Breaking:  Operation 136: Part II: Delhi High Court Gives a Thumps Up to Cobrapost Expose on Dainik Bhaskar

Breaking: Operation 136: Part II: Delhi High Court Gives a Thumps Up to Cobrapost Expose on Dainik Bhaskar

Cobrapost Team |
September 28, 2018

New Delhi: In the second part of Operation 136, Cobrapost exposed owners and high-ranking personnel of more than two dozen media houses, both mainstream and regional, the biggest ones and the smaller ones, the oldest ones and the newer ones. The media houses agreeing to run the paid media campaign included Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Paytm, Bharat Samachar, Suvarna, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Radio One, Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV and Open magazine..‘Operation 136: Part II,’ in fact, showed Indian media’s underbelly in its most visceral form.

click here for Court order

A day before the second part of Cobrapost expose of Indian media houses Operation 136 was scheduled for release at the Press Club of India, New Delhi, on May 26, the Dainik Bhaskar Group got an ex parte injunction from the Delhi High Court forbidding us from releasing the story. Honouring the court order, we decided to cancel the scheduled press conference and released the story on our web site sans our expose on Dainik Bhaskar. However, the court has on September 28, 2018 vacated the injunction and we are at liberty to release the story.

In its 60-year-long journey that began in 1958, Dainik Bhaskar has grown from strength to strength. With its presence in 14 states, publishing 63 separate editions simultaneously in Hindi, English, Marathi and Gujarati, the daily has emerged as the second largest newspaper in the country. According to the Indian Readership Survey 2017, the daily is India’s fourth newspaper in terms of readership.

To check if the group is willing to undertake his openly communal and defamatory agenda, Pushp Sharma met the following officials of the Dainik Bhaskar Group: Ajay Pratap Singh Tomar, Assistant Manager (Ad Sales), Indore; Abhishek Purohit, Sales Manager, Noida; Abhishek Dubey, Sales Department, Noida; Rahul J. Namjoshi, Business Head; Harish M. Bhatia, President (Sales and Marketing); Amit Sabharwal, Unit Head (Ad Sales), Chandigarh; Pawan Agarwal, Deputy MD, Noida; and Vijay Garg, CFO, Noida.

It will be in order to recap the main points of the agenda that the senior journalist put on their table while offering them Rs. 20 crore for his campaign:

  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.

Pushp first met Assistant Manager Ajay Pratap Singh Tomar at Indore. Sharma offers a myriad of illegal and unethical assignments, including cash adjustment, running stories against political rivals, his Hindutva agenda and not running stories against the present government. Ajay explains to Sharma that he shall get back to him after a discussion with his superiors but assures him that for this kind of work, their expectations of compensation will remain high. At one point of time, Ajay says, “Sir Bhaskar's expectations will remain very high for all these things, I mean it will be quite high.”

He next met My FM Sales Manager Abhishek Purohit who after hearing the agenda said “One point solution aapka Kelval ji rahenge toh agar aapko baat vaat kuch bhi addition deletion kuch bhi karna ho toh wo Keval ji karwa denge usmein koi issue nahi (Kevel ji is one-point solution for you. If you wish any additions to or deletions [from your campaign], Keval ji will take care).” His colleague at My FM Abhishek Dubey was initially cagey when Pushp briefed him about his agenda. He said he would seek approval for it. But as the discussion moved on, we found Dubey ready to help. He said, “So we are being paid for this activity …. which is our business that’s the only way we can survive … ye toh maine bataya aapko BJP aur Congress ke ad wagaireh aaye hain toh aye huye hain wo samajh mein aate hain clear cut agenda hota hai apne aapko promote karne ka wo bhi humne chhape hain toh agar ussi flow mein ye bhi nikal jata hai toh mere ko koi issue hoga nahi (I told you we get ads from both BJP and Congress. They have a clear-cut agenda to promote themselves. We have carried those ads. So, if your campaign is also carried in the same flow I will have no issue at all).”

