Exclusive Sun Group: Will ask pro BJP RJs to pitch in the campaign, they promise

Sun Group: Will ask pro BJP RJs to pitch in the campaign, they promise

Accepting cash directly might be an issue, but rerouting through third party will be done, says employee


cobrapost - May 25, 2018


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).”

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