Last week, Cobrapost, a Noida-based investigative news portal, reported that managers and owners of some media houses in India were willing to advance the Hindutva agenda and polarise voters on religious lines in exchange for lucrative business deals.
The investigation has also alleged that following the protests in Kashmir, last year, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) asked Paytm, a mobile wallet company, to provide personal data of its users to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government. Media houses and Paytm have disputed Cobrapost's allegations.
Operation 136 (a reference to India's ranking in the World Press Freedom Index), caused an uproar over the state of the media, and reinforced concerns about the safety of user data in the hands of private service providers. CobraPost has also come under fire for obtaining the information through a sting operation. Media organizations the world over have long debated the ethics of reporting under false pretences using hidden cameras.
In a written interview, HuffPost India asked Aniruddha Bahal, founder and editor-in-chief of Cobrapost about Operation 136, its fallout, and the continued use of sting operations.
What is the key takeaway from Operation 136?
That we are a banana republic and no action will be taken against media houses who are not only willing to do paid news but go beyond into criminal territory: aid in polarization of communities, defame political rivals of clients, take compensation in cash.
What motivated you to carry out this investigation?
It just happened organically. No mainstream media organisation would have done it nor anybody else. It takes a bus load of commitment and more.
How did you go about it?
We didn't want to approach journalists as they don't matter in the current scheme of things. We approached sales people, senior management and owners where possible. It took many months of efforts.