I think Martin briefed me on your visit … You want to take some space and that’s not an issue. We have a lot of same wavelength with the BJP family is around … true Hindu family. We believe in Hindu spirituality.” In the same breath, he tells us that since his family wears their allegiance to RSS and BJP on their sleeves, it has hurt their business a lot. “We have been very strong RSS … but newspaper we are straightforward honest. We don’t… both the governments.  In fact, last 35 years we haven’t got any government ads. We went to the court six month back and got it. So, 35 years no governments want to ad[vertise with us] and we whatever we feel we just write. We don’t bother about any government. That is why the central government is very close with our family,” says Adimoolam.

He then goes on to tell about his father R. Lakshmipathy who was chairman of the Press Trust of India for many years and who headed the Indian Newspaper Society twice. They have now a favourable government at the centre. “So Central government we have been doing lot of things. You know after very, very long time, we have got honest straightforward government. A government who doesn’t want … who doesn’t run a government for elections,” says Adimoolam of the present government, as he launches into platitudes about how close to the Prime Minister his family, including his father, is and how the Prime Ministers makes a point to visit them personally whenever he is on a state visit. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari is also a friend. His father still visits Delhi once every month, we come to know. “Anything we are open for it and what best …,” says Adimoolam, to assure us now that he is completely on our side. He then tells us about some software that he has bought on license. This software can be applied to help in campaigns such as ours. “Sent to brochures, leaflet sent to party workers … say there is Modiji’s picture is there, just move your camera over here … it gives audio of Modi ji,” he informs us in not so elegant an English.

Coming back to his agenda of Hindutva, their client the journalist explains to them how the campaign has to be run to create an ambiance of Hindutva all around, through field activities and videos, on Gita and Lord Krishna preachings. Adimoolam is ready to lend help, as he says: “Okay … anything let me know.” When the journalist asks Martin to send him a proposal of how they would go about working on his agenda, Adimoolam again assures us in these words: “What best we can do … rest you can be assured.”

The generational shift has ensured that no values of the profession remain sacrosanct particularly when you happen to be the votary of a particular ideology.

Sun Group

Alex George, National Sales Head (GEC Channels), Sun Group; Rajesh B. Kannan, CGM (Marketing), Dinakaran; Anupam Jyoti Das, Account Manager, Red FM Hyderabad; Amit Sharma, Sales Head Red FM Chandigarh; Shiv Mangal Singh, Assistant Manager, Red FM Delhi; Deepak Singh Bhandari, Sales Head, Red FM Lucknow

Founded in 1992 by Kalanidhi Maran, son of DMK leader Murasoli Maran, the Sun Group claims to be the largest media conglomerate, as it runs 33 TV channels, across four South Indian languages, namely, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, reaching out to more than 95 million households in India; 48 FM radio stations under Red FM; 2 dailies, Dinakaran, which sells about 1.4 million copies a day, and Tamil Murasu, a leading eveninger, and 5 Magazines. Apart from a strong presence in the media landscape of the country particularly down south, the group is also in film making, while it runs a DTH service and IPL franchisee, among other businesses.

Pushp Sharma was received by none other than Alex George, the national sales head, when he visited the Chennai headquarters of the group at what has become an upscale landmark known as Murasoli Maran Towers. Although the Marans and Karunanidhis are identified with Dravidian politics, as a business Sharma found the group quite agreeable to his malicious agenda. Pleasantries over, Sharma begins to brief his prospective customer on his agenda. “So what exactly you are doing Sir?” George seeks to know. You see, the journalist tells him, I am here to discuss with you our campaign of Hindutva which is targeted at 2019 elections, hoping that you will agree to run the same on all your platforms. But this time around it is not Ram and His Ayodhya but Lord Krishan and Bhagwad Gita around which our campaign will revolve. “You want to run commercials?” George wants to know. Yes, this is exactly what we are looking for, he is told, and we want our commercials on all your platforms, be it digital, print or electronic. “Okay and show me the commercial,” he asks and is shown a commercial by Sharma on his mobile. After he has heard the commercial on Bhagwad Gita, George again seeks to know what exactly their client was looking for: “What exactly is your … why you want promote this, you want to promote it because you want Bhagwad Gita as a concept to be understood by people or what exactly?” Yes, you got it right. Through this Hindutva campaign, he is told, we would like people identity with our party that we are for Hindutva. You know, for the past 25 years we have squeezed the Ram and Ayodhya issue every bit politically. “I am a [die]hard fan of Bhagwad Gita,” informs George.

Now, we have arrived at a level of understanding with the national sales head of the group to move forward on our proposition. As the discussion moves on, George says: “As a policy or as a setup, we are politically alienated [sic] people. We don’t, in terms of business, we don’t get mixed with that.” Is it a dampener? You must be wondering. No, it is certainly not.

The policy of his group, however, is to secure good business, he explains: “Because my advertisement is limited … and I have to make X amount of money to as target, because I need to take care of the shareholders’ interest, which in turn is my lot of other investors who question us to what is the profit system.” So, the basic philosophy is earn as much profit as possible to keep the investors happy. After explaining his company’s business policy, George asks: “All these channels you can tell us what you want. We can send it [proposal] to you in terms of what can be offered as packages to you and then you can … decide about this.” He then goes on to describe various channels that his group runs, for instance, comedy, music and cinema channels. “So but in a music channel which runs film music to immediately cutting an ad break and coming Bhagwad Gita, are you ok with that?” George seeks to know. Yes, definitely! The is the way our campaign should be packaged, he is told. He has a similar take for their comedy channel: “We are ok with that. Similarly in comedy channel, it will be a film comedy clipping … we don’t … Yeah, for every few clippings run, break comes [and] we run commercial and go on.” When he seeks to know which language his client would prefer for his campaign to run with maximum frequency, the client the journalist quotes a budget of Rs. 20 crore and tells him that he would like 50 percent of his campaign to be in Tamil. After they have discussed the language and duration of the commercials, George tells us he will send us a proposal: “Okay. So, this is your e-mail ID, so I will tell the team to work out and mail it to you. How, what is the best combination in terms of seconds. So, this is from which day to which day?” March 31 will be the day when our first batch of commercials should begin to be aired, he is told.

Taking the journalist for a client with deep pockets, George also facilitated his meeting with Rajesh B. Kannan, who is working as CGM with the Sun Group’s daily Dinakaran. Kannan turns out to be a Modi acolyte, as when the journalist begins to discuss his agenda of Hindutva with Kannan, he asks: “How’s your expectation [of] 2019 on Modi ji?” Yes, we are leaving no stone unturned, the journalist tells him, to ensure his win. He even goes on to describe demonetization as a bold decision. The journalist comes back to his Hindutva agenda telling him that it has to be done through the preaching of Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna. This will help us polarize the electorate in coming six months before 2019 elections when every political party out there will play minority card. However, instead of discussing the proposition and the business prospects it carries for his paper, the die-hard Modi fan says: “It has to be seen. There is current situation Modiji has to win. In fact, I was telling him he will be here for 2025.” Finally, the journalist asks Kannan to send him a proposal with their rate card. Says Kannan: “It will be coming to you … I will give you the card rate what, what will be card rate what we are offer rate we are giving you … Everything will put in a complete way.”

After finding George and Kannan, both high officials of the group, willing to run his agenda, Sharma headed to Hyderabad to meet Anupam Jyoti Das, account manager, Red FM. With a naughty catch line “Bajate Raho (Keep Playing)”, the Red FM, a radio entertainment network, is owned and run by the Sun Group of Kalanidhi Maran. It was acquired from the India Today Group in January 2006. Besides other companies, NDTV also has a minority stake in Red FM.

Perfectly understanding what the journalist has sought from his FM station to accomplish for him, Jyoti Das explains how his team will change the quotes of Lord Krishna from Shrimad Bhagwad Gita to suit our agenda: “Quote ko hum log design kar denge language and all for the easy understanding of the people in a commercial way … wo quote basically kya hai ki quote hai jo hum logon ne simplify karke logon ko sunaya hai aur aap logon ko usmein highlight kiya hai (We will design the quote [its] language and all for the easy understanding of the people in a commercial way … what we will do is we will simplify the quotes for audiences to listen and we will highlight you people [Shrimad Bhagwat Gita Prachar Samiti] in that [commercial]).”

Have you done this kind of promotion, asks the journalist, of Jyoti Das. Replies Jyoti Das in these reassuring words: “Aisa kuch hum logon ne pehle kiya hai lekin aisa ashram ka ho wo bhi kar sakte hain. Matlab kuch bhi kiya hai kuch bhi event hai aap logon ka wo hum promote kar sakte hain lekin jo satire part hai usmein thoda hum logon ko workout karna padega (We have done this kind of job before. But we can do this ashram thing. I mean whatever you want … if you are doing an event, we can promote that as well. But we will have to work out the satire part).”

Fine but since our ashram gets a lot of donations, can you accept cash in part payment? Expressing his inability, Jyoti Das says: “Cash route out karne mein wo thoda issue hai (There is some issue with routing the cash out).” What if we route it through some third party? The journalist asks him again. There is no problem. Says Jyoti Das: “Haan wo ho jayega [Yes, that will be accepted] that [we] can do.”

After striking a deal with Jyoti Das, the journalist headed to Chandigarh to meet Amit Sharma, who is working as a sales head with Chandigarh Red FM. Putting his proposition across to Amit Sharma, Punjab Sales Head of Red FM, the journalist spells out his agenda: to make BJP a strong party in Punjab through such content as would make a pitch for Hindutva in the state. You have approached the right radio station claims Sharma: “Yahan pe toh bilkul we have 72 stations in all over Indiaaur yahan bhi hai toh I think we are No. 1 (Here, sure. We have 72 stations in [sic] all over India … since we are also here [in Punjab] so I think we are No. 1).” At this point the journalist tells him that he has already 30 jingles of his Hindutva campaign ready with him which are being played in Guwahati and Karnataka, Amit promptly agrees to run the campaign on his FM station, suggesting: “Wo toh aap mere ko ye send kar dena toh main isi pattern pe yahan Punjab ke liye bana doonga (You can send those jingles to me. I will recreate them on this pattern for Punjab).” So, would you do it in Punjabi or Hindi, the journalist asks. Replies a malleable Sharma: “Whatever you suggest … Hindi rakhein zyada better hota hai no doubt Punjabi bhi hai par Hindi sabko samajh mein aati hai (Whatever you suggest … it will be far better if we keep it in Hindi. Although Punjabi is spoken here, Hindi is understood by one and all).” Both agree to keep it a mix of Hindi and Punjabi.

That settled, the journalist now tells Sharma that the main objective is to promote Hindutva without offending anyone by packaging the content suitably. Agreeing, Sharma when the journalist asks suggests a slot between 5 and 7 in the morning for the broadcast of the campaign. We have pre-recorded content ready for broadcast, informs the journalist, which will contain Hindutva propaganda, and after the deal for Punjab is settled he would proceed for Jammu. Sharma is quick to tell the journalist that his radio station can cover Jammu as well: “Toh Jammu bhi zaroorat nahi hai aapko agar in case humara hota hai final Jammu we have station (Then, you need not go to Jammu in case the deal is final[ized] between us. We have a station at Jammu as well).”

After playing soft Hindutva to create an atmosphere, now the journalist tells him, he wants Red FM to get aggressive on Hindutva agenda and thrash BJP’s rival parties, such as Congress, Janata Dal, BSP and SP, as 2019 general elections come closer. Without blinking his eye, Sharma asks: “BJP ko chhod saari (You mean all parties except BJP)!” When I say Hindutva agenda, the journalist says, it means polarizing voters on communal lines as the Ram Temple movement did in the 1990s, and you have to give the content for insertion a garb of satire to thrash our rival parties.

Fully agreeing to do his bidding, Sharma says: “Wo cover up kar lete hain saari party ko beech mein le lete hain matlab wo as a channel kar lete hain ki usmein wo common rakhe (We will cover all that up to include all these parties … I mean as a channel we will keep all it as a common element [in all jingles]).” While I keep ready my bag full of money for you, the journalist tells him, you prepare a plan how your team goes about developing such content for me. Hire the best professional for the job, he is advised.

Asks an agreeable Sharma: “Haan toh basically ho gai na … ye toh beech-beech mein ye satire chalenge beech beech mein … ye programming jo aap keh rahe hain bhajan wo sab uske beech mein ye chalega mota mota ye hai hai … yeh hi keh rahe ho aap ke paanch se saath mein bhajan challenge Krishan bhagwan ke chal gaye kisi ke chal gaye uske beech beech mein hum aise satire marenge jo … (Yes, this is what you basically you want … so there will be satire in between the content … this kind of programming which you say will include satire … you are telling me that in between the bhajans of Lord Krishna we will have to run satire [mocking political rivals]).” Yes, you got it right. The content will be packaged in such a manner as shows the events of deaths of Kar Sevaks in police firing at Ayodhya and then the Godhra train fire to fan communal passions as a build-up to 2019 elections. Nowhere should Hindutva be diluted in our campaign, the journalist asserts. Sharma does not bat an eyelid while agreeing to such a proposition as he says. “Haan wo toh hai hee hai (Yes, that is there).”

