136-Part-1 Sadhna Prime News

Sadhna Prime News

Alok Bhatt, Director; Ashok Mishra, Bureau Head; Khalid, Marketing Head, Sadhna Prime News, Lucknow


cobrapost - March 26, 2018


As soon as the reporter tells Bhatt about his agenda, Bhatt replies: “Our business is Hindutva, exactly.” The bonhomie between Bhatt and his prospective client thus sets in at the outset.

After the reporter apprises him of his campaign, Bhatt informs us of his links with the BJP government and the RSS: “Hum log toh exclusive bhi karte rahte hain aur humare apne jo resources hain usmein kuch log Sangh key ya sarakar ke wo exclusively humein dete hain cheejon ko (We are do exclusive programmes and some of our resources and people are associated with the Sangh or the government who give us such stuff exclusively).” The reason of this closeness is that his grandfather was one of the founding leaders of the RSS and he and his family are RSS followers by birth, we come to know. We are speaking to a man who is already schooled in the mould of RSS.

Tell me if there will be any problem for you while you work on our agenda of Hindutva and thrashing our political rivals, the reporter asks him. Claiming that his channel is No. 1 among the lot, Bhatt reassures him in these words: “Nahi nahi, hum log toh out of the way jaakar kaam karte hain (No, no, we do a given job by going out of the way).”

Before the meeting draws to a close, the journalist asks him what he will deliver.

In his eagerness to grab the big-ticket deal, Bhatt says he will do what is expected of him, deal or no deal: “Aap apni requirement bata dijiye hum na karein toh bataiye. Hum toh maine bataya na main karta rehta hoon main karta rahoonga. Ye commercial deal hogi acchi baat nahi hogi aur acchi baat hai. Mera jo motive hai wo chalta rahega AcharyajiBas main ye chahoonga ki is campaign mein jo sabse bada client ho wo Prime News ho bas main ye chahta hoon (You simply tell me what your requirement is. As I told you, I have been doing it [this kind of work]. I will do it if this commercial deal is done or even when it is not. I will carry on doing what serves my motive, Acharya ji … if there has to be any big client in this campaign it should be [Sadhna] Prime News … this is what I wish).”

This bonhomie continues in the second meeting, where again Bhatt reaffirms his promises. In fact, here Bhatt talks straight when he tells the journalist what he intends to do for him: “Aur jo hai hum se jitna aggressively karaana hai wo bataiye kyonki hum toh ussi ke liye hain hee matlab hum khule taur par chalne wale aadmi hain (Tell me how aggressively you want us to run your campaign because we are here only for that cause. We are the ones who do it openly).”

This pro-BJP tilt, Bhatt laments, has resulted in loss of revenue to his channel as the SP government did release advertisements worth Rs. 1.80 crore only whereas his rivals like ETV and News State were given ads worth Rs. 42 crore and Rs. 34 crore, respectively. But since there is the BJP government now, it was time he was compensated: “Toh humein lagta hai humara samay aa raha hai humari vyavastha aa rahi hai toh humein tavajjo samman milna chahiye (So what I feel now is that it is our time now. Our government has come, so we must get preference and respect).”

As the meeting progresses, the journalist tells him he would like his news channel to give light “injection” and two months before the general elections approach to play on hard Hindutva to polarize the electorate. Here comes the reply: “Nahi hum toh shuruat mein bhi tej injection lagane ko taiyar hain humein koi dikkat nahi bhai humein dikkat tab ho bhai … main madhyamargiya nahi hoon main ekmargiya hoon main madhyamargiya nahi hoon. aur jo channel hai Acharya ji kisi ke contribution se nahi chal raha hai na Soochna Vibhag se chal raha hai jo bhi chal raha hai humare apni strength apni finance apni banking se chal raha hai (No, we can insert a hard injection in the beginning itself, we have no problem. We will have problem only when … I am not the one to take a middle path. I move on a single track. I don’t take the middle path, and our channel does not run on contributions from anybody. It is not running on the largesse from the state Information Department either. We are running it on our won strength, our finance and our banking).”

As the meeting moves on, the reporter discusses the payment mode to tell him that he will be paid in cash for his services. Asks Bhatt if he has any problem to collect all the cash from Bakshi Ka Talab, a locality in Luckonw, and he will have to show only Rs. 1 crore out of Rs. 2 crore in his books that he will be paid in installments of Rs. 50 lakh. Contrary to our expectation, Bhatt agrees to collect unaccounted cash from the venue: “Haan wo koi nahi Bakshi Ka Talab yahan se dus kilometer hai toh humare liye dikkat nahi hai (No, not at all. Bakshi Ka Talab is hardly 10 km from here. That is not a problem).”

