A screen grab of the Cobrapost exposé revealing shocking details about the Indian media.
A screen grab of the Cobrapost exposé revealing shocking details about the Indian media.

Cobrapost, an Indian Web publication, carried out a long sting operation where it pretended to be a Hindutva organization. It caught several officials of big media houses in India admitting they were willing to run hate campaigns that would aid some political parties.

Cobrapost editor Anniruddha Bahal spoke to Asia Times about the sting.

Q. What does your sting operation reveal about the state of Indian media today?

A. People need to be inspired by journalists. They [journalists] have stories they want to expose, but the top editors trample [on] the stories by young people. It seems that we don’t want to do journalism any more.

So you spoke to media officials proposing that they run a communal campaign that they were ready to support if they got the money?

Yes, [it’s] a campaign designed to polarize, to defame opponents;  [they are] prepared to take money in cash. A lot of organizations were supporting demonetization, unaccounted revenue, promotion through software, do [paid] stories and so on.

A senior media owner also suggested ways to get around the cash. Is that true?

Perhaps that media organization ran a lot of stories supporting demonetization. One Cambridge Analytica video captured by Channel 4 with a small hidden camera became international. As a non-media entity, it [Cambridge Analytica] claimed that it could influence elections based on data it had collected from Facebook. And here, licensed media companies themselves are proposing to influence elections.

Do you want to take it up with the Election Commission or the Information Technology Department?

We don’t have the resources to take it to the Election Commission or the IT Department. Everything is available in the public domain and they can pick it up if they want. Under statutory nomenclature, these things [media houses have been accused of] come under many offenses under the Indian Penal Code, including defamation, criminal conspiracy to incite communal disharmony, and doing paid news.

A big payment company was also involved in this, is that so?

Yes. The privacy policy of the payments company claims to be the most stringent one; they say they won’t hand over data to anyone. But the senior vice-president of the said company was caught on camera claiming that they launder data. Under what law can they do any of these or hand over data to the government?

YouTube video

Have you noted that all the people who have accused media of being “presstitutes” and paid media are now silent?

Now you can understand who were these people and why they are silent now.

The mainstream media has to come out of this stupor and give space to journalists to do stories. The media needs to inspire people. Journalists are afraid; the primetime debates are unwatchable.