From allegedly agreeing to dilute stories on Amit Shah and Jay Shah to being in talks over playing Hindutva jingles on radio networks, a sting operation conducted by Cobrapost on Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, along with other major media groups, has brought the controversial topic of paid news under renewed focus.
The Quint has sent a detailed questionnaire to the Jagran group asking for its response to the allegations made in the Cobrapost investigation. This article will be updated if and when they reply.
In one of the videos released by Cobrapost on YouTube, the web portal’s undercover reporter Pushp Sharma is seen in conversation with Rajesh Mahasha, an Advertisement Manager in charge of Jagran’s operations in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh.
Cobrapost Reporter’s Alias
Cobrapost claims that in his meetings with Dainik Jagran officials, reporter Pushp Sharma used the name Acharya Chhatra Pal Atal and posed as an RSS pracharak.
The Dainik Jagran Sting
Pushp asks Advertisement Manager Rajesh Mahasha if Dainik Jagran could “dilute negative stories” like the ones on BJP President Amit Shah and his son Jay Shah, by pushing them to the inner pages.
Mahasha then responds saying that Jagran’s editorial stand has in any case been in support of the BJP.
"If you examine our newspaper, you’ll find that our editorial stand is in support of the BJP and never in opposition to it. A weekly column written by our Editor-in -Chief Manoj Gupta usually tends to highlight Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s work." - Rajesh Mahasha, Advertisement Manager at Dainik Jagran
Pushp proceeds to discuss the mode of payment to Dainik Jagran in exchange for the favours mentioned.
Pushp insists on paying 50% of the amount through cheque and the other half by cash, which he mentions would be GST-free. Mahasha agrees.
Similar views are echoed by Manoj Walia, General Manager of Marketing at Dainik Jagran’s New Delhi office, who says that there’s “no doubt in the fact that this publication supports the BJP.”
Walia adds that the relationship between the BJP and Jagran is old and “the publication’s directors have also been nominated to the Rajya Sabha.”
One of the media properties owned by the Jagran group is Radio City. In an interaction with Anil Reddy, Radio City’s Hyderabad Sales Manager, Cobrapost reporter Pushp Sharma poses