His next stopover is Noida office of Red FM Delhi where he met Shiv Mangal. The assistant manager listens patiently to the journalist’s wish list. Shiv Mangal is told that the main objective of the campaign is to polarize Hindu votes in favour of the BJP in 2019 elections, without the RSS being mentioned anywhere. Meanwhile, the journalist has played out the Pappu jingle before him. He agrees to undertake the campaign: “Biluk ab jaise I have heard in this creative toh ismein RSS ka naam hai. RSS ka we cannot promote toh ye jo creative hai we can run (You are right. Now, for instance, I have heard in this creative piece. It does not have the name of RSS. We cannot promote RSS [as advised by you]. So, we can run this creative content).” Apart from running the campaign on their radio channel, Shiv Mangal promises that his radio station can also promote Hindutva on their Facebook page to reach out to a larger number of audiences.  He also promises to bring on board a particular pro-BJP radio jockey: “So we have our Red Fm India Facebook page and different RJs have their own different Facebook pages ... different fan following. So we can promote on our Red FM India page that is on pan-India but we cannot [bring on board] any RJ to promote because that page is their individual’s. If they like that post they can share but we cannot force. For example, Raunak is pro-BJP so he can share it [on] his will but if you talk about other RJs.”

If that is the case, we can do packaging of our campaign to play on a pan-India scale, says the journalist. At this point, Shiv Mangal says: “Haan haan bilkul but the script I have to check with my legal team ki kya rai hai kyonki bahut zyada endorsement (Yes, why not. But I have to check the script with my legal team because [we cannot do] direct endorsement of [a programme]).” But the next moment, he suggests a way out: “Kuchh cheejein word mein nahi lekin jab aap communicate karte ho toh saamne wale ko samajh aa jati hai, for example, ab ye Rahul bol rahe hain idhar se aaloo nikalega udhar se sona nikalega, for example, we will not use name Pappu but hum aloo aur sone par hee agar baat karein people get connected with that incident ki haan unhone bola tha aaloo jayega sona ayega (We don’t need to express some things in words. When you communicate, the audiences understand it. For example, now Rahul is saying ‘You put in potatoes at one end and you have gold coming out from the other end.’ For example, we will not use [his] name Pappu but if we create something talking of potatoes and gold, people [will] connect it with that incident that he had said ‘potatoes will go in and gold will come out’).”

Appreciating his point, the journalist asks him to find a way out to run the campaign so that both purposes are served: making public aware of our agenda and thrashing our rivals. Shiv Mangal reiterates what is being expected of this radio station: “Ek apna rahega Hindutva Bhagwad Gita kee packaging aur doosra rivals of bhi hum moderate way mein (One, we will have to do packaging of Hindutva through Bhagwad Gita and second thrash the rivals in a moderate way).” Why not do the second part using satire? Agrees Shiv Mangal: “Exactly haan bilkul (Exactly, yes sure).” Before the interview draws to a close, the journalist asks Shiv Mangal if his radio station has done such dirty job for any political outfit or even BJP. The Red FM manager informs us of his radio station’s past activities which only shows that the radio station has good grip not only over the political class but also over the election bureaucracy: “We have done during Uttar Pradesh election. We are doing in Gujarat election. So pan-India we have done in 2014 during election. At that time we was even official radio partner for Election Commission and we had done a campaign of button daba. You can search [it] on YouTube.”

The story at the Red FM Lucknow is no different, where the journalist met Sales Head Deepak Singh Bhandari. Sharma here too shares his agenda: to promote soft Hindutva through preaching of Gita and Lord Krishna under the banner of Shrimad Bhagwat Prachar Samiti, to create an atmosphere in favour of BJP through content that polarizes the electorate on communal lines in 2019 and finally to thrash political rivals like Congress Party, its president Rahul Gandhi, SP, BSP and Janata Dal. Bhandari has no problem with that agenda as he says: “Haan haan chahe koi bhee ho (Yes, yes, whichever party it may be).” So, asks the journalist, do you have any problem in working on these three agendas? Bhandari has none.

Rather, he is eager to ask: “Nahi nahi bilkul hee nahi toh kab se aap log plan kar rahe hain (No, no not at all … so when do you plan [to start the campaign).” Telling him that he will get back to him after discussing it with his team, the journalist asks him if his company will be comfortable to accept payment at a ratio of 60:40 cash. Apparently, what the journalist is referring to here is unaccounted cash. Bhandari does not have any problem with that either: “Nahi nahi wo ek baar baat kar lenge wo koi issue nahi hai usko ek baar check kar lenge (No, no. I will discuss it. That is not an issue at all. I will check it).”

Desperate to clinch the deal, Bhandari invites the journalist over to his office so that he can arrange a meeting with his seniors and the rest of the team. “Abhi aapko na Sir se bhi milwa dete hain aur Sir aap jo plan kar rahe hain radio par approx. kab tak start karne ka hai (Sir I want you to meet my Sir [senior] and Sir tell me approx[imately] when you want to start your campaign on radio).”

We can start any time, informs the journalist, and we have no dearth of money. Asks Bhandari: “Chalega jo humara on air jingles chalega ya creators chalega wo aap log bana kar denge ki hum log usko (Will we have to run on air jingles or creators … will you provide them or we will have to [create])?” Why not you create them in-house for us and we have no problem with budget. Bhandari replies: “Haan wo toh ho jayega (Yes, that will be done).”

As now you understand, the journalist tells him, that you have to thrash our rivals. Here the journalist uses a typical Hindi slang for thrashing: “Political rivals kee bajani hai.” His colleague Nidhi interjects to liken the Hindi phrase with their catch line Bajate Raho (Keep playing): “Humara bilkul aapse matching hai humara Red FM Bajate Raho (Our catch line Red FM Bajate Raho is matching with yours exactly).” She then proceeds to expound on the USP of Red FM: “Humara thoda sa tareeqa alag hai aur jaise radio channels kabhi unki programming sunenge toh humara tareeqa aur unka tareeqa alag hai … Hum choonki we are entertainment industry hum kisi ko bore toh nahi karenge sir humare creators bhi honge I think aapke hee jaisa humne banwaya hai ab toh aapko pareshan karna humara kaam hai ab aage bataate rahiyega ki kaise kya creation hi aur kya karna hai (Our method is somewhat different. If you listen to the programming of other radio channels, you will find our method different from theirs … since we are entertainment industry, we don’t bore anybody. Sir, we will employ creators. We have created something like yours … now we will disturb you time and again and [you] keep on guiding us what will be new creation and what we have to do).”

Before wrapping up his interview with the Red FM team at Lucknow, the journalist tells them that the campaign has to be run phase-wise and the content should be created keeping in mind that the stated agenda is not diluted. While inviting his prospective big-ticket client over to his office for a final meeting, Bhandari replies: “Acha teen mahine ka na hum proposal bana ke denge (Okay. We will submit you a proposal for three months).”

Bharat Samachar

Ashish Anand, Marketing and Sales Head; Brajesh Mishra, Editor-in-Chief and Owner, Bharat Samachar TV News Channel, Lucknow

A new kid on the block, Bharat Samachar TV was launched barely a year before by Brajesh Mishra, former editor-in-chief of ETV Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand. The channel broadcasts Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand-specific news and current affairs programmes. The channel telecasts its programmes from Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, with its bureaus in Varanasi, Allahabad, Kanpur, Meerut, Noida and Agra.

Here, Pushp Sharma met Marketing and Sales Head Ashish Anand who did not take much prodding to dance to his tune. As usual, he tells him that the first three months of his media campaign will focus on soft Hindutva by playing the preaching of Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna, appealing the electorate to support their religion. Then, after this initial phase, our campaign would shift gear to polarize the political scenario during election time so that our party is able to harvest political dividend out of the campaign. We hear Anand utter a crisp “Hoon.”

Finding him to be receptive of his agenda, the journalist now asks him to promote the speeches and events related to firebrand Hindutva leaders like Umar Bharati, Vinay Katiyar and Mohan Bhagwat on their digital platform. “Koi diqqat nahi hai unki jab bhi hogi na toh humare digital platform par wo show … upload ho jayega (There is no problem at all. Whenever there is an occasion that will be shown … uploaded on our digital platform),” assures the marketing head of Bharat Samachar TV. Telling him that he will give him a 28-minute long videos showing seven major events of Independent India, including the wars of 1965 and 1971, immolation bid by Rajiv Goswami in the wake of implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations in 1989, the Ayodhya movement, the fall of 13 day Vajpayee government, the Godhra riots in 2002 and finally the arrival of Modi on national scene, the journalist asks Anand to package the content in a manner that it does not look stark or overtly biased. Besides these 3 minute long videos we have jingles on Pappu and Behanji. You have to bash our rivals such as Pappu and Behanji and their parties Congress, BSP and SP by creating and playing such content as those jingles. Asking the client the journalist to send him those jingles on his WhatsApp, Anand dutifully keeps on noting down all the points of his clients agenda, nodding his head here and there.

After discussing all important points of his agenda with Anand, the journalist now told him that his ashram receives donations often in cash, they would like to part pay in cash. “Humm, cash,” says Anand in an accommodating manner. Telling the client that they have no problem to livestream the Ganga arati on their digital platform, Anand says: “Uma Bharati Didi aur Vinayji ka … Bhagwatji ka Kalyanji ka inka jo bhi hoga jab bhi kahin koi statement denge wo hum platform par apna laga denge (Whenever and wherever Uma Bharati, Vinayji [Katiyar], [Mohan] Bhagwat and Kalyanji [Kalyan Singh] have any programme or issue any statement we will carry that on our digital platform).” Anand thus agrees to give coverage to the visits or speeches of these four leaders. He goes on to ask: “Accha ismein aap humein jo TV par jo humein news ke format jaaye toh usmein aap humse kya chah rahe hain (Okay, tell me if you want all that content to run on TV in news format? What do you expect from us)?”

It is up to you to lend whatever support you can secure from your editorial department, he is told. “Jo support hum kar sakein (You mean whatever support we can lend you)?” says Anand while understanding what their client is looking for.

It was clear from this meeting with the marketing head of Bharat Samachar TV that the channel would be happy to lend editorial support to develop content according to our agenda, Pushp Sharma saw Anand again in his Lucknow office wherein Anand revealed that he has discussed the agenda with his boss who has agreed to run on his channel. Referring to his boss Brajesh Mishra, Anand now informs us: “Maine kal sab discussion kar liya tha unse bhai sahib se toh keh rahe the theek hai no problem wo hee wali baat humari aapki wali (I had done all discussion yesterday with him … [yes I mean] with Bhai sahib [Brajesh Mishra]. He said no problem the same way as I had told you).”

You tell me your boss was comfortable with my agenda, asks the journalist. “Haan comfortable the (Yes, he was comfortable),” replies Anand. He goes on to add: “Kal maine aapka sab suna tha … jingles wagaireh sab bahut zabardast tha (Yesterday I heard all … those jingles. That was really fantastic).” Yes this is how we will bash our rivals with love, the journalist says. There is no use of using foul language. Anand is all praise for the approach: “Tareeqa bhi wahi hai tareeqa yahi hai ismein koi if and but nahi hai (Yes that is the right method … this is the right method … there is no if and but there in it).” When the journalist informs him that such more jingles are ready to be run on FM radio which is a easier way to communicate, Anand informs us: “Haan nahi apan ka toh kya hai ek baar sab cheejein fix ho jayengi theek hai toh wo toh aapka arati toh hum kara hee denge … lekin jo aur jo cheejein aap humein bata rahe the na toh wo fir uss hisab se plan out karte rahenge … main concern toh ussi ka hai na (Yes, no. When all things are fixed, we will broadcast arati but all those things that you asked for we will plan out … that is your main concern).”

Sometime later, his boss Brajesh Mishra joins in the meeting. As the client the journalist tells him the deal will be finalized soon and it looks like he too is a supporter of the cause, Mishra leaves nothing to imagination: “Arre nahi poori madad karnege aapki aap jo bologe kara denge aisi koi baat nahi hai … hum bhi chahte hain cheejein theek rahein … iss samay jis tareh se chal raha hai desh ye desh ko zaroorat hai iss tareh se chalne kee kyon peechle hum log 15–20 saalon se dekh rahe the ki desh aur pradesh dono bahut dheela aur aniyantrit aur bikhra hua chal raha tha bikhra hua sabhi kshetra mien chahe wo aarthik ho chahe wo samajik ho rajneetik ho sabhi kshetra mein bikhra hua tha … ab kum se kum ek vichardhara kee cheejein chalengi desh mein aur ye rahni chahiye taaki inka jo vision hai desh ko kya positive de raha hai ye reflect hona chahiye (No, we will support you fully. Whatever you ask for I will get it done. There is no issue at all. I also want things to remain fine … the way our country is being run is what is needed because we have all been observing for the past 15–20 years that both the country and the state [Uttar Pradesh] were being run in a very loose, uncontrolled and scattered manner. Every aspect was scattered be it economic, social or political, everything was scattered. Now, things will run according to an ideology [Hindutva] and this should be sustained, and what their vision is and what positive they are giving to the country should be reflected).” What Mishra is saying is obvious: he is all there for promoting a single ideology, that is, Hindutva, and the present-day government both at centre and at the state.

The journalist tells Mishra it was simply a courtesy call. While Anand says, “Aur toh sab baat ho hee gai hai (And then everything has already been discussed [with Mishra]),” his boss expresses his thanks in these words: “Accha laga aapse milke … aur iske liye bahut shukriya (It was good to see you … many thanks).” At this point, their client the journalist raises the ad spend for their channel from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 3 crore. “Haan wo toh maine aapko bhej diya (I have sent you that [proposal]),” Anand informs. No, increase the budget to Rs. 3 crore, the journalist tells him. “Teen ka bhej de raha hoon (I will send you [the proposal] for Rs. 3 crore).” Affection is all what I am looking for from you, Sir, the journalist is effusive in his appreciation. Mishra reciprocates in the spirit of bonhomie: “Aapne toh mehsoos kar liya. Bahut accha laga aapse milke ([Hope]You have felt that [affection]. It was a great pleasure meeting you).” The rest of the things I shall settle with your colleague, the journalist tells him. “Haan … Aap aur ye jo nirnay kar lenge humein sweekar hai sab (yes, and whatever you and he [Anand] decide, I shall accept that),” Mishra assures their client.

