In the largest democracy of the world, probably the biggest display of despotism took place on 26th May 2018. In the modern day, the media is one of the pillars of democracy, along with the legislature, executive and judiciary. This fourth pillar is ubiquitous, which keeps a check on the other three pillars. The free press in a nation marks the presence of good governance. The freedom or the potency of the freedom of media gives shape to the knowledge and information that reaches the masses. This helps them form rational ideas and opinions in order to be enlightened towards their roles as citizens and empowered enough to realise their legal obligations.
A critically acclaimed Non-Profit news website and television production house, Cobrapost, floated videos where major Indian media houses were ready to accept an enormous amount of pay check in return for altering the news in the favour of Hindutva Agenda. Cobrapost is a media house that works on investigative journalism. For the performed sting operation, an undercover journalist Pushp Sharma posed as “Acharya Atal”, who identified himself as a close associate to Nagpur-based Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and went to several media houses. In the videos, one could explicitly hear the prominent leaders of the media houses striking a deal for an exchange of 500 Crores. The notions of free press can evidently be seen sliding into oblivion.
Big names like Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, Paytm, Bharat Samachar, Bartman, Dainik Samvad, 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, came into the forefront on this media leak and were ready to alter the views of public. The undercover journalist striked a deal for promoting Hindutva on the communal lines and defaming the targeted leaders of the opposition, namely Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Rahul Gandhi. The news agencies agreed to run this biased campaigned on all spheres to make sure an high outreach to the laymen. At the dawn of digitalisation in this country, where every family has at least a member active on social media platforms, and these perfidious headlines could threaten to cause the hurting of other religious sentiments, and even cause instability.
In addition, the provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act) 1995, Cables Rules, and Representation of People’s Act, along with Conduct of Election Rules, make paid news and communal polarization for electoral gains an offence. Both the Cable Act and the Cable Rules prohibit transmission or re-transmission of programmes that do not conform to the advertisement code. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has well laid-down provisions, to deal with various unlawful acts that these media houses agreed to commit. Section 153(A) makes any attempt to “promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups” punishable with imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine or both. Cobrapost itself accounts that ABN Andhra Jyothy, a prominent Telugu TV news channel is backed by TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. It is no surprise then that its Chief Marketing Manager E.V. Seshidhar says that their newspaper holds so much sway that they could influence the outcome of the Karnataka elections.
Operation 136 has found that most of the media houses are either owned by politicians themselves, particularly the regional ones, or under the patronage of politicians. The media houses are trapped by a greed for profits, which basically corrupts the moral agenda needed to report news that is unbiased, truthful, trustworthy and free of any kind of agenda. But then the question that arises in mind is why this lesser known non-profit investigative group must be trusted in the face mainstream news publications? It must be noted that Cobrapost was founded in 2003 by Aniruddha Bahal, the co-founder of Tehelka. It has successfully covered several high profile breaks. One of its first major breaks was in 2005, when, along with Aaj Tak, Cobrapost conducted an investigation named Operation Duryodhana, which exposed eleven MPs accepting money for putting forward questions in the Parliament. Moreover, they fearlessly revealed the videos of Operation 136 on Youtube outright, pointing out how these big banner holders of free press are willing to accept money to push any agenda.
It is one of the biggest disclosure of the millennium, but still major media houses failed to report it. This above mentioned fact itself reveals about how corrupt all of them are. The biggest culprit caught in this scenario was the Times Group owner and managing Director Vineet Jain, who not only accepted the offer, in exchange of propagating the Hindutva Agenda through advertisements and events that would be presented as programming on Krishna and Bhagvad Gita , but also offered guidance to the undercover journalist on how to make the payment in cash.
All these instances lead us to only a single conclusion, that all the major news publications are ready to push political agenda, if offered enough money. With all the illegality attached to such deeds, we could only seek the judiciary for relief, but only if it has not yet been captured under the ravagers of this greed. The biggest victim of this distorted press are the citizens of India, who are caught in the tussle of credible and pretentious news.
Picture Credits: Aljazeera