Media exposed


The two-part cobrapost sting operation on big media houses earlier this year was a damning indictment of the media. Shocking videos surfaced on youtube of the sting revealing heads of host of organizations including Times of India and India Today conversing with the cobrapost under-cover reporter (masquerading as a representative of a right wing organization) offering them a bait of up to Rs 500 crores for publishing content that promotes Hindutva in three phases, the last phase being open communalization and polarization. While some of them are seen to be fully in agreement, the others agree conditionally, speaking about either the ‘non-interference in editorial policy’ or about the modus of payment. These conversations may not qualify for legal action against the big honchos of the media houses wagging their tail to the lure of money, but they sure put a huge question mark on the ethics at play. Though the videos that surfaced did not show any transaction of money actually happening or the finalization of an agreement to all the demands of a three phased Hindutva campaign to be run by news organizations as part of their advertorials, there were definite signs of amiability, partial or full, to the propositions being made by the cobrapost reporter. The conversations may not conclude anything from the legal point of view and may appear a bit unsophisticated. But for such conversations to have taken place in the first place is a shocking comment on the ethics and principles of the media houses. It betrays the willingness of the media houses to go an extra-mile in serving the propaganda of any particular for pecuniary benefits, whether it is in the form of advertisement or news content. It is immaterial whether some of the media house owners and managers who figured in the videos clearly put their foot down on communally inflammatory material creeping into the editorial content. The responsibility of the media house does not stop at quality of the content on their news and opinion pages but also the advertisements. It is against the moral and ethical principles of journalism to give space to any propaganda material that has religious overtones, much less communal designs. The undercover reporter pretty much made his agenda clear. The question is not only whether an agreement took place or not but that despite making his agenda clear, there was no bid by big business houses to dismiss and reject outrightly such a proposal that was evidently ill-intentioned. That two West Bengal newspapers, approached by the reporter, bluntly refused to comply with such a propaganda, one of them saying that this went against the soul of the organization and was completely unethical, throws up the vital question of why the standard of ethics was different for the rest. The act of engaging with such a proposal is enough to expose the immorality that has sunk into the media houses. The allurement of money being offered is obviously disproportionately higher than the usual advertisement rates and this further puts a question mark on the unprincipled and unscrupulous business models on which media is functioning in this country. That one of them is also trying to engage with the question of the circuitous route for the financial transactions of the black money to be paid and suggesting different ways to legalise it, is also a manifestation of the dirty business on whose foundation media houses are operating. It is also no hidden secret how big advertisers do not only manage to buy space but also circumvent their way into the news content. That this particular advertiser is not driven by commercial but political and communal ambitions, makes the obliteration of the line between advertisements, advertorials and news even more vulnerable. The phenomenon of paid news is not unknown but the cobrapost expose demonstrated the institutionalised and structured way this could be done. It showed that the media far from treating its role as working as the fourth pillar of democracy and becoming the voice of the marginalised and powerless people of the country, while fairly criticising policies and politics of the powerful political and business elite, has become completely motivated and co-opted.