As soon as this sweet and short meeting with the owner of Bharat Samachar is over, the journalist turns to Anand asking him if he had discussed his Hindutva agenda threadbare with his boss. “Bata diya tha … sab bata diya jitna bhi likha tha. Usmein koi ghalat nahi hai (I had told him … I had told him all what I had noted down. There is nothing wrong in that [agenda]),” replies Anand to reassure their client. That is great, the journalist tells him, and you can start bashing our rivals by this summer. He informs us further: “Haan wo bhi jingle wagaireh sab suna diye aapke ... haan (Yes, I have played those jingles to him as well … yes).” Have you also discussed with him about the payment in 60:40 cash? We will receive bill only against the amount which will be paid by cheque. The journalist tells him. Assures Anand: “Haan … wo nishchint rahiye (Yes … don’t worry about that).” Tell me where to drop the money, the journalist says, my man will deliver the same. “Wo koi diqqat nahi hai (There is no problem),” he hear him say. It is fine, says the journalist.

The next moment, Anand makes a revelation: “Hum in sab mamle mein bahut saksham hain bahut election nikaal diye (We all are quite capable in all such matters. We have seen through many elections [campaigns]).” We now know Team Bharat Samachar is an old hand and knows well all tricks of the trade. Before this revealing meeting with Anand comes to an end, the marketing head of the TV channel makes one more confession: “Aap agar ETV mein bhi baat karenge toh wo bhi kahenge wo he eek aadmi tha bas (If you approach ETV even those fellows will acknowledge that yes there was this man).”

Nothing could assure you more than statements such as these that Team Bharat Samachar will not abjure from any malicious agenda for two reasons: First, they swear by the ideology of Hindutva. Second, the deal will bring them a windfall helping them to laugh their way to the bank.

Big FM

Shalini, National Business Director, and Dhruti Vakil, Business Partner, Big FM Mumbai; Praveen Malhotra, Chief Business Officer, and Amit Choudhary, Sr. Business Partner (Retail and Delhi Govt.), Bharat Bhushan (Sales Business Partner), Big FM Delhi; Vikas Singh, Sr. Sales Manager Big FM, Hyderabad; Alston Glen Sequeira, Sr. Sales Account Manager, Big FM Manglore; Kunal Kamal, Group Head Corporate Sales, and Gaurav Malik, Account Manager (Sales), Big FM Chandigarh

FM broadcasting in India began 50 years ago in 1977 in Chennai, then Madras, and has now grown into an industry on its own with 72 FM functional radio stations across major metro cities such as Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kanpur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune and Surat. The industry is expected to be worth Rs. 33390 cr in 2019 and more than 200 cities will be hooked to FM radio in the next five years. Its growing popularity can be gauged by the fact that more than 64 per cent Indians listen to FM radio.

Now, the question is: When both print and electronic media have allowed themselves to become a tool in an agenda-driven age of journalism, can radio be far behind in serving paid content that may eat into the democratic values of the country?

It did not take much effort on part of Pushp Sharma to discover that FM radio companies were as eager to work on his malicious agenda as other media platforms. One such FM radio company is 92.7 Big FM. With a catchy tagline Suno Sunao Life Banao, Big FM is owned by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Broadcast Network. The radio station covers 45 cities and enjoys almost 20 percent market share. Last year, Zee Media bought 49 shares in the company. Like their partner Zee Media, Big FM personnel also wear their loyalty to the BJP on their sleeves, as one of its senior officials in Delhi confessed to him: “Waise bhi Reliance BJP ka supporter hee hai (Anyway, Reliance is always a supporter of the BJP).”

Sharma met National Business Director Shalini and her colleague Dhruti Vakil at their Mumbai office. Briefing them on his agenda, the senior journalist tells them that for winning elections and capturing power it is necessary to bash rivals by creating and running content, using their nicknames. Our main rivals are the leaders of the Congress, the BSP and SP. We will take care of your business interest and in return you will have to run our agenda on your radio station. “Theek hai (It is fine), and when are we gonna start this,” asks Shalini without blinking an eye. The client the journalist tells her that he is in the process of screening media houses and he will get back to her after discussing it with his chartered accountant. Seeking to know how many ads the client wants to be aired in a day, Shalini says: “Main aapko na ek accha sa package bana ke deti hoon (I shall make a very good package for you).”

But what we need the most from your team including your radio jockeys is emotional connect with our agenda. Shalini seeks some time to figure out how they can work on the agenda: “Give me some time pehle let me find out feasibility of these kinds of ads kya hota hai kya nahi … give me a day’s time. Dhruti will work on the proposal (Give me some time. First, let me find out feasibility of these kinds of ads, what is done, what is not … give me a day’s time. Dhruti will work on the proposal).”

You see, the first phase of our campaign will consist of soft Hindutva, the journalist tells them. The second phase will be semi-political and in the third when our opponents will play minority card we would also work to polarize the election scenario to make political dividends out of it. So, for the first phase we will talk of Lord Krishna and Bhagwad Gita preaching, drawing quotes from the holy text. “Ye creative aap bana ke doge (So, you will make these creatives for us)?” asks Shalini. Yes. The journalist names a certain fellow from Nagpur who will do the job. Shalini offers to get them done by her team: “We can also make some [creatives]. That’s not a problem.” Oh, yes, go ahead, she is told. It is always better if you make them in-house. “Haan aap humein brief de dijiye hum bana denge (Yes, you give us a brief and we will make them accordingly).”

You see, we are looking for a long association with Big FM, the journalist tells her. So, ensure that this operation is not blown off. In other words, you have to maintain secrecy. “Thik hai (It is fine),” assures Shalini. The first three months will help create a religious atmosphere in the country. In the second phase, you will have to promote firebrand Hindutva leaders. In the third, you have to bash our rivals, for instance, Pappu, using satire. Perfectly understanding what is expected of her team, Shalini replies: “So sir we do something call this ‘Actor Calling Actor’. These are, you know, satire capsules [caricaturing] Farhan Akhtar and uske (his) father … So we can work on something like that.”

“Actor Calling Actor” is a popular spoof on Big FM in which the characters mimic the voices of noted Bollywood actor Farhan Akhtar and his well-known lyricist father Javed Akhtar. Shalini gets the go ahead straightaway.   

Before the interview draws to a close, the journalist asks them if the core objective of the campaign is clear to them. “Yeah,” replies Shalini with certainty. Tell me if you have any problem with my agenda, for instance, the promotion of Hindutva leaders, the journalist asks again. Says Shalini: “First what we will do is theek hai [it is fine]. Just give me some time. I will get back to you.” So, what about digital promotion of our agenda? “Digital mein toh poochhna padega. You know … hum apne page par we normally don’t encourage that. So I have to check and come back to you (I will have to ask for digital. You know … on our [FB] page, we normally don’t encourage that. So I have to check and come back to you),” Shalini tells us. To tell us that she has fully understood the agenda, she goes on to add: “Third thing was what are very aggressive ad … campaign. So that is much later. So that can be discussed only at that point of time.” Talking of the first, simple phase, Shalini is ready to go: “So we can start immediately. This is not a problem.”

Coming to the agenda of bashing political rivals, she says: “So we have [to] basically write something humorous.” Yes, you got it right, using satire, she is told. “Witty stuff on, you know, netaji ye karte hain wo karte hain (The leaders do this and that) and then they will come up with nicer thing also,” she further says. Shalini has understood how the content on political bashing has to be created by her team.

After getting the Big FM Mumbai team on board his agenda, Pushp Sharma visited Big FM Delhi office in Okhla. Here he met Senior Business Partner (Retail and Delhi Govt.) Amit Choudhary and Sales Business Partner Bharat Bhushan. After discussing the agenda in detail, leaving nothing, with both, the journalist asks them if there is someone called Elston with Big FM Mangalore. Sensing that their prospective client is tapping other Big FM stations for his media campaign, Bharat Bhushan offers: “We will do it centralized for you because agar itne bade campaign kee hum baat karein toh ek particular point of contact aapke liye throughout the country hona chahiye. So that who can take care of the entire jitni bhi cities hain because as humare paas toh 60 cities hain but aapka ek point of contact hoga toh aapke liye bhi bahut aasani hogi (We will do it centralized for you because if we are talking of so big a [media] campaign then there should be a particular point of contact for you throughout the country, so that who [sic] can take care of the entire, all the cities we have because as we have 60 cities, but if there is one single point of contact it will be easier for you also to handle).”

As the discussion on the deal moves on, their client tells them that although the agenda has been dictated from Nagpur, only Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti has to be shown as the sponsor of the campaign. Telling us that the payments have to be made in advance, Chaudhary explains us finer points of the deal: “Sir dekhiye har jageh ka na jo rate hai wo because political ke liye rate aur normal ke dono ke rate mein difference hai. Political rate jahan bhi aapka jo bhi hota hai political rate thoda high hota hai. Usmein do conditions hoti hain. Pehla aapka jo ad hai review hota hai humare editorial department se whether we can do it or not. Second, jitna bhi aap decide karenge jo humare beech mein jo  bhi discussion hoga finalization hoga, it will be in advance chahe wo BJP ho, Congress ho jo  bhi political party ka hota hai wo advance hota hai. Third ki ismein jingle humein banaane hain ya aapko banana hai har ek station ka apna alag rate hai (You see the rates for every station are … because there is a difference in the rates for political ads compared to the normal ads. Rates for political ads are always high. Now, there are two conditions. First, the ad will be reviewed by editorial department whether we can do it or not. Second, whatever you decide, whatever discussion we will have for finalization, it will be in advance. Be it BJP, be it the Congress or any other political party, payment will be in advance. The third point is if you make the jingles [it is fine with us, but] if we are supposed to make them, then the rate for this service also differs according to the station).”

Shouldn’t a company like theirs remain neutral?

Waise bhi Reliance BJP ka supporter hee hai (Anyway, Reliance is always a supporter of the BJP),” Choudhary thus reveals where the loyalties of their employer lies.

However, the first condition did not find any mention in our second meeting where the journalist met Chief Business Officer Praveen Malhotra and Amit Choudhary in a Delhi hotel. Rather both were eager to clinch the deal.

Now we know their client, that is, the journalist has already met her colleague and has discussed his agenda thread bare. Praveen has been briefed by her colleague. So, while discussing his agenda again with her, the journalist tells them that his organization is flush with money, but in no case should Nagpur come in the picture. Assures Praveen: “No, no, that will be [taken care of].”

The journalist tells her that he has already made everything transparent in his earlier meeting with her colleague. Turning to her colleague, she asks: “What is the kind of … have you checked with legal?” We hear Amit Chaudhary say: “Yes Ma’am, they are okay.” Now turning to the client the journalist, she asks: “So you would like to spend on pockets or all India?” Pan-India, she is told. “So you are preparing for general election?” she again asks. Yes, this is exactly what we are aiming our campaign at.

Telling her that in no way should the Hindutva agenda be toned down, the journalist asks if they can make creatives in-house, and we will not mind paying extra. Yes they can be made by her team: “We can make it agar aapke paas koi particular hai … (We can make it if you have some particular …).” You mean you will hire an agency? No, the creatives will be made in-house: “Agency nahi Sir. Wo hum creative toh khud hee bana lenge copywriting bhi kar lenge (No Sir, no agency. We will make those creatives by ourselves and we will also do copywriting).” Then, she goes on to ask: “I just saw a whole speech of Modiji which he has given somewhere, where he is saying my ideology, and only picking up one shloka and saying this is my ideology … Toh hum iss tareeqe ka bana sakte hain (So, we can make the creative that way).” She finally says she herself will choose some shlokas from the Gita to make creative in a nice way.

That settled, Praveen now asks: “Budget kitna hoga aapka (How much budget you have).” You can ask for as much as you want, she is told. At this point, her colleague tells her: “Sir ka sirf condition hai ki kisi bhi competition ke ad nahi honi chahiye (Sir [the client] has a condition. There has to be no ad [of other political parties] in competition).” Praveen asks the journalist: “Toh kisi other political party ka ad nahi chalani hai (So, [you mean] we would not have to run ads of other political parties).” Yes, we want to keep it exclusive, she is told.

As the client has told them the main focus of the campaign is Karnataka, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where state assembly elections are due, Team Big FM says that they have a strong presence in the entire North and Northeast including Kolkata, Asansol, Guwahati and Aswal and seeks the entire campaign to be run and monitored from Big FM Delhi only. When the client the journalist tells them one Mr. Enston from Big FM Mangalore is in touch with him, Praveen asks for a favour: “Aap aisa kariye na sab centralize kar deejiye wo humare liye bhi sahi ho jayega (Why not centralize the whole campaign. That will be good for us also).” You mean, the entire campaign should be run from here? “Haan kyonki hum poora volume bhi dekh lenge (Yes, because we will be able to see the entire volume [of ad traffic] through),” replies Praveen. The entire Big FM Delhi team is pitching for a centralized deal, and the reason for their eagerness is obvious.

Pushp Sharma headed to Hyderabad where he met Sr. Sales Manager Vikas Singh, who has no qualms in providing our communal and defamatory agenda a platform on Big FM radio. Vikas tells us that he would assign the task of presenting our Hindutva campaign to their best RJ, Shekhar Basha, who has won the IRF award, a la IIFA, many times. Basha runs a popular morning show “Salam Telangana” on Big FM. “Only thing, he has to say in a such a way that Hindutva … this has been also like Shrimad Bhagwat Prachar Samiti also has been covered … we have our own property toh abhi koi association usmein nahi tha. He only says Hyderabad mein ye hone wala hai … ye hone wala hai … ye hone wala hai ([The] Only thing, he has to say [it] in a such a way that Hindutva … this has been also like Shrimad Bhagwat Prachar Samiti also has been covered … we have our own property but there was no association. He only says in Hyderabad, this is going to happen, this is going to happen, this is going to happen).”

