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India Today and The New Indian Express deny Hindutva push allegations made by Cobrapost

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Cobrapost released a series of sting videos, claiming several media houses had agreed to carry Hindutva campaign in return for crores of rupees ahead of 2019 polls.

New Delhi: Two prominent media houses and a digital payments company have rejected the allegations levelled by news portal Cobrapost that they had agreed to run campaigns to promote Hindutva and favour a political party in exchange of payments in crores.

Cobrapost had Friday released a series of sting videos, claiming a number of media houses had agreed to carry out the agenda in return for payments ranging between a few crores of rupees to as much as Rs 500 crore ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The first part of the Cobrapost investigation – called Operation 136 – covered 17 media organisations.

ThePrint is not naming all the media houses covered until it receives responses from them to the specific allegations.

The portal claimed that journalist Pushp Sharma went undercover as Acharya Atal and met people in managerial positions in the media groups, allegedly asking them to run a campaign in favour of the BJP.

Cobrapost said that except Bartaman Patrika and the Dainik Sambad, all other media houses were willing to run planned multimedia campaigns to promote Hindutva through customised religious programmes for the first three months, then use speeches of Hindutva hardliners such as Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Mohan Bhagwat to polarise the voters.

Part of the campaign was also to target opposition leaders such as Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav.

Response from India Today Group

The videos showed interactions between the Cobrapost journalist and Kalli Purie, vice-chairperson of the India Today Group, over using Krishna and the Bhagvad Gita to promote Hindutva.

While Purie apparently agreed to the idea that includes calling Right-wing ideological leaders to India Today TV channels’ programmes, she also said that they will be criticised for carrying out “infield activities” that the group doesn’t agree with editorially.

Before Purie, the journalist also interacted with a man named Rahul Shaw, identified as a senior managerial executive at the group, who claimed to be very “pro-government”.

Defending its position, the India Today Group denied the charges. It also warned Cobrapost to immediately stop and suspend the broadcast regarding the India Today Group or face legal action.

In its statement, the media house said that during the purported meeting between the Cobrapost reporter and India Today managers, it was communicated by the group that it will not do anything unethical, and that any advertising creative that divides the country on religious or caste lines will not be acceptable and aired on its channels.

“However, in your video posted online, this has not been adequately reflected and has distorted the truth,” it said, adding that the broadcast is out of context and has been manipulated with the intention to tarnish the reputation of the India Today Group.

Response from The New Indian Express

One of the videos showed a senior managerial executive at The New Indian Express agreeing to the idea of running certain campaigns proposed by the Cobrapost journalist in the form of advertorials.

Responding to questions from ThePrint, J. Vigneshkumar, senior vice-president (marketing) at the newspaper group, said that Cobrapost cannot talk about editorial compromises at TNIE since its interaction was limited to a couple of advertising executives and the discussion centred on advertising campaigns alone.

He said that nowhere does the marketing official say that the so-called campaign proposed by the journalist in question will be run in the newspaper as news.

“It is a clear case of a proposed advertisement campaign and on multiple occasions during the conversation, references have been made only to carrying ‘advertisements’. To paint it otherwise is being dishonest,” he said.

He also said that TNIE does not accept advertisements with a communal colour or those intended to create communal tension in the society. He said what had been buried is the specific point made by the marketing staffer that usage of words (references to Lord Krishna, among others) even in the form of an advertisement has to be legally vetted.

Therefore, to come to a conclusion that it is a “done deal” is erroneous, Vigneshkumar said.

The sting operation also shows Ajay Shekhar Sharma, senior VP and brother of Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, claiming that someone from the PMO had sought data of users to identify stone-pelters.

Paytm, however, denied this in a statement posted on Twitter.

“There is absolutely NO TRUTH in the sensational headlines of a video doing rounds on social media. Our users’ data is 100 percent secure and has never been shared with anyone except law enforcement agencies on request. Thank you for your continued support,” Paytm tweeted.

Disclosure: Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma is an investor in ThePrint.

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  1. BREAKING – Actually BJP President Shri Bangaru Laxman was conducting “reverse sting” on Tehelka reporter while accepting cash for defence deals.
    Note- Vinit jain claims conducting reverse sting on Acharya Atal

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