Before the interview draws to a close, Bhatt seeks assurance from the reporter: “Aur hum aapse ek request karenge ki kabhi iss shasan satta se humein koi avashayakta hoti hai toh aap humari (And I would like to make a request to you. If we ever need help from the government administration, do oblige us).” Sharma promptly promises Bhatt.

The journalist meets Bureau Head Ashok Mishra at his office. After briefing him on his agenda, Sharma challenges him if his boss Mr. Bhatt has enough guts to run his campaign on his news channel. Yes, he will run, assures Mishra: “Haan hai himmat … kyonki iske maalik log doosre hain wo bhi kattar Hindu hain … tareeqe se chala denge kyonki maine bhi inko join tabhi kiya (Yes, he has guts … because other owners of this channel are also fanatic Hindus … and they will run it properly … I too joined them only when I came to know about it).”

So, from owners to reporters and sales team, all are die-hard Hindu fanatics and they will do whatever it takes to promote the cause for money. However, Mishra is a notch above among this lot of thugs as he promises to rope in journalists of other newspaper establishment to help carry this campaign in their respective papers, of course, for money. In other words, Mishra would serve as a point man for our media management. 

Listen to him how he would help us: “Nahi hum ye chahte hain jo hum log akhbaar wale logon ke beech mein baithte hain toh hum ye chahte hain ki un logon ke paas bhi hum apna agenda jaise unse baat karein aur log jaise aate hain jaise aaj hai … Uddhav Thakre aur Ghosbole jee hain Kirshna Gopal ji aaj yahan par dher saare log hain toh hum log usmein kya kya hua unko batayein wo chhape zyada se zyada … ek tareh se ho gaya media management … Lekh likne ke liye samay yahan thoda zyada dena padta hai wo toh nahi ho payega wo lekh yadi kahin se aa jaaye toh usko chhapwane ke liye main keh rah hoon … toh fir ek tareh ka local jo journalist hai unke saath liaisoning … haan haan unke saath liaisoning (No, I mean I often meet with journalists, so I can also discuss your agenda with them … suppose, leaders like Uddhav Thakre, Ghosbole, Kirshna Gopal come to your programme, so I can tell them to publish those events as much as possible … yeah it is kind of media management … but making a write up is painstaking and time-consuming job, so it will be somewhat difficult to do at my end. If such write ups are arranged, I can ask them to carry the same in their newspapers … so, it is kind of liaisoning [sic] with local journalists … yes liaisoning [sic] with them).”

So, how many journalists you have among your friends, asks Sharma. Mishra replies with promptness of a liaison man: “Sabhi akhbar hain Dainik Jagaran, Amar Ujala … haan haan … fir rashtriya swaroop hai … iss tareh se yahan kareeb 20 akhbar hain jisko log parhte hain … main paanch hain (Almost all dailies [for example], Amar Ujala, Dainik Jagran … yes, yes … they are national in character … there are about 20 newspapers [in circulation] here … only five are main).”

Obviously, this liaison work will carry a price tag. So, how will you pay them? Will they really work to promote our Hindutva agenda? Of course, reassures Mishra. Here is what he states: “Nahi monthly basis par rakhna theek nahi rahega … haan jaisa jiska kaam … dekhiye ye toh khabar pe kaam karenge … haan run karenge … ye jayega under table hee (No, it will not be advisable to hire them on monthly basis … yes according to what they perform … you see they will plant news … yes they will run it [Hindutva agenda] … but they will be paid under the table).” Under the table is euphemism for greasing palms.

Would they also thrash our political rivals?

Says Mishra: “Ji … haan (yes … yes).”

That settled, when the reporter tells him maximum payment will be made in cash, Mishra replies nonchalantly: “Uske liye koi dikkat nahi hai (That is not a problem at all).”