Although his meeting with My FM Sales Manager Abhishek Purohit at Noida turned out be not as productive with regard to the promotion of the agenda, it facilitated his meeting with Business Head Rahul J. Namjoshi. The journalist briefs Namjoshi on his agenda in detail, the promotion of Hindutva and thrashing of political rivals by packaging the campaign in innovative manner. The agenda has to be run in all your three verticals, print, FM and digital. We also have certain jingles and other stuff ready and I will send them to you. While listening to his prospective client with rapt attention and responding with a “Hoon” intermittently, Namjoshi informs: “Wo kar deejiyega wo toh main achchhe se production karva doonga ... rest assured about the production… we have best setup production company (Yes send those jingles, so I will get production done here really well … rest assured about the production quality, we have the best setup production company).”

So, when the journalist met Dainik Bhaskar Group President (Sales and Marketing) Harish M. Bhatia, also present there was Namjoshi. The journalist once again spins the same tale about the Hindutva agenda and campaign against political rivals of the party in power.

As part of this campaign, the journalist adds, you will have to digitally promote the visits and speeches of Mohan Bhagwat. Bhatia agrees to work on the agenda: “Haan ho jayega (Yes it will be taken care of).” With this commitment, an understanding between the parties is established. As the negotiations move on, the journalist tells them that their organization is trying to build a base in Andhra Pradesh. You know what that Nizam and those people think. That needs to be cleaned out. At this point, the discussion gets overtly communal as Bhatia agrees: “Haan, haan inko toh saaf karna zaroori hai … matlab ye jab tak saaf nahi honge desh ka uddhar bhi jabhi hoga … addha desh ka satyanash inhone hi kar rakkha hain (Yes, yes, it is necessary to cleanse them … I mean until these people are cleansed, the country cannot be salvaged … they have ruined half the nation).” Namjoshi also chips in to suggest: “Kaaf der baat ho rahi thi Bengal mein karna hi padega kuchh jo Gujarat mein kiya thha 2001 mein (I have been hearing this talk that it has to be repeated in Bengal as well what was done in Gujarat in 2001).” When the organization is reeking with such communal virus, can a communal agenda be denied to be run by its high officials?

Giving them a circuitous explanation why it is necessary to pay them as much in cash as possible, the client the journalist asks them to accept 70 per cent payment in cash, although he would prefer to pay 100 percent in cash. While the journalist is discussing the issue, Bhatia chips with a “Humm,” “Haan” or “Accha (Got it)”. Interestingly, Bhatia has joined the Bhaskar Group only recently.

After this revealing interview has run its course, Pushp made a dash for Chandigarh where he met Dainik Bhaskar’s Unit Head (Ad Sales) Amit Sabharwal to discuss the promotion of Hindutva through the preaching of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and how this Hindutva campaign should benefit the party in power in Delhi in 2019 elections. Says an agreeable Sabharwal: “Right ... That’s okay.”

You see, the journalist now tells him, we want to reach out to the youth of Punjab so that we can inject Hindutva in their impressionable minds through the preaching of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita. How can you help us?

That is not a problem for Sabharwal as his organization can provide access to educational institutions across the state. Sabharwal assures helps: “That is not a problem…. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah… may be like half a day session that you want to conduct with the students that all we can arrange it for you.”

This settled, the journalist now comes back to his agenda. The promotion of Hindutva has to be packaged with the preaching of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna. But as elections approach, he tells Sabharwal, we would like the campaign to contain some milestones from modern Indian history including Independence in 1947 and Ayodhya movement for the Ram Janmbhoomi. This will help further our Hindutva agenda and us polarize the electorate in Punjab. Soaking in well the nefarious game plan, Sabharwal says in agreement: “Got it.” I could have asked to cover only the Ayodhya movement which suits us fine, but still am asking you to cover four-five such milestones. Hope you accept what I am asking you to do. Sabharwal is quick to reply: “Accepted.”

So, what about digital promotion of our firebrand Hindutva leaders like Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti and Mohan Bhagwat who are the known faces of the Ayodhya movement? The journalist puts the next item on his wish list across to Sabharwal. Sure, they can do that and for this Sabharwal says, “Your online promotion we will do it … separately.”