Then, we will be happy to sponsor the programme, the journalist offers.

The offer is like music to his ears as he says: “We can … we can ... you people want to get sponsorship for this project morning show?” Yes, why not. Offering his station a budget of Rs. 1.5 crore for this sponsorship, the journalist places a condition: no rivals of ours should get time during that entire slot. None of their ads should run on this programme. “Got it. It will be exclusive,” agrees Vikas.

After arriving at this understanding with “Okay theek hai sir (Okay, it is fine Sir),” Vikas explains how they will fit in our agenda in their programme: “Haan ismein hum log kar sakte hain morning wala toh ek spot mujhe samajh mein aya ki usmein kahan isko kahan fit kar sakte hain. Uske baad another ye 10 hour jo peek timings hain where exactly we can fit you also we can find out timings, not a problem for us (Yes, we can do it in this morning show. So, I understand where we can fit in this [your agenda] in that programme. Then we have another … peak timing at 10 hour where exactly we can fit you also. We can find out timings, not a problem for us).”

What can you offer us on your digital platform? The journalist asks him. They have pages on Facebook and Twitter, we are told, which are linked to their jockeys. You see, the journalist tells him, our supreme leader gives live programmes on such Hindu festivals as Dusshera, Diwali and Holi. So, what about giving his programmes live coverage on your social media platforms? “Theek hai (It is fine),” we hear him say.

Sharma’s next port of call was Big FM Mangalore where he met Sr. Sales Account Manager Alston Glen Sequeira. At the outset, the journalist makes his agenda clear: First, the promotion of Hindutva and second, bashing of political rivals through their radio station. While Sequeira responds with a “Haan (Yes)” or “Ji haan (Ji, yes)” intermittently to the proposition, the journalist asks him to suggest some innovative ways to accomplish the job of bashing political rivals. Our objective is to take political mileage out of this campaign.

Well, Sequeira has got it well as he explains how it would be done on his radio station: “See means abhi kya hai ki agenda aapka bahut clear hai. We will have to highlight the positive points. It can be close FCT ho sakte hain, RJ mention ho sakte hain ya hum jaakar (See, [it] means your agenda is quite clear. We will have to highlight the positive points. It can be close FCT or in the form of RJ mention).”

Why not use political satire?

Agreeing, Sequeira says: “Haan aisa something purely. We will only talk about positive, for example, spots jaise humara Modiji ka jaise how their marketing strategy went, positive impact, positive impact wahi ismein. We will have to talk about positive, for example, let’s take Mangalore. Abhi Mangalore mein kya accha (Yes, something purely like that. We will only talk about positive, for example, spots, for instance, of Modiji. How their marketing strategy went, [its] positive impact, the positive impact which it had. We will have to talk about positive, for example, let’s take Mangalore. Now what is good about Mangalore).”

Sequeira moves on to explain further: “What all good things they have been done … sirf wo point lekar localize karke wo point mein FCT run hona hai fix commercial spot wo 20 second ho sakte hain it can be 30 second wo kar sakte hain (What all good things they have been done [sic]. Taking those points only FCT will run, fix commercial spot, which can be of 20 seconds or it can be 30 seconds. We can do that).” The journalist now tells him that he would like to buy the complete time slot of Big FM so that none of our political rivals could find space to advertise on their radio station. The second important point to be taken care of is bashing of our political rivals. Now, tell me how your station will go about doing this for us.

Kar sakte hain FCT wo spot jo rehta hai (We can do that. There is that FCT spot),” replies Sequeira with promptness. Can you do that using FCT? The journalist asks him again. Then he tells how it will be done: “Wo aapko kaise hota hai. You can have the positive spot. Aapke positive ke baare mein aapne jo accha kiya hai. There you can go for the shoot karne ke liye unhone jo galati kiya hai wahan par aap highlight kar sakte ho so your spots throughout the day can have multiple wo kaam humara hai. Humko content dena hai, humko production karke karna hai (How can it be done? You can have the positive spot. This positive spot will tell all good things you have done. There you can go for the shoot those wrong doings they [your rivals] might have done. You can highlight those [wrongdoings] in that spot. So your spots throughout the day can have multiple … that is our job. You provide us the content, we have to complement it with the production of [the programme]).”

Have you done anything like this before? The journalist asks him. Yes, they have done, we come to know. They will do it by creating hype around our agenda. Giving example of a politician from Mangalore, Ramanatha Rai, he explains how they did it for him in the last elections: “Toh humne kaise package kiya tha (So, how did we package it)? We did FCT spots throughout from morning. Ramanatha Rai, Ramanatha Rai CM is coming Ramanatha Rai.”

You mean you will create hype? Asks the journalist. Yes, and they will do it for us as well. “Yes, just hyping Ramantha Rai. It’s like that. Same yahan karenge ye plan jaisa lagega agar plan … we will do it as a plan (Yes, just hyping Ramantha Rai. It’s like that. We will do the same for you as well. It depends how this plan goes with you … we will do it as a plan),” says Sequeira.    

In the same breath, the senior sales account manager goes on to explain how RJ mentions will be used for our agenda. Hear what he is saying: “So what we can have one is commercial time that is just the spot which keep going throughout the day. We can have RJ mentions. RJ mentions means RJ jab baat karta hai sadak pe kuchh main uss taraf se jaa raha tha sadak bahut kharab ho raha tha jaise main humaare minister aap logon mein se kisi ne bola hum toh aakar help karke ye sab kiya. That will be paid RJ mentions. So RJ exclusively (So what we can have one is commercial time that is just the spot which keeps going [on] throughout the day. We can have RJ mentions. RJ mentions means when RJ says ʻHe was walking on a particular street, the road there was in a very bad shape. So I spoke to our minister or you [audience] did so. The minister helped in this regard. He did all this.ʼ That will be paid RJ mentions. So, RJ exclusively).”

Who is bothered if that was done by the minister or not? The journalist interjects. Replies the senior manager: “Wo humko nahi jaise aap phone kiye kaun kisne shuru kiya tha inki wajah se yeh hua tha. So these all things will be highlighted and RJ will mention about it (We are not concerned with that. For instance, you called over phone to ask who started it. We will say it happened because of this fellow. So these all things will be highlighted and RJ will mention about it).”

What Sequeira is telling us is how RJs run their programme, simply taking their listeners for a ride. Then, RJ mentions can be bought by any client, as the politician did. This is how Big FM peddles paid content to mislead the audiences!  

Before wrapping up the interview, the journalist tells him that his campaign should be run aggressively on their radio station. Sequeira is quick to offer: “Idea bahut saare hain Sir aapko ideas dene ke liye bahut saare hain I have lot of like wo bolte hain na mera poora radio jitna saal mein rakha tha idea sab dene ke liye. Road block jaise bolte hain road block kuch nahi subah se shaam sirf aapka naam chalta rahega Sir … RJ shuru karega aapke naam se end karega poore din (I have many ideas. I have many ideas to give you. I have [a] lot of [ideas] like I have ideas to give the whole year round. There is nothing like a roadblock. Sir, every morning and evening your name will run on our radio … The RJ will start the day with your name and end it with it only).”

Gaurav Malik, who works as Account Manager (Sales) with Big FM Chandigarh, gave a warm reception to the journalist when he heard his proposition. As their discussion on the agenda runs smoothly, Malik seeks to know: “Hindutva ka agenda jo pehle three months rahega (The Hindutva agenda which will be played out for the first three months).” Yes, you got it right, and after that the agenda moves to polarization of the political scenario. This polarization will help us consolidate Hindu votes in Punjab to our benefit. Now, tell me you have something to offer on digital, the journalist asks. Yes, we do, says Malik: “Digital karte hain hum … aap ek baar likhwa dijiye kya kar sakte hain kya nahi kar sakte wo ek baar fir dekh lenge (Yes we do digital promotion … let me note it down [what you want] and then we will see what we can do and what not).”

You see there is our supreme leader, the journalist tells him. Then there are leaders like Uma Bharati, Vinay Katiyar and Kalyan Singh, and when people see them our Hindutva agenda remains alive. So, promote their speeches on YouTube and other social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This will help further our Hindutva agenda. “Nahi nahi, I understand. Dekh lete hain Sir ek baar koshish karke digital ka dekh lenge ki kya karna hai digital mein bahut critical ho jata hai (No, no. I understand [what you are telling me]. Let us see Sir, let us try on digital and see what we can do about it. [But] It becomes very critical on digital),” Malik raises a red flag on the digital promotion of Hindutva. For instance, the audiences become very abusive on the medium. Explaining such pitfalls, he says: “It has to be very modest .... We can’t write anything which is controversial.”

So, in this case, we are left with only FCT?

Agrees Malik to say: “Yeah primarily because FCT mein what I will tell you … (Yeah primarily because in FCT I will tell you …).” So, what about thrashing our political rivals like Behanji and Pappu? Malik suggests how best this could be done: “And it has to be usko ek that humor angle can be there (And it has to be … that humor angle can be there).” Fine, all our rivals such as the Congress, the BSP, the SP and JD have to be the target of this bashing, the journalist makes it clear to him again. All things thus discussed, both parties settle for starting the first test and trial phase. Says Malik: “Main ek baar aapko na ek baar unke saath baithte hain aur ye banwa ke dete hain jo doubt honge we will make them speak to you (I will seek a meeting with them and make this proposal for you. If they have any doubts we will make them speak to you).”

The interview thus comes to an end with Malik telling his client the journalist that it is Big FM which provides a far superior coverage as their station covers Jalandhar, Amritsar, Patiala, Ludhiana and Shimla.


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!

Star India

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 Presdient (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.

Swaraj Express

Rajan Sharma, GM (Marketing) Swaraj Express News Channel, Madhya Pradesh

Claiming to have the largest viewership in Madhya pradesh and Chhattisgarh, hardly pegged at 1.4 percent across 24´7 news channels, not much information about Swaraj Express news channel is available in public domain except another claim on its web portal that its web site is most viewed among the lot. Whatever scant information to make do with, the channel also claims to be always on the side of Truth and Time; however, barely few seconds into his interview with Sharma, General Manager Rajan Sharma made it amply clear that the channel had hardly anything to do with Truth. Interestingly, while Rajan claimed where his loyalties lay, that is, Hindutva, he not only agreed to run the stated agenda but also agreed to run a malicious campaign against news portals, an outrageous proposition, such as, the Scroll, The Wire and Cobrapost, particularly hit at Aniruddh Bahal.

The bonhomie between the journalist and the general manager sets in at the outset. So, when the journalist seeks editorial support for his agenda, Rajan assures their client in these words: “Baaki ke jo editorial kee baat hai wo jaisa kyonki hum log ek toh aarthik roop se jude hain arthik zyada hota hai ki manasik aur vaicharik roop se zyada jude … toh usase zyada toh usmein toh aapko kisi bhi tareh kee koi chinta ya kisi tareh ka sandeh ya kisi bhi tareh kee koi zaroorat hee nahi hai aapko sirf ek ishara karna hai poori tareh bolni bhi nahi hai baat hum samajh jayenge wo chalega poora (Now, as far as editorial [support] is concerned, since we are associated [with your agenda] mentally and ideologically more than financially, so you need not to worry or have any doubts [about our commitment]. You have to simply suggest us, there is no need for you tell us in detail, and we would understand [what you want] and run the same fully).”

That assured, the journalist now asks Rajan to note down, not in a notepad, but on his mobile all what he is going to demand. Telling him that the party has not yet overcome from its defeat in Uttar Pradesh in recently held parliamentary by-election, the journalist says that Maneka Gandhi has chief ministerial ambition for her son Varun Gandhi. It was high time both mother and son were fixed. While the channel should run stories against Maneka, he demands, they should telecast the sex CD of her son Varun, whenever there is a command from Nagpur to do so. Agreeing promptly, Rajan says: “Haan haan bilkul … haan haan wo toh khabar hoti hai khabar toh kabhi bhi chalayi jaa sakti hai (Yes, yes. Sure … yes yes. That is news and news can be run anytime any day).” The only thing required is you must have the “material” ready with you. Portray the farmers’ movement, the journalist demands next, as something connected to the Maoists. You see farmers of this country are very innocent and ignorant. They don’t know anything about the government policies. So, how they were able to organize such a big movement if they are not being helped by the Maoists? Congress too may have a hand in instigating them against the government.

Agreeing to what is being proposed, Rajan says: “Haan sahi baat jaise abhi wo march hua tha toh usmein jo poora calculation hai ki aarthik roop se itni funding hui kahan se kaise pahunchate hain jo bechare aarthik roop se itne safal nahi hain unke paas itna aarthik … (Yes, you are right. For instance, there was this march [to Mumbai]. There is a complete calculation about from where did it receive so much funding … [yes] how they reached Mumbai when they are economically not so successful …).”

See if the Congress party has a hand in it, you should highlight that and if they have a Maoist connection bring it to light, he is told.

While replying with a “Hoon” on Congress support, he surmises that it is not possible to organize such a huge movement without Maoists help. Listen to what he says: “Nahi uske bina toh Acharyaji sambhav nahi hai itna bada … itna bada sangathit roop se itna bada koi bhi andolan karna … sambhav nahi hai (No it is not possible without their [Maoists support] Acharyaji … it is not possible to organize such a huge movement).”

When we have channels like Swaraj Express, no wonder if the agitating poor farmers were branded as Maoists by some sections of national media!