After meeting the owner and marketing head of Prime Channel, the reporter also met Khalid. The Sadhna Prime News reporter was completely hooked to the agenda of Hindutva from the word go. After briefing him on his proposition and playing the jingle, the reporter asks him to prepare content to be aired through his channel to thrash political rivals of BJP such as the Congress Party, BSP and SP when elections draw closer. Fully agreeing, Khalid says: “Accha ye toh humara ho gaya (All right, this is done).” He then asks: “Abhi ke teen mahine humein kya karna hoga (What we will have to do for the next three months).” He is told that his channel will have to broadcast content specially designed for the purpose to create an atmosphere of Hindutva and cover the visits of firebrand Hindutva leaders such as Mohan Bhagwat on their digital medium, that is, web portal. Here again Sharma tells the reporter that payment shall be made in cash in 60:40 ratio. Khalid has no problem: “Theek hai wo main baat kar loonga aur jo best hoga wo kara doonga befiqra rahiye (Okay, I will discuss about it [with his superiors] and don’t worry we will do best for you).”

Sharma reminds Khalid that his channel will have to promote events such visits of the Sangh leaders by giving them live coverage and for the first three months they will have to focus on soft Hindutva part of the campaign. Reiterating what has been told to him, Khalid says: “Theek hai. Soft Hindutva ka agenda rahega humara teen mahine ka (Okay, we have to play on the agenda of the soft Hindutva for the first three months).”

The journalist tells Khalid that the budget set aside for his channel is stretchable, but it should be a job well done. Khalid reassures Sharma in these words: “Nahi main samajh raha hoon Sir aur aapke saath judna isiliye bhi chahenge hum log humara channel toh hum log se hee jisko kehte hain ki ek nationalism agenda par hee kaam kiya hai toh aap humara content dekhenge toh aapko samajh mein aa jayega (No Sir, I understand fully [what you say], and we would like to be associated with you for the reason that our channel has always been working on the nationalism agenda. When you see our content, you will certainly appreciate it).”

It is clear from all these confessions made on camera both the owner Alok Bhatt and his staff are hooked to this nefarious agenda for money. But would they also agree to do really nasty things? Thus wondering Pushp Sharma called Bhatt on his phone to seek more favours. Surprisingly, the journalist found Bhatt ready to do everything that he asked for. Making a pitch for the conversation, Sharma referred to the loss of LS seats in byelections and said that after this defeat there is an internecine war going on within the party. There are certain leaders who were working against the party to sabotage the elections. So, you will have to run stories against such leaders as Maneka Gandhi and Manoj Sinha. Asks Bhatt: “Humein fayada hoega usase matlab sangathan ko fayada hoega (Will that benefit us, I mean will that benefit the Sangathan).” Yes, you got it right. These leaders were lobbying against the party during the elections. So, these leaders will remain in the party but you will have run them down. Bhatt asks again: “Manoj Sinha ji Ghazipur wale aur Maneka Gandhi aur Varun Gandhi … in teeno logon ka ([You mean] Manoj Sinha of Ghazipur and Maneka Gandhi and [her son] Varun Gandhi … all these three)?” Yes, if you carry any story against them, we have no problem. We would rather insist you do so for us. Convinced, Bhatt now says: “Theek, theek, theek (Right, right, right).” Then, there are some leaders who are our alliance partners and who are nagging the government particularly after Chandra Babu Naidu made an exit. So, run stories against leaders like Om Prakash Rajbhar, Anupriya Patel and Upendra Kushwaha. “Ji, ji, ji ek baar fir se humein bataiyega Om Prakash Rajbhar, Anupriya Patel … Upendra Kushwaha. Ye toh Bihar ke hain na Upendra Kushwaha Ji, ji, ji (Yes, yes, yes. Tell me again. Prakash Rajbhar, Anupriya Patel … Upendra Kushwaha. This Upendra Kushwaha is from Bihar … Yes, yes, yes),” Bhatt seeks to know. You have to keep our alliance partners pinned down by running stories against them. Bhatt gleefully agrees to do this dirty job as well: “Ji ji bahut accha bahut accha … aapka jaisa aadesh hoga paalan hoga (Yes, yes. Very good, Very good … We will do as you wish).” That agreed, the journalist now moves to the farmers movements. You see farmers are really a gullible lot and people of our country take their plight seriously. But we are at loss to understand who is backing their agitation in terms of funding so much so that they can organize themselves and reach Mumbai after a long march. This is showing our government in poor light. Now, what we are aiming for is you do such stories as would link them with the Maoists. Agrees Bhatt: “Ji, ji, ji (Yes, yes, yes.).” Apart from these issues nagging the government, there are cases like Sohrabuddin fake encounter and the mysterious death of Justice Loya wherein civil rights activist lawyers like Prashant Bhushan, Kamini Jaiswal and Indira Jai Singh who never lose a chance to bring our government to the dock. These lawyers have their own agenda. So, we want to fix them by resorting to their character assassination. Bhatt does not even wait for a pause before giving his consent to this dirty job while promising that he will deploy his own SIT (Special Investigative Team) for the purpose: “Bilkul, bilkul. Aap humein bas thoda input de dijiye hum cheejein taiyar karwa lenge. Humari apni SIT hoti hai hum usko aur develop kar lenge aapne jo bataya hai wo bhi baaki hum usko aur explore karte hain (Sure, sure. You give us some input [on them]. We will make stories. We have our own SIT (Special Investigative Team). So, we will develop the stories. What you tell us [in that input] we explore more with its [SIT] help).” Coming to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the journalist tells Bhatt that the fellow has served the purpose and it was high time he was packed off. We will have our way if you can carry some stories against him. “Accha aisa hai koi agenda kya (Oh, is there such an agenda under works),” Bhatt inquires. Of course, he is told. The minister as a lawyer has handled many sensitive cases like those fake encounters in Gujarat and those bomb blasts in which Hindu fanatics were implicated. So, we need a solid reason to pack him off. Endorses Bhatt in his inimitable style: “Bilkul, bilkul, bilkul (Sure, sure, sure).” Our supreme leader may ask us to pin any minister wherever our party is running the government, the journalist tells him. I will inform you and you will have to launch a campaign against that particular minister. “Bilkul, bilkul, bilkul jaisa aapka nirdesh hoga waisa paalan hoga (Sure, sure, sure. We will follow your orders in letter and spirit),” we hear Bhatt commit himself. Coming to Aadhar, which the present government is pushing hard, when the journalist seeks positive coverage, Bhatt agrees: “Bilkul, bilkul, bilkul (Sure, sure, sure).” Before wrapping up the conversation, Sharma raises communally a very bizarre demand. Whenever you are conducting any prime time panel discussion with members of Hindu and Muslim communities on that panel, see to it that the Muslim panelist is put under psychological pressure to deflate his ideas. Bhatt agrees for that too: “Theek hai, theek hai (It is okay, it is okay).”