In order to clinch the big-ticket deal, Sabharwal met their prospective client the journalist second time. Present in this meeting was CEO Dharmendra Atri, who is a classmate of Bhaskar Group MD Sudhir Agarwal, and has been working with the group for the past 19 years. As the journalist has gone through explaining his communal agenda to them, Atri knows what such agenda would entail in its wake if it is run by their group and raises apprehension. He says he would check with their editorial team. But when the journalist tells him that he would like to play the agenda of Hindutva in a subtle way, Atri changes his stance saying, “Ye bhej bhi denge toh apan dikha denge wahan se okay ho jayegi do second lagega saala usmein kya ho gaya (He will send me the proposal … I will show it to them. It will be okayed within two seconds. This is not a big deal).” He asks Sabharwal to send him the proposal which he would promptly forward for approval. He finally assures, “Bas theek hai baaki toh hum kar hee denge … done aur bataiye (It is fine. The rest will be taken care of … done tell me if we can do something more).”

The journalist next met Dainik Bhaskar Group’s Deputy Managing Director Pawan Agarwal and Namjoshi. Later on, the group’s Chief Financial Officer Vijay Garg also joined this meeting. There is a content person present in the meeting to take specific instructions with regard to the campaign. In the conversation, Namjoshi directs the Dainik Bhaskar staff to make 30–40  creatives, telling him that the content should be pro-Hindutva and pro-BJP and political rivals such as Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Bannerjee and Mayawati should be lampooned using satire.

It is Namjoshi who introduces their client the journalist to his boss Pawan Agarwal, who is promptly briefed by the journalist on his agenda, to see if it elicits any ethical response from the Deputy MD, but to no avail. The journalist tells Agarwal that he has already met Atri and has discussed everything threadbare. He had advised me to bring it to your knowledge as well. “Haan wo toh unke paas hee hai approval ke liye matlab wo sab ek hee jagah se aapko kar denge execution sab neeche ground pe karenge (Yes, he has the authority for approval, I mean, he will approve all things and will get the execution done on the ground level),” informs Agarwal.

The total budget for this campaign is arrived at Rs. 20 crore. Now, the journalist tells them that he wants to make payment in cash, as he had discussed earlier. Turning to Namjoshi, Agarwal advises him: “Wo aap kar lena Bhatiaji se baat kar lenge finance se ek baar (You tell Bhatia to discuss it with the finance [department]).”

After the deal is finalized, the journalist seeks Agarwal’s cooperation. Theirs is a big media organization. Here Agarwal reassures his client in these words: “Nahin, nahin, wo humaara hamesha se judaav raha bhee hai aur bana bhee rahega (No, no, our association [with the RSS] has always been there and would remain so).” Agarwal even advises his client that they should focus on young audience and reach out to them through digital medium. Show them videos the way they want to see them. “Agar aap wo us pariprekshya mein dikhayenge toh zyada impact aagyega uska (If you show them in that perspective, it will create a greater impact).”

To discuss the cash delivery Namjoshi calls Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Vijay Garg on phone to join the meeting. Assuming that the client would deliver the cash the same evening, Namjoshi even suggests that they will ask all the staff members to leave the office premises before 8 o’clock that evening. Sometime later Chief Financial Officer Garg joins the meeting. When the journalist asks the CFO what time would suit them to receive the delivery of cash, he is told that all staff will leave the office by 7 in the evening. They spend an enormous amount of time discussing the difficulty counting the cash in machines and the danger it poses in case there are people who notice this large volume of cash lying around the office. Garg advises the client to divide the bulk of cash into parts to make it easier for them. To count the currency bills, Garg has planned to bring in counting machines as he says: “Toh main office mein rahoonga toh wo contact karke kyonki vo maine abhi do counting machine mangai hain (I will stay in the office, they can contact me … I am about to have two counting machines brought in).” He also asks the client if he can ask his cash delivery team to fetch in counting machines in case his men fail to do so. After discussing with them how the cash will be delivered to them, the journalist tells them that the cash has to be fetched from Jangpura, a locality in Delhi, and he would have to leave so that he could write instructions to his point man on a slip to do the needful that evening.

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 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.

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