Hindustan Times, Just Another Destination for Paid News

Hindustan Times, Just Another Destination for Paid News

cobrapost |
May 26, 2018

Peddling Hindutva and running down politicians can be done with a smooth flow of funds

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.”

Hindustan Times 

We have not yet received any response from the Group to the detailed questionnaire we have sent them regarding the investigation, till 4 pm, 25th May, 2018. In case they do send in their reply, we shall update it in the next few days or weeks.

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