Conclusions: As these interviews establish beyond doubt that the owners and personnel would welcome paid content, irrespective of its nature, it is no surprise if the scourge of paid news is going to stay here, to the detriment of Indian democracy. Although India media has been losing its credibility consistently, particularly in the past three decades, with various governments curbing its freedom, it is still one of the most trusted institutions, after the Indian Army and judiciary, with warts and all, for the common man. With a penetration of TV into 183 million Indian households, which means more than 42 percent of the population having access to TV news and entertainment, registering a 19 percent growth in 2017; with 39 percent population reading newspapers according to the 2017 IRS, an increase of 40 percent over 2014; with an estimated 730 million mobile users and 42 million Internet users; with more than 1,14820 newspapers and magazines published across the country, many having more than a million readers; with 800 TV news channels and with 66.99 million active pay DTH subscribers in the country, apart from numerous cable TV networks and free services; and finally with about 72 private radio stations across India and 64 percent Indians hooked to FM radio, according to TRAI, Indian media in its various avatars, print, electronic, radio and digital, has undoubtedly become an omniscient and omnipotent force, as it controls the “minds of the masses”, to quote the famous Black human rights champion Malcom X.

Given its humungous reach and its enormous potential to tear asunder the communal fabric of the country by feeding half-truths and plain untruths into the gullible minds of audiences, it is anybody’s guess how dangerous it could be if the content is “tweaked”, to reproduce the phrase used by one of the personnel interviewed in this investigation. It happened during Gujarat riots in 2002, where the vernacular newspapers like Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh competed to publish incendiary content in a communally surcharged atmosphere and as it happened during the Ayodhya Movement in the 1990s during the course of which many newspapers competed to publish communally biased reporting. All such acts of omissions and commissions by media are well documented by agencies like PCI (Press Council of India: Communal Violence in Gujarat – Role of the Media:

http://www.hvk.org/specialreports/pci/index.html), Editors Guild of India (see Rights and Wrongs: Ordeal by Fire in the Killing Fields of Gujarat: Editors Guild Fact Finding Mission Report) and PUCL. Such biased reporting helped these newspapers expand their circulation and readership exponentially and their ad revenues, which shows beyond doubt not only their acceptability among the growing mass of readers but also their ability to sway their minds.

Operation 136 brings to the fore media’s purported willingness to publish content with stated objective of swaying the minds of the electorate on communal lines in violation of Section 153A of the IPC, apart from Section 123 (3A) of the RPA, which inter alia states:

Whoever (a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or (b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity, . . . shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.    