Now, there is a bizarre twist in the tail. The journalist now says that there are certain web news portals which run stories which are not to the liking of the present dispensation. Naming the Scroll, the Wire and Cobrapost, their client the journalist asks him to damage all these muckrakers. Rajan is happy to undertake this outrageous assignment on behalf of his client, saying: “Iska hum plan bana ke dete hain (I will submit you a plan for this).” See if you can buy all three portals, suggests the journalist, we will fund the buyout. By taking them over we can destroy them. Our friend is ready to do that as well: “Uska main aapko ek plan banakar ke main aapko deta hoon next meeting mein jab baithenge … toh us pe fir jaisa aapka aadesh hoga uske baad ke plan banata hoon unke liye … haan haan samajh gaya main poora samajh gaya (Let me make a plan for this and submit it to you and when we sit in the next meeting … whatever you will ask us to do. So let me make a plan for them … yes, yes, I got it. I got it).”

He is so confident about accomplishing this task so as to say: “Cobrapost manage ho jayega Wire ke saath thodi diqqat ki funding bhi ab dheere dheere doosri jagah se aa rahi hai ab … Cobra kee nahi hai Cobra manageable hai wo ek plan banate hain dheere dheere jaise aage barhenge jaise fir aapka nirdesh hoga nirdesh ke anusaar usko aage barhayenge (Cobrapost will be managed. But the Wire may be problematic as they have started getting funding [for their operations] … Cobra does not get funding, so Cobra is manageable. Let us make a plan for that. We will take it forward gradually according to your instructions).”

Have you ever thought why Jaitley’s daughter has been appointed by Indian Hockey Association? Why Lalit Modi was allowed to leave the country?

Toh inmein toh hum Acharyaji dushmano ka istemaal kar lete hain aap document humein provide kara dena Wire Cobra inko pehle chalwate hain fir uske baad (So, Acharyaji let us take on the enemies. Provide us documents on the Wire and Cobra, we will run the stories and then …),” Rajan tries to duck the issue. However, the journalist turns his attention to Jaitley again. You see Sangathan can issue commands to run stories against anybody even if it is Jaitley and you will have to do that. Rajan is quick to come around as he says: “Acharyaji humara uddeshya hai ji humara mukhya udeshya uss uddeshya tak pahunchna hai jaise aapne bataya (Acharyaji, as you said, our main objective is to accomplish that objective [Hindutva]).” Apart from Jaitley and Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun, you have to take on Manoj Sinha who is nurturing ambitions of becoming UP CM. We hear Rajan say: “Hoon, hoon, hoon.” Rajan is alive to the political developments in Uttar Pradesh where Kairana by-election for a parliament seat is due, after BJP Hukum Singh died last year, as he says: “Hukum Singh wali seat wahan pe bhi poora ek golbandi kee … zabardast zaroorat hai (In that [parliamentary] seat of Hukum Singh, there is a strong need we need of mobilizing).” Yes you are right, the journalist tells him. You need to polarize the electorate around Hindutva. “Haan Pashchimi Uttar Pradesh ka maamla hai otherwise … (Yes, this pertains to Western Uttar Pradesh. Otherwise …).”

Although the Aadhar scheme has become too much invasive and troublesome for the common man, where even a dead person is being asked to furnish his or her Aadhar card to get cremation rights by government agencies concerned, the journalist tells him, you should run stories favouring the scheme. Defending the scheme as being in the interest of the country, Rajan agrees: “Theek hai (It is fine).”

Turning to his old wish list again, the journalist asks Rajan to run those audio tapes where Maneka Gandhi has been caught using foul language. Rajan is prompt to agree: “Wo humein provide karaiye material aur baaki toh khabarein chalai jaa sakti hain material aake toh khabarein kabhi bhi chal sakti hain … usmein koi diqqat nahi hai (Provide us such material. When we have the material, we can certainly run the stories any time… there is no problem in it).”

After reassuring us on almost on every count, Rajan explains where his ideological commitment lies and why should the client not worry even a bit with regard to his agenda. Listen to what Rajan says: “Toh Acharyaji aap humari taraf se bilkul bhi halka saa bhi ye channel aapka hai … vaicharik roop se toh hum aapke hain hee hain (So, Acharyaji you need [not worry] from our side even a bit. This channel belongs to you … ideologically we are yours).” His colleague also assures their client the journalist in these words: “Sir seedhi see baat hai channel apne ghar ka hai channel humara hai khatm kahani (Sir, it is as simple as that the channel belongs to you. Channel belongs to all of us. That is all).” I am sure you will then run our agenda with full gusto, the journalist asks them again. “Haan haan bilkul ekdum bindaas bol ke (Yes, yes. Sure it will be done openly),” assures Rajan’s colleague, again, who now asks: “Toh ismein abhi kaise rahega cash bhi rahega (So how it [payment] would be like. Would there be cash component)?” Yes, Rs. 80 lakh would be paid by cheque. The deal has been settled for Rs. 1.80 crore, actually.

This is how the Truth of the Swaraj Express news channel revealed itself on us in all its gray shades.

K News

Anurag Aggarwal, Chairman, K News, Kanpur

There is not much information available on K News, a regional channel operating out of Kanpur, with bureaus in Noida, Lucknow and Dehradun. The channel was started in 2015 by five promoters and Anurag Aggarwal is one of them. As the journalist began to brief Aggarwal of his Hindutva agenda and how the first three months will be a phase of test and trial for which his Sangathan has set aside a budget of Rs. 1.50 crore for their channel, which in fact is a regional channel, Aggarwal is prompt to say: “Bahut see cheejein hain Sir, agar aap advance karna chahe toh koi kami nahi hai (There are many things [we can do for you] Sir. If you can pay us in advance, we will leave nothing to be desired).”

It is fine with us, the journalist tells him. So, now let us discuss things in detail.

Creative team bahut strong hai Sir, matlab they are professionals (Our creative team is very strong Sir. I mean they are professional),” his colleague informs us equally promptly to assure us that creation of content will be taken care of by them. Aggarwal moves on to tell us how the ‘K Darshan’ programme on his channel can promote live Ganga aarati and such programmes from Gorakhnath temple. ‘K Darshan’ picks a Hindu temple at a time and describes its features, we are told.  

You mean, the journalist asks, you can package Hindutva this way. Agrees Aggarwal: “Wo cheejein kee jaa sakti hain poori team hai poori working hai (Yes, we can do all those things. We have a fully working team).” He then tells us that his channel came into being in 2013 and they have a digital platform as well. You see, we are targeting our media campaign basically for 2019 elections, the journalist tells him the purpose this whole exercise. After the first phase, we will take this deal to a higher level, and lock it for a period of one year.

Sensing a big, long-term business opportunity for his channel, Aggarwal is ready to peddle his client’s ideology in no uncertain words: “Hum logon ke saath bhi koi ideology  judti hai toh hum log bhi usko bada plan mein kar sakte hain dekhiye humare paas mein limited resources hain toh hum log limited chal rahe hain jab humare paas aisi sang mein backing aati hai toh hum usko expand bhi kar sakte hain humare liye expansion bahut bada wo nahi hai (If an ideology [like yours] is going to be associated with us, we can plan it in a big way. You see, we have limited resources. So, we are working in a limited way. When we will have this kind of backing, then we can expand accordingly. Expansion for us is not an issue).” Aggarwal is pinning high hopes!

Asking him to prepare a proposal to one of his co-pracharaks, the journalist tells Aggarwal that the entire business will be routed a third party. “Koi diqqat nahi (There is no problem),” Aggarwal is prompt to accept this bizarre demand. This is because, the journalist now explains the reason to him, we don’t want our relationship with this campaign to be established. “Nahi uske baad fir hum bhi aapko help nahi kar payenge. Jaise hee ye cheej khulti hai direct intake ho raha hai toh logon ka jo perception hai wo khatm ho jaata hai unko ye lagta hai unhi ka ho gaya hai (No, after that we too won’t be able to help you. As soon as such association comes to light that there is direct intake [of content and funds], the perception [you built so about yourself] among the people simply disappears and they begin to see you as belonging to them),” says Aggarwal concurring, He knows the pitfalls of this kind of agenda-driven journalism, as the first casualty of such practice is credibility.

That settled, the journalist now tells him that after the initial phase of religious promotion, the campaign will move on to the semi-political and from semi-political to aggressive Hindutva. Aggarwal is prompt to commit again: “Dekhiye humara funda clear hai agar aapse humara koi cheej associate hoti hai toh hum ek hee jageh stand lenge humara ye nahi ke idhar bhi ball khelenge aur udhar bhi ball khelenge aur pehla toh dharm ke prati hota hai koi bhi vyakti nikalta hai toh dharm ke prati hota hai (You see, I have a clear funda. If we are associating with you on any issue, then we will take a stand on that issue only. We will never play ball with other parties. Our first duty is our religion).” Coming to the digital promotion, which is an essential part of the campaign, the journalist now tells him that visits and speeches of firebrand Hindutva leaders like Mohan Bhagwat, Uma Bharati and Vinay Katiyar need to be promoted by uploading suitable content in the form of videos. “Wo ho jayega (That will be done),” we hear Aggarwal assure us. In the next phase, we would like our rivals the Congress, the BSP and the SP to be thrashed by creating humorous or funny content on their leaders the way “So Sorry” is done, both on your channel and on your web site. Then, we would like to book the entire free commercial time with your channel, as we would not like any other political party to have access to your air time. Agrees Aggarwal: “Haan, bilkul ismein koi burai nahi hai (Yes, there is nothing bad in doing so).”

Referring to election 2019, the journalist tells him that this is a war which comes on us once in five years. Assuring the client of his support, Aggarwal says: “Waise bhi aap dekh lijiye aapke saath koi khada hai toh aapko bhi lagta hai ki nahi muje bhi uske saath khada hona hai … toh fir apne saath ka banda hai ek hee cheej par chal rahe hain hain ek hee taraf hain humara ek hee direction hai aur ek hee soch hai (Anyway when you see somebody is standing by you, then you also feel like reciprocating equally … we are fellow-travellers and are moving in the same direction and our thinking is same).”

No deal is final until you discuss the mode of payment. So, the journalist now tells him that he would like to pay in ratio of 60:40 cash, saying that he is having this arrangement with other channels also. Aggarwal does not have any problem with that either, as he says: “Wo jo bhi hai jaise bhi hai koi issue nahi hai main kya ki apna ekdum clear hai ki jo cheej par aap chal rahe hain ussi cheej par hum chal rahe hain (Whatever the arrangement is, there is no issue. I am quite clear about it that we have to follow what you propose).”

After sometime, the journalist calls Aggarwal over phone to check if the promoter of K News was still as much committed to the agenda. As soon as Aggarwal receives the call, he says he is looking forward to meeting the client the journalist. Telling Aggarwal that soon his pointman will meet him to handover him cheque and some CDs on Hindutva, the journalist asks him remember two more points which his channel will have to take care of. You see, we have some alliance partners like Om Prakash Rajbhar, in Uttar Pradesh, Anupriya Patel and Upendra Kushwaha at the Centre, who are playing like pinpricks particularly after the TDP has parted ways. So, these small partners need to be run down by you all the time. “Okay,” we hear him say. The second point is, he tells him, we need and expect editorial support both our Sangathan and our party. Assures Aggarwarl in these words: “Aap nishchint rahiye uske liye … bilkul bilkul (Don’t worry at all about that … sure, sure).”

When we have friends like Aggarwal where is the need for us to worry that our agenda, however menacing it could be, would not be taken care?

India Voice

Aniruddh Singh, CEO-cum-Editor-in-Chief, India Voice, Lucknow

Started in 2015, India Voice is a regional news channel with focus mainly on Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The holding company of the channel is Bhagya Broadcast Pvt. Ltd. CEO and Editor-in-Chief Aniruddh Singh, who is one of the three promoters of the company, is an old media hand. He has worked with Sahara News, India News, Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagaran. While meeting the journalist at his Lucknow office, Sharma briefs him about his agenda point by point. Taking the client as someone with deep pockets, Aniruddh seeks patronage saying: “Aapko jo ye aapka apna channel hai isko iss tareh se samajh karke isko sthan dena hai aapko (Take this channel as your own and give it a right place [in your scheme of things]).” In the same breath, Aniruddh confesses that he too belongs to the same ideology as the client is working for. Hope there would not be any outside interference with our agenda on your channel, the Sharma tells him. Assures Aniruddh: “Kisi bhi tareeke ka nahi … waise doosare log aapke agende ko kum follow kar paa rahe hain, humara hum zyada follow kar rahe hain (There will be no interference of any kind … by the way other channels follow less and less your agenda, whereas our [channel], we follow it more).”

Seeking such support as the client the journalist has put on his table in the form of his malicious media campaign, Aniruddh assures that he will begin to work on the proposed agenda soon: “Aur aap logon ka sahyog mil jayega ashirvaad mil jayega toh zaldi isko kar lenge (And if we get your support and blessings, we will undertake it soon).” Assuring him full support and cooperation, the journalist asks him if it was fine with him what he was doing, that is, promotion of Hindutva. Talking like a Hindu fundamentalist, journalist Aniruddh declares: “Sir main iss vichardhara ka bahut strong supporter hoon, matlab main un sab logon mein se hoon main yahin aapke saamne baitha hoon main sarvajanik roop se keh sakta hoon ki Hindustan mein Bhagwan Ram ka mandir bananaa chahiye, isliye bananaa chahiye kyonki yahan agar nahi banega toh kahaan banega (Sir, I am a very strong supporter of this ideology. I mean I am one of those who can publicly, like I am sitting right in front of you, say that a temple of Lord Ram should be built. Why so? If it cannot be built in Hindustan, then where it will be)?”

After making his allegiance to Hindutva clear, Aniruddh asks his client the journalist: “Aap jo bhi aur cheejein clear karna chahte hain mujhe bata deejiye koi issue nahi hai (Whatever you want to make clear, you may tell me. There is no issue at all).” Finding him keen on his communal agenda, the client the journalist now begins to tell him all about his agenda. You see, there are three main points of his agenda, the journalist tells him. The first and foremost is Hindutva, which we will never compromise. To create a congenial atmosphere, Hindutva has to be promoted using the teachings of the Bhagwad Gita and projecting the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti as its sponsor. As the elections will approach, you see all political parties will play this minority card. We will be able to counter them with our Hindutva media campaign and if need be we will also polarize the electorate on communal lines.

Aniruddh, who has been responding with a “Theek hai (All right)” here and a “Ji, ji (Yes, yes)” there, jumps to second his client the journalist on this issue: “Polarize kar denge ([Yes] We will polarize).” Continuing in the same vein, the journalist says that if our rivals play it straightforward, we would do the same. If they play dirty, we would do likewise. “Samajh gaya (I got it),” says Aniruddh, fully understanding the overtly communal nature of the agenda. However, the journalist to make it sure his point is driven home well tells him that the proposed media campaign should take its course accordingly. We hear Aniruddh make a clear commitment: “Theek hai, poora support milega (All right, you will get full support [from our channel]).” Next, coming to the agenda of thrashing political rivals such as Pappu, Bua and Babua, respectively, referring to Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, he tells Aniruddh there has to be a sustained campaign aimed at the character assassination of these leaders. If he has some sympathy with Babua, he can certainly keep him out. While agreeing to run this agenda, Aniruddh snaps: “Humari jo hai na Pappu se sympathy hai, na jo hai Bua se sympathy hai aur na humari Babua se sympathy hai (We don’t have any sympathy with Pappu, Bua or Babua).”

That is fine, the journalist tells him. Our jingles attack Pappu only, as ultimately the fight would be between the Congress and the BJP, he further explains him. We have invested a lot of sweat equity in branding the leader as Pappu. Therefore, his character assassination has to be done on a regular basis, so that people don’t take him seriously. While the journalist explains the whole gamut of this political aspect of his campaign, we hear Aniruddh utter a crisp “Yes”, to finally say in approval: “Theek hai (All right).” Hope you have no problem while attacking the Congress, the BSP and the SP and their leaders, the journalist again tells him. Says Aniruddh: “Nahi, humein koi diqqat nahi hai (No, we have no problem).” Quoting a budget of Rs. 1.5 crore for the first two phases of his campaign, the journalist tells him that he will increase the budget manifold after six months if his channel delivers what he is looking for. But, you see, there should not be any complaint from my higher ups with regard to this deal. Brushing such concerns, Aniruddh reassures his client: “Aap uss cheej ke liye nishchint rahiye baaki logon se acchi delivery na mile toh aap mujhse kahiyega (You should not worry about that. Tell me only when we are not able to make a better delivery than others).”

Before the interview draws to a close, the journalist comes back to all main points of his agenda so that it is driven home firmly. You see, we have to build a congenial atmosphere by promoting Hindutva, the journalist tells his prospective client, and then there has to be continuous bashing of marked political rivals. Replies Aniruddh, with a crisp “Theek hai (All right).” Hope you have understood both issues well. “Main samajh gaya (I got it),” says Aniruddh. What is the first point, asks the journalist again. Aniruddh like an obedient student reiterates every point of the agenda, one by one: “Hindutva … aur doosra jo hai sarkar kee chhavi ko … ji Pappu, Bua aur un par attack ([The first is] Hindutva … and the second is we have to [build good] image of the [BJP] government … yes, attack on Pappu, Bua and him [Babua]).” Yes, this is exactly what we want, the journalist tells him. You have to focus on their character assassination, so that nobody takes them seriously. Replies Aniruddh in agreement: “Ji (Yes).”

Finally, the journalist asks him if he wants to discuss anything else with regard to the agenda. “Bas mera toh main clear hoon aur main bahut excited hoon (I am quite clear and I am very much excited [about it]).”


Srinivas Murthy, Vice President (Marketing), TV5, Hyderabad

The 24´7 Telugu TV news channel was launched on 2 October 2007 by B.R. Naidu, who has business interests in travel, manufacturing and infrastructure development. Inaugurated by TSR, the channel telecasts hourly news bulletins and 30 special news bulletins. With bureaus in Hyderabad, Vizag and Vijayawada, the channel boasts of a team of 294 reporters spread across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, while claiming to be the No. 1 Telugu news channel. Senior journalist Pushp Sharma visited TV5’s Hyderabad office to meet Vice Presiedent Srinivas Murthy. While explaining his agenda to Murthy, the journalist tells him that one of the three main requirements of his campaign is promotion of soft Hindutva through preachings of the Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna. You can run 20–30 second long FCTs on your channel specially created to serve the purpose, so that it helps create a congenial atmosphere in our favour. This will be released by the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti. Agreeing, Murthy says: “Okay. 30 second ka FCT jo hai aap mujhe wo material laakar aap mujhe denge (Okay. You will provide me the material for that 30 second long FCT).” Yes, that is ready with me in the form of audio, the journalist informs him.

After the first soft Hindutva phase will follow the semi-political phase, the journalist tells him. In this phase of our campaign, our political rivals such as the Congress, the BSP and the SP will have to be thrashed. You have to run a sustained campaign against their leaders. But it has to be done in a subtle manner using their nick names such as Pappu, and when you use such names as Pappu, people immediately understand what its stands for. Seconding his client, Murthy says: “Pappu of India bole toh wahi ayega (When you say Pappu of India, they will know what it means).” Yes, you got it right, the journalist tells him. We don’t need to be direct while attacking our opponents, and then everybody what Pappu means. So, you will have to create a new property for this kind of character assassination, for instance, “Pappu Returns”, for instance, on the pattern of “So Sorry” on Aaj Tak. Murthy agrees to create such an intellectual property as he says: “Property banaana hai theek hai (We have to create a property, all right).” Yes, the journalist tells him, so that we can damage the credibility of Rahul Gandhi and his Congress party. “Okay, one anti-Congress property [hitting] indirectly,” says Murthy. Yes, the journalist informs him, and its major character will be Pappu. “Okay, theek hai (Okay, it is fine),” we hear him say. So, for the first two phases, that is, promotion of Hindutva and semi-political, we have set aside a budget of Rs. 6 crore for your channel, the journalist tells him. For the third phase, we will increase this budget. Responding with a crisp “Theek hai (It is fine),” as their client the journalist is talking to him, Murthy ventures to ask: “Ye payment kaisa rahega (How this payment will be made).” Fully in advance, he is told. “Advance, cash or cheque?” asks Murthy. Fully cash, the journalist tells him. Says Murthy: “Theek hai (It is fine).”

As the discussion on the agenda moves on, referring to the commercial on soft-Hindutva Murthy asks: “Ye semi-political jo hai Hindu dharm mein nahi daal sakte (This semi-political [jingle] cannot be used for [the promotion] of the Hindu religion)?” Yes, this is not meant for that phase, he is informed. “Khali aapka news mein chalega … Telugu aur Kannada mein dalenge (You mean this will be run only in the news … we will broadcast it in Telugu and Kannada),” he again asks. Yes, the journalist makes it clear to him, and when there are debates or panel discussions on your channel, do support us against the Congress which you can bash relentlessly. If you expect the budget to be increased, we will be only happy to do that. Agreeing Murthy says: “Theek hai (It is fine).” In order to gain the trust of his client, Murthy reveals: “Aapka jo demonetization mein jo hai na TV9 wala jo hai aapko ekdum negative kiya. Aapke Telangana-Andhra Pradesh mein ek hee channel TV5 jo hai demonetization ka positive diya hai that days and uske liye humara chairman sahib ko Modiji ne bulaya (Your demonetization got a negative coverage by TV9 here. There was only TV5 in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh which gave a positive coverage to demonetization in that [sic] days. For this, Modiji personally invited our chairman [over to Delhi]).” That is why I have approached you, the journalist tells him before taking his leave.

The story does not end here, as you may be thinking. A month later, Sharma called the TV5 vice president over phone to see if Murthy is still alive to the nefarious agenda which he had agreed to undertake in his meeting with the journalist in his office. Pleasantries over, the journalist comes back to his agenda and asks him to note down two points which Murthy needed to take care of. One, we have certain alliance partners. You know TDP has parted ways with us, and there are leaders of small parties like Anupriya Patel of UP’s Apna Dal. Then there is Upendra Kushwaha form Bihar. What you do is run stories against all these alliance partners, so our party gains an upper hand on them. Agreeing, Murthy says: “Okay, okay.”

Hope you got my point, the journalist asks him.

Yes, positively yes yes yes. Ye Bihar ko Bihar ka kya matlab hai apne usmein (Yes, positively yes yes yes. What this Bihar man has to do with us here)?” says Murthy while asking a pertinent question. He is intelligent to know it well how running down some politician from far off Bihar in an Andhra-based vernacular channel is going to help the client’s party. But Murthy is not intelligent enough to call it a bluff. Their client journalist smartly dodges the pinpointed question by saying that TV5 has a big audience around the country. Agreeing, Murthy asks: “Accha ye content kahan se milega (Okay, how we will get this kind of content).” It will be delivered to you there in Hyderabad itself by one of our pointman, the journalist assures him. “Theek hai, acchi baat hai (Okay, it is fine),” says a satisfied Murthy.

After securing his agreement on this count, the journalist now comes to the second point. You see, of late there have been farmers protests across the country. Link these protests with Naxalites or Maoists, he tells Murthy, so that their protests are taken something as sponsored or provoked and as such are not a result of their anger against our government. “Accha, accha, accha (Okay, okay, okay),” we hear him say in agreement. Another favorite topic for the journalist is Aadhar. Now, coming to Aadhar, he tells Murthy that their channel has to support the government stand on the scheme even if the Supreme Court passes an adverse verdict on it. Murthy is happy to do that as well: “Theek hai Sir, acchi baat hai (Okay Sir, it is fine).”

So, we have a channel, TV5, the top executive of which is happy to run an agenda that has potential to cause polarization among the electorate to the benefit a particular political party while it undertakes character assassination of certain individual politicians by either caricaturing them or by running down them down in their news stories. Even farmers will not be spared.

Can paid news get any ugly?

ABN Andhra Jyothy

E.V. Seshidhar, Chief Market Manager, ABN Andhra Jyothy, Hyderabad

Telugu  news TV channel, ABN Andhra Jyothy was launched by Vemuri Radhakrishna, managing director of the third largest Telugu daily Andhra Jyothy, on 15 October 2009. In hardly a decade of its coming into being, the TV news channel has come to be known more for controversies than for its news content. It hogged the limelight across the country when in December 2009 it aired a CD purportedly showing ND Tiwari, then governor of Andhra Pradesh, in compromising position with a woman. The scandal led to Tiwari demitting his gubernatorial office in disgrace. In 2015, a police inquiry was instituted against Radhakrishna and his channel under an Andhra court order to look into alleged misappropriation of Rs. 25 lakh that he had collected from the public for the surgery of conjoined twins Veena and Vani in 2012. It is alleged that the funds thus raised never reached the intended beneficiaries. The channel was banned by TSR government in Telangana for about two years, while Radhakrishna is also facing criminal cases for publishing defamatory content in Andhra Jyothy against Jagan Reddy and others. The ABN Andhra Jyothy channel founder and editor-in-chief is known for his proximity to TDP strongman and Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. It is believed that it was Naidu who helped him become the owner of the Tamil daily, where he began his career as a stringer, in 1999, when the paper had to shut down owing to financial crisis. Over the years, Andhra Jyothy grew from strength to strength to become a mutli-city edition paper, covering 17 cities across Andhra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Literally, a rags-to-riches story for someone who was nobody barely two decades back!

It is no surprise if Sharma found the ABN Andhra Jyothy to be agreeable to the proposition when Pushp Sharma met E.V. Seshidhar at their Hyderabad office. After telling us all options available with his group in terms of electronic, print and digital platforms for a media campaign, the chief market manager is candid enough to admit that their owner is close to TDP and it is for this reason that their channel is official broadcaster of Andhra government events. Now, we are certain that the 60 year old media brand would agree to our agenda. Listen to what Seshidhar tells us: “And he [Radhakrishna] was [a] political reporter basically. So, he is from that background. So, he has lot of connects with Congress, BJP and we are very [much] affiliated towards TDP Babu.” He goes on to reiterate: “We have very good connects with TDP … We have do [sic] lot of what do you call we have main official what do you call for A.P. government Andhra Pradesh government, we have official event telecaster rights for Andhra Pradesh govt.” Seshidhar at the outset makes it clear where the loyalties of his channel and newspaper lie.

After discussing the Hindutva agenda and how it has to be packaged by their news channel, the journalist comes to character assassination of political rivals. Coming to his favorite topic Pappu, the journalist tells Seshidhar how this has to be packaged using satire so much so that when elections are round the corner, nobody takes Pappu seriously. It will help our party immensely. So, create content on the pattern of “So Sorry”, maybe “Pappu Returns”, for instance. “Okay,” we hear him say as he goes on to tell us that their newspaper carries such political caricatures. Do you carry Telugu characters in those caricatures, asks the journalist. “Telugu character? It’s not a Telugu character. We characterize what you call on current issue, a current issue on this thing only,” informs Seshidhar. You mean, you do it a la Amul, the journalist seeks to know. Seshidhar tells us: “Yeah … yeah, that is … But we don’t have specific character for it… but we do a story board on it and we create character and we narrate it and we do it.”

You mean, the journalist now asks him, it is possible for you to create and carry caricatures like “Pappu Returns” for us. Yes, certainly. “Yeah, yeah, that is,” he hear him say. After discussing the first two phases of his campaign and finding him agreeable to carrying the agenda in his channel and newspaper, the journalist pitches for the third, aggressive, phase of his campaign. There then every political party will play this card and that card and we will play ours to polarize the poll scene. We are close not only to the TDP and Chandrababu, he informs us, but also to the BJP. The reason for this proximity, according to him, is caste which binds Venkaiah Naidu to his boss. “They hail from same community caste wise,” he reveals. When he tells us how former BJP President came to their studio a couple of times and was interviewed by none other than their boss, the journalist forbids him not to reveal who really is behind this campaign. We may be from the Sangathan but it is only Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti that has to be shown as its sponsor. Hope you understand? It has to be done in a “surrogate” way. The senior journalist has changed the connotation of the word surrogacy altogether!