The investigation also shows media purportedly agreeing to publish content of derogatory and defamatory nature thus violating Section 499 of the IPC which inter alia states:

Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.

Finally, their purported willingness to carry content for money in order to bolster the poll prospect of a particular political party brings into question the issue of “paid news” which in other words is publication of a content masquerading as news.

In recent past, some politicians have been accused of indulging in such malpractice as influencing the electorate through paid news. Ashok Chavan, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, is one such prominent politician who was accused of this malpractice in 2009 state elections by the ECI in 2010. However, he was discharged by the Supreme Court. Another politician who recently drew attention for this reason is Narottam Mishra. The BJP leader and minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government made news when the Delhi High Court last year upheld his disqualification by the Election Commission of India for three years after he was found guilty of not disclosing the amount he had spent on 42 “paid news” items that he got published in leading newspapers of Madhya Pradesh in 2008 state assembly elections, in violation of Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act 1951  (The Representation of the People Act, 1951: http://lawmin.nic.in/legislative/election/volume%201/representation%20of%20the%20people%20act,%201951.pdf). Although disqualified, Mishra has not been dropped from the Shivraj cabinet. Ironically, Mishra’s disqualification came after Mishra had fully enjoyed his term as Datia MLA for five years and even got reelected from the same constituency in 2013 elections to become a minister. The first ever known casualty of paid news was Umlesh Yadav who was disqualified by the ECI in 2011 while she was still an MLA, four months before the term of the Uttar Pradesh assembly ended. The legislator wife of D.P. Yadav, the notorious liquor baron and strongman of Uttar Pradesh, was held guilty not only of planting paid news in newspapers in 2007 elections but also indulging in spending more than the limit fixed by the Election Commission on her poll campaign in 2007. In both cases, the legislators in question were debarred for three years from fighting elections.

The menace of paid news is far from abating despite PCI investigating it in 2010 (PRESS COUNCIL Sub-Committee Report: http://presscouncil.nic.in/OldWebsite/Sub-CommitteeReport.pdf). The ECI reported more than 1200 cases of paid news in 2012 assembly elections, for instance, when Punjab led the pack with 520 cases followed by Gujarat with 414 cases. The ECI has again reported 95 cases of paid news during assembly elections held last year in seven states: 13 cases from UP, 2 from Uttarakhand and 80 from Punjab. The full extent of such violations is yet to come to light.

Apart from paid news, which vitiates and hinders holding of free and fair elections, the Indian media is now being plagued with private treaties under which certain houses are now allowing corporate interest to get favourable coverage for advertisements. Ironically, India does not have any laws dealing specifically with either paid news or private treaties, although SEBI has taken notice of the new evil and sounded out various agencies particularly the PCI and the ECI. The ECI had on its part in 2011 recommended, as part of poll reforms (Election Commission of India: PROPOSED ELECTORAL REFORMS: http://eci.nic.in/eci_main/ElectoralLaws/HandBooks/PROPOSED_ELECTORAL_REFORMS_01052017.pdf), to increase the jail term from one year to two. In view of recommendations received from the ECI and SEBI, the Law Commission of India has proposed an amendment to the Representation of People Act 1951 (http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/Report255.pdf), to provide therein publishing and abetting the publishing of “paid news” for furthering the prospect of election of any candidate or for prejudicially affecting the prospects of election of any candidate as an electoral offence with exemplary punishment of a minimum of two years imprisonment. The Law Commission has also recommended day-to-day hearing of cases of paid news.

But that is still a long road to travel for India before its people are not served paid content in the name of news!

Operation 136 should in no way be seen as an effort to undermine Indian media or question its sanctity as an institution which has in the past, and will have in future, worked to strengthen Indian democracy by standing tall during those darkest hours that we as a nation have faced. It is for this reason that Indians largely trust our media. Operation 136 does not cast aspersions or pass judgment on the journalists who work in these media platforms. The journalists working in these platforms have possibly done good journalism in the past and will do so again. However, if the management indulges in paid news, it creates a very difficult atmosphere for the journalist to practice the trade. This story, in fact, underlines our eagerness to address the malaise that has been dogging Indian media for the past three decades or so and look within as to where we are failing and if we can make course correction.

But the larger question remains: Would the present government, under which Indian media has earned the sobriquet of Godi Media, which is akin to “embedded journalism,” bother to take note of what Operations 136 shows and act to restore the credibility of the Indian media?  

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Operation 136: Part 1

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