Knowingly well now their political affiliations and the reach and influence that Andhra Jyothy has, the journalist randomly asked him if they could influence Karnataka elections. The newspaper has a separate Bangalore edition devoted to the Telugu-speaking sections among the state population. “Yeah, yeah, basically through states our borders of our [states] geographically so it is too attached,” Seshidhar is quite candid while replying to the question. The main reason why his media house can do that is the proximity of borders of Andhra to Karnataka. Then, Karnataka has a substantial chunk of Telugu migrants, the dominant among them Reddys, among its population, which are settled in cities like Bangalore and Mangalore. If you look at this Telugu demographic distribution, according to Seshidhar, in Karnataka, you can certainly tweak the outcome of any elections there.        

Agreeing to keep the surrogate nature of the campaign intact, Seshidhar says: “We have, we have. What we do is we maintain the unbiased system and sort of stuff, so we very carry curatively [sic]. We never open up.” Swearing thus to maintain secrecy about the deal, Seshidhar goes on to reveal: “Last election, we were supported your coalition in AP and … and that’s the reason Venkaiah Naiduji … in Delhi also we take lot of helps in terms of sort of stuff …” As the interview with the chief marketing manager of Andhra Jyothy group drew to a close, the journalist while telling him they should take the deal forward asked Seshidhar to send him a proposal. Replies Seshidhar: “Sure, sure, definitely Acharyaji … Acharyaji I will just. Are you there in this week so you are travelling?”

When you boast of your closeness to political masters of the day, and their support has been key to your meteoric rise, can you say no to any malicious agenda that comes from an outfit purportedly standing for the same ideology? Obviously not!


Nilesh Panhalkar, Advertising Manager, Lokmat, Pune   

Lokmat, a Marathi daily, was founded by noted freedom fighter from Yeotmal, Maharashtra, Jawaharlal Darda, in 1952 as a weekly. Selling 18,56,000 copies a day, the weekly has now graduated into the fourth largest multicity-edition daily. After its founder died in 1997, the baton passed on to his sons, three-time Congress Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Darda and Congress MLA and former minister Rajendra Darda. The daily also runs IBN-Lokmat, a Marathi news channel, in partnership with CNN-IBN. Sadly, however, the values its founder Darda Senior must have envisioned for his enterprise in journalism are now a thing of past. If the daily has earned itself credit for being the 10th most popular daily in the country in recent times, it has been accused of indulging in paid news. In 2009, the daily allegedly carried 47 full-page reports on then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan masquerading them as news. Then in 2012, both the Darda brothers were alleged to be involved the infamous Coal Scam. The same year, Vijay Darda hogged the limelight when at an Ahmedabad function the Congress parliamentarian literally anointed Narendra Modi with sainthood.

With changing times and changing values, it did not take much effort for Pushp Sharma to bring Nilesh Panhalkar around his agenda, who the journalist met at the Pune office of Lokmat. As their client the journalist begins to brief Panhalkar on his agenda, he tells the advertisement manager that his Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti is targeting 2019 election to help Modi win for which he is there to propose him a media campaign which will be run in three phases. The first phase will consist in the promotion of Hindutva through the preaching of the Gita and Lord Krishna. This phase will run for the first three months after which will follow the second, semi-political phase. While responding to what is being told to him with an “Okay” in between, Panhalkar now has come to realize which ideology, and, as a corollary, political party, his client is representing. This realization prompts him to reveal where his loyalties are: “Personally thinking I really support to Modi, Sir.” In the same breath, he makes it clear why he likes what is happening in Karnataka in this poll season and why he does not: “On the basis of religion which I seriously like the Karnataka elections are coming up and all this nonsense going on which I seriously don’t like … But yeah I hate Congress.”

Knowing that Panhalkar is now ready to play ball, the client the journalist now offers his paper a budget of Rs. 3 crore for Pune alone. What I am looking for is your paper should bash our political rivals like the Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party and their leaders. “Yeah,” we hear him say.

While running our ads to create a congenial environment in favour of Hindutva, the journalist tells him, you shall not accept ad campaigns from any other quarters even if they come from none other than Baba Ramdev. We don’t want any such clash. Panhalkar is prompt to say: “Yes, yes, yes,” as he also agrees to give digital coverage to events such as visits of firebrand Hindutva leaders like Mohan Bhagwat, Uma Bharati and Vinay Katiyar. Coming back to his semi-political agenda of thrashing political rivals, he asks him to do the job using humour or satire. You have to hammer the message consistently so that our party is able to reap poll dividends out of this campaign. “Exactly … Exactly, the long things,” Panhalkar is quick to second what his client is asking for. While agreeing to follow his agenda, Panhalkar offers his client to get him connected to certain persons who will help him promote his agenda in other Lokmat editions. He says: “I’ll give you the right person name for you and… like Pune as well as Bombay where everything will be…” You mean it will be like a single window? Asks the journalist. Yes, this is what it will be! “As a single point … we will not talk to [anybody else],” says Panhalkar. Telling him that his Sangathan has set aside a budget Rs. 742 crore for Karnataka assembly elections alone, apart from what BJP would be spending on its poll campaign, the client the journalist now asks him to ensure that rival party campaigns are not allowed any space in Lokmat. We want to be more and more visible and heard more and more by monopolizing the ad space. Agrees Panhalkar to say: “Exactly.”

Apparently enthused by the prospects of netting a big client, Panhalkar suggests: “We can do one thing also. During Ganpati festival, we can run a series of this thing, wherein you can have posters going in.” A good idea indeed! During festivals, such campaigns can have high visibility among the audiences.

Yes, you got it right, the journalist tells Panhalkar. We will push our Hindutva agenda during festivals like Navaratri and Diwali. This will help create an atmosphere in our favour of which we can certain take political advantage and the campaign has to be made highly visible. We have deep pockets and with this kind of campaign we will be able to run over our rivals. “And we have to … this it’s high time,” Panhalkar responds. Before wrapping up his interview, the journalist tells him that all those who he will rope in for this campaign should maintain secrecy, although he has discussed everything in a transparent manner, particularly when they are being paid. Swearing to secrecy, Panhalkar says: “Yeah and they have to maintain that secrecy and privacy for all this things. It’s a more basic norm of… any business … Those ethics they should carry. So that kind of thing they will have to maintain.”

Lokmat may have been scoring high on popularity charts among its readers, but it is sad to see this citadel crumble in an age of agenda-driven journalism.

Radio One

Namratha Nagaraj, Assistant Sales Manager and Ananda Nandi, Assistant General Manager (Sales), Radio One Bangalore; Sanjog Kumar, Sr. Sales Manager, Radio One Delhi

Declared most attractive radio brand last year, 94.3 Radio One was launched a decade back by Next Radio Ltd. Promoted by Next Mediaworks Ltd. and BBC Worldwide Holdings B.V, the Radio One is India’s only radio network which broadcasts English language programmes in three biggest cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, while the rest broadcast Hindi language programmes. Next Radio was among the first private players to have ventured into FM broadcasting and has established Radio One as the premium FM Brand in top seven cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune and Ahmedabad. It is perhaps for this reason that the BJP chose the station for its election campaign in 2014, as Ananda Nandi, one of its senior officials, confessed to Pushp Sharma when the journalist met him in his Noida office during the course of this undercover investigation. To quote Ananda Nandi: “See the last campaign which was election where Modi did the campaign, I think it was the highest largest ever political campaign we have ever done.”

It is interesting to see how the interviews that the senior journalist had with Nandi and his colleague Namratha Nagaraj unfolded at the Radio One Bangalore office. Here, Sharma first met Nagaraj, who is working as Assistant Sales Manager with Radio One to have an idea if the BBC partner behaves in an ethical manner while accepting ad campaigns. However, a few minutes into this meeting dispelled all notions of probity that an organization like BBC is known for worldwide.

As Sharma goes about briefing Nagaraj of his agenda, he tells her that his campaign is targeted at the upcoming elections and initially he would like their radio station to promote Hindutva with an innovative packaging. So, have you ever run such campaigns, not necessarily political, on your radio stations? The journalist asks her.

Yes, we have. Says Nagaraj: “Campaign we have, so we regular campaign we do we can just …” But such campaigns must be done as commercials? Replies Nagaraj: “Yeah, you can do a commercial on our station and if we have any property maybe you can give your tagline thing ʻBrought to you byʼ or ʻPowered byʼ and then your company’s name.” Her message is clear.

What if we buy a half-an-hour slot for our campaign? The journalist asks her.

Yes, but commercial spots are hardly 10 seconds long. “So we don’t do half an hour or hourly slots such. The ads spots are minimum of 10 seconds. So that’s how we create our ads,” explains Nagaraj. It is now clear that we can push our agenda through such commercial spots.

You mean to say that we can run our agenda through such commercials? The journalist seeks confirmation. “Yeah, commercial,” says Nagaraj. Fine, but we have not any commercials ready with us. Tell me if you have any third party vendor who could do this job for us?

Nagaraj sets aside our worries when she says: “No, no, we only do everything. You just have to give me brief what exactly you want to promote on air.” In the meanwhile, her senior colleague Ananda Nandi has joined the discussion. Throwing a poser, the journalist tells Nandi, you see, we cannot take any liberty with your programming, which you do in-house, vis-à-vis our campaign. So, maybe it is the commercials where we can enjoy some liberty?

Yes, you can certainly do that. “See you can create some humorous spots,” suggests the assistant general manager. They may not be direct. He explains how effective this will be: “You may not use name but you might always use similar name … Yeah, but of course the listeners understand that it is you are targeting this person.” You mean the way Aaj Tak does in “So Sorry.” “Yeah … Yes that can be done.” We can always hit at our rivals by doing it in innovative way and using humour is one such sure way, we come to know.

Would this be editorially acceptable to your team? The journalist now asks.

Nandi has no problem with it as he goes on to say: “So we can do. That should not be [a] problem. Only thing [is] that we have to take approval. We will take [the approval]. So for your political campaign we always run campaign.” But when we have bought the entire slot for our campaign, he is told, ensure that none of our rivals gets a space into that slot. Agreeing he says: “Okay, okay. That way!”

Have you ever done such campaigns before? His reply makes it explain it all: “See the last campaign which was election where Modi did the campaign I think it was the highest largest ever political campaign we have ever done.”

While Nagaraj and Nandi assured the journalist that his agenda will be promoted on Radio One, their colleague at Radio One Delhi Sanjog Kumar turned out to be a BJP acolyte and when he came to know the motive of his visitor he readily agreed to undertake what he was being asked for. Here, the journalist explains how he wants his Hindutva agenda passed onto the electorate through two kinds of jingles. One set of jingles would have shlokas of Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna. In the second set of jingles, they would have to create political satire to hit at rivals without naming them. The first would serve to gravitate the electorate toward the Hindutva, while the second set would help blunt the opposition.

Revealing his association with the BJP, Sanjog suggest: “Correct, correct, correct. Matlab I have been associated with BJP guys past two years chaar saal jabse Delhi election tab se toh hum log jab jaate the meeting 11 Ashoka Road toh wahan bhi humko ye hee milta tha ki message boss mujhe bas hit karna hai dimag pe BJP BJP BJP mujhe koi bhi aisa … type political statement nahi bolna jise banda sunke … offensive na ho na main kisi ko condemn karoon bas main apne baare mein bataonga (Correct, correct, correct. I mean I have been associated with BJP guys for past two years. Four years back during Delhi assembly elections, we used to go to their meetings at 11 Ashoka Road. We used to get message ʻBoss I have to hit BJP BJP BJP in the minds of people … I need not to make … type statement. So that … other fellows don’t take it as offensive … I will not condemn anybody. I would rather tell about myselfʼ).” This is the right mantra, the journalist appreciates his approach, and this is how we can make our Hindutva campaign more effective. Although the campaign is being funded by the Sangh, you have to keep Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti at the forefront of this campaign. Agreeing Sanjog says: “Right, right.”

So, apart from the promotion of our school of thought, that is, Hindutva, the journalist tells him, the second most important part of our agenda is thrashing our political rivals. But that should be done using their nicknames, in an innovative way. “And how I figure out ki matlab jaise can I have some name can I have some pointers brief kind of things (And how I figure out, I mean for instance, can I have some name can I have some pointers, brief kind of things)?” Sanjog seeks to know who those rivals are.

Congress, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and BSP are our rivals, and you may be aware these rivals have indulged in a lot of corruption. It would be wonderful if your RJs create a funny atmosphere around them to get our message across the people. Replies Sanjog: “Ye sab creative. Theek hai theek hai (This is all creative [work]. I got it).”

Hope you understand all three points of my agenda, asks the journalist. Yes, he says, they will have to create something like on the pattern of “So Sorry”. So, the first point is the promotion of Hindutva, the journalist reiterates what all has been discussed with him. Now, the creative you make should contain a shloka from the Gita and explain it to the target audience within five seconds and then link it with misdeeds of our rivals, so that people connect to the hard-hitting message that such creatives would deliver. It is clear that Sanjog has understood the agenda very well, as he says: “Humm, so broadly the concept is clear.”

He goes on to reiterate: “Hindutva packaging Shrimad Bhagwad Gita ke umbrella mein second direct hit nahi karna hai mujhe … packaging kar dena hai ([First] We have to do the packaging of Hindutva under the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita umbrella. Second, we don’t have to hit directly [your political rivals] … we have to make a packaging).” Yes you got it right, the journalist tells him. This has to be done in an innovative way. Seeking a sample creative from the client the journalist, Sanjog says: “So I will have to find iska mujhe ye aap jo creative doge isase mujhe badi help milegi abhi nahi main jab bhi aap doge iske basis pe mein ek brief nikaal loonga … kyonki mera jo banda hai artist hai usko mere ko brief dena padega. I will make him listen them seriously he will figure out ki kya hai and quote lekarke kaamn karna hai got it (So I will have to find … it will help me a lot when you will give me this creative, not right now but whenever you will give me. I will make a brief on the basis of this [creative] … because I will have to give this brief to my artist. I will make him listen [to] them seriously. He will figure out how it is going, and we have to work on it using quotes [from the Gita]. I got it).”

When their prospective client the journalist tells him to handle the campaign cautiously, Sanjog reveals his loyalty in these words: “As a client BJP maine apne paas hee rakha tha. I believe in those Hindutva (As a client I kept the BJP campaign with myself only. I believe in those Hindutva [values]).”

But ensure that none of our rivals’ campaigns is given space on Radio One after we have bought the slots, the journalist demands. Agreeing, Sanjog describes how such a strategy has brought rich electoral dividends to the BJP: “Haan obviously jab ek naam farq toh padata hai … bilkul padata hai BJP ke campaign jitney bhi kiye hain maine usmein jo last ke chaar din paanch din … itni bhayankar advertisement har break khatam tha har break mein do-do spot open and close it was great strategy … strategy bahut acchi thi no doubt paisa daala uska result mil gaya (Yes,  obviously when there is only one name it sure makes more impact … it sure makes more impact … all the campaigns that I have done for the BJP, there used to be very heavy [back to back] advertisement during those last four-five days … as soon as a break was over, there would be two commercial spots immediately after and before that break, open and close. It was [a] great strategy … It was indeed a very good strategy. No doubt, they spent a lot of money [on this campaign] but got the result [in the form of victory in elections]).”

Before the meeting draws to a close, the journalist seeks assurance from Sanjog that while giving his agenda the required editorial support, Radio One will also not give any weightage to alliance partners like TDP who have now started to blackmail the government at the centre.

In his zeal to bend himself backward to clinch the deal, Sanjog not only agrees to do so but also asks the client the journalist to send him guidelines for Radio One to follow:  “Bilkul nahi denge Sir. Aap in fact ek guidelines kar na agar aapke samajh mein aaye toh main aapko abhi ek mail drop kar doonga test mail aapke paas ID purani wali varna pata nahi kahan doondhoge aap aur ussi tareh kee guidelines bhi daal dijiyega aap toh kya hoga main internal all India mein sab ko bhej doonga (Never Sir. In fact, you may make some guidelines [for us for us to follow] if you can do so. I shall send you a test mail, maybe you have my old ID and it may not be easy for you to locate that one, and so you can send me those guidelines. What will happen after that I shall send those guidelines internally to all our stations across India [to follow]).”

The meeting ends on this promise.    

New Indian Express

Mahesh Babu, Chief Marketing Manager; Jayshree Chakravarthi, Sr. Manager (Online Marketing), New Indian Express, Chennai

The New Indian Express was born in 1991. When its owner Ramnath Goenka died, his family split Indian Express into two separate entities. Indian Express started by P. Varadarajulu Naidu in 1931 and Goenka took over the ownership after a legal battle in 1935. However, after the split, the New Indian Express, owned by Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, has been able to not only retain its readership but also expand its base down south, with over 495,618 copies sold every day and with 22 editions published simultaneously from Tamil NaduTelanganaKarnatakaAndhra PradeshKerala and Odisha. The group also owns a Tamil daily, Dinamani, which was launched way back in September 1933, published from BangaloreChennaiCoimbatoreDharmapuriMadurai, New Delhi, Tirunelveli, Tiruchirappalli, Vellore and Villupuram.

It was just a random visit to the Chennai office of the New Indian Express by Pushp Sharma to see if there were any takers of his agenda, although he knew the chances were slim. However, to his shock when he met Mahesh Babu, he found the chief marketing manager more than eager to run his invidious agenda not only in his paper but also in Dinamani. As the journalist begins to brief him on his agenda of Hindutva and how it has to be run using the preaching of the Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna, Mahesh Babu says: “Hindutva agenda? Okay, okay.” Yes, this is what we looking for, he is told. “So you are planning to give advertisement in the New Indian Express and Dinamani.” Yes, certainly, in both and digital. “So you are planning for what type of advertisement?” he seeks to know. We want to promote Hindutva through preachings of Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna, so that we can derive political benefit out of this campaign in coming eight-nine months.

Mahesh Babu does not have any issue with our agenda, as he again says: “Hindutva agenda. Okay … Okay, okay.” Taking the client the journalist as someone from the BJP, he asks: “So, you [are] calling people to join BJP party?”

Not at all! We are here to just promote Hindutva through our Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti and for the first three months our campaign will focus on preachings of Lord Krishna only. We will release such advertisements in your papers, he is told. He asks: “So this type of advertisement given in digital as well as print.” Yes, and it will help us make people relate to Hindutva and our party as identifying with Hindus. Understanding now what the objective of the exercise is, Mahesh Babu asks: “So that advertisement comes under big space or small space?” We would like to publish it as jackets, he is told. Mahesh Babu is ecstatic: “Jacket. Wow, wow, wow!” The reason is simple: a jacket means big revenue. When the client the journalist tells him that he has set aside Rs. 10 crore for his campaign in the New Indian Express, Mahesh Babu is unable to hide his glee: “Wow, wow … Only [New]Indian Express group?” Yes, you heard it right, he is told.

But would be able to take care of my agenda, asks the journalist, which is simply soft Hindutva? “Yeah … No, I don’t think so. [New] Indian Express [is] also close to that party. So I think we [can] carry [your campaign],” we hear him reassure us as he reveals where as a paper his organization’s loyalties rest with. Now, knowing well where the newspaper stands with regard to their political inclination, the journalist explains him how he wants to make fun of Rahul Gandhi on their digital platform using his nickname Pappu. We will create such content as would help us do his character assassination. Understanding what design we have on Rahul Gandhi, Mahesh Babu asks: “Humm humm, you want to damage all?” Yes, he is told, and we have made a lot of investment in the past decade or so to brand him as Pappu, so that nobody takes him seriously during elections. “Okay, okay, you mean that elections means definitely people will not accept … not … there like is a funny talk only … [Yes] Not [a] mature person. Humm hum,” he says, understanding the intention behind such branding. You got it right, he is told, and we want this image to persist among the people.

After hammering home this point, the client the journalist now tells him what the next item on his agenda is. After playing well the Hindutva agenda, he is told, we would like you to help us through this campaign to polarize the poll scenario as during elections other parties would certainly play minority card. “Okay,” we hear a crisp reply from Mahesh Babu on this diabolical demand as well. Taking the journalist as a potential client who has deep pockets and is ready to squander all his money, Mahesh Babu explains how advertizing in Dinamani will be of help. “So very authentic newspaper,” he informs us. You see, the journalist now explains while reiterating his agenda, we are approaching you directly because we want to save 15 percent by not hiring an ad agency but because our agenda is very secret. We know the New Indian Express enjoys a lot of credibility and after this initial phase, as we build our relationship on it, we will be working for Modiji’s election in 2019, for which we have set aside a budget of Rs. 50 crore for the New Indian Express. We know your paper can help achieve our objective of creating an atmosphere of Hindutva and thrashing our political rivals through this campaign, both in print and in digital. The New Indian Express means serious reader. This is like music to his ears as Mahesh Babu says: “Yes, yes, very serious reader … lot of things … social media plus political … plus lot of activity we have done.”

Coming to the mode of payment, the journalist tells him that he would like to pay 30 percent in cash and rest by cheque, and for the cash part he does not require any documentation. Mahesh Babu does not have any problem while accepting cash as he says: “Okay, okay, okay. So no legal documents, no need … even that this is not …” That settled, the client the journalist comes back to his agenda of character assassination of leaders like Rahul Gandhi. He tells Mahesh Babu that after the promotion of his Hindutva agenda, they are expected to go for thrashing political rivals. You have to use their nicknames such as Pappu and create satire to make fun of them. Agrees Mahesh Babu to say: “Okay, okay, okay. It’s anybody’s name, no, Pappu, Chintu small [kids’ pet names].”

After satisfying himself that his nefarious agenda will be run by the New Indian Express and sister publication, Dinamani, courtesy their chief marketing manager, Pushp Sharma sought a meeting with the digital head of the paper. These days, the digital space has become the most effective medium of reaching out to target audience beyond geographical boundaries and time zones. Therefore, next he met Sr. Manager (Online Marketing) Jayshree Chakravarthi at his hotel. To see if she has been apprised of the purspose of this meeting by her colleague, the journalist asked Jayshree what was the budget that he had quoted for the New Indian Express. Replies Jayshree: “[Rs.] 5 crores.” Please make a combo deal for our campaign, the journalist tells her, so that they could move ahead on the deal. “Okay. You want me to bring print also into it or you want only digital?” Jayshree wants to know. No, keep the digital separate from the print. We have set aside a separate budget for digital promotion. Says Jayshree: “Only digital yeah that’s what … Okay.” Asking banking details for the transfer of funds, he again insists for a good combo deal. Jayshree says: “Fine Sir, whatever we can do for the first four months whatever you said like video banner we need to run apart from that some good quotes from Bhagwad Gita, as banner, expendable banners and whatever.”

Yes, you got it right. Why not include Apps as well in the deal, he tells her.

“Yeah, Apps plus web everything… yeah I will just put it and send you email,” Jayshree tells the journalist. But give it a saffron background whatever you create for the purpose, the journalist reminds her how the campaign has to be run. “You want us to design it, everything or …?” asks Jayshree. We have many things ready for the campaign, the journalist tells her. She offers: “Yeah, you can send it to us. So that we can in case … required according to the sizes and other thing, I can get it done from my designer that I can get it done. Definitely, I will work it out and send you the proposal.” I have already sent you a mail, the journalist tells her, and you can get back to me always.

She will certainly do that she tells us. “Yeah, I will do that and also suppose in case if my boss would like to meet you so…” she asks, “when you [will] be coming?” I shall visit the city next week, he tells Jayshree, as you know elections are round the corner in Karnataka. “Yeah, it [has] started …. I am getting calls from BJP also to take the campaigns in the New Indian Express…” she informs us.

Open Magazine

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).”

The statement leaves nothing to imagination as to the allegiance of a reputed magazine like Open. It is as open as the name of the magazine suggests.

Conclusions: All these on-camera confessions make it clear that the malaise of paid news has set in deep as it is no longer confined to few individuals who would show no scruples while publishing paid content camouflaging it as news stories or reports. Over the years, paid news has become institutionalized, as this investigation establishes, for no one in authority in news business would receive an agenda which is overtly communal and defamatory with enthusiasm, let alone committing to undertake it, particularly when there are clear-cut guidelines to follow and laws to abide by.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has well laid-down provisions, for instance, to deal with various unlawful acts that these media houses agreed to commit. Section 153(A) makes any attempt to “promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups” punishable with imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine or both. Section 295(A) of the IPC also provides for the same punishment to be meted out when an individual deliberately, and with malicious intent, hurts the religious feelings of a community. Then, Chapter IXA of the IPC deals comprehensively with offences related to elections. Section 171 of the IPC makes interference with the free exercise of electoral right, in any form, punishable with an imprisonment of one year or fine or both. These provisions of the IPC, thus, ensure that the offence of polarizing a group on the basis of religion, caste or community is punished. The provisions of Chapter IXA of the IPC with regard to free exercise of electoral rights are overarching in their ambit as they are also relevant paid news to influence voters to gain electoral benefits.

In addition, the provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act) 1995, along with Cables Rules, and Representation of People’s Act, along with Conduct of Election Rules, make paid news and communal polarization for electoral gains an offence. Both the Cable Act and the Cable Rules prohibit transmission or re-transmission of programmes that do not conform to the advertisement code. While Rule 6 of the Cable Rules prohibits programmes of communal nature or that promote anti-national attitudes, Rule 7 also lays down the advertisement code prohibits publication of advertisements of political or religious nature. Rule 7(10) of the Cable Rules also states that “all advertisements should be clearly distinguishable programmes, viz., use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme”. Then, Section 125 of the RPA makes communal polarization an offence punishable with imprisonment for three years or fine or both, while various provisions of Section 123 declare an act aimed at polarization and the practice of paid news as “corrupt practices” making election of a candidate null and void.

Apart from these and other legal provisions, there are “Norms and Guidelines on Paid News” of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority and “Norms of Journalistic Conduct, 2010” of the Press Council of India, which all media establishments are expected to adhere to. But do they really care to do so? Our investigation says no.

We would like to make it clear that Operation 136 should in no way be taken as an effort to undermine Indian media or question its sanctity as an institution. Our investigation does not intend to cast any aspersions or pass judgment, either, on the journalists who are working in these media platforms. They might have done good journalism in the past and will do so in future. However, if the management indulges in paid news, in all its gray shades, it creates a very difficult atmosphere for the journalist to ply their trade. This story aims to underline our earnestness to address the malaise that has been dogging Indian media for the past three decades or so and look within to make course correction, so that the faith of India’s citizenry in this vibrant pillar of democracy is not dented.

In the end, it would in order to quote Thomas Sowell, noted US economist and social theorist and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution: “If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.” But given the prevailing scenario, do the people of India have this choice?  

Disclaimer: In the course of the investigation, names of certain individuals and organizations cropped up which was purely incidental and was essential to bring to the fore the truth and as a result the story in all its gray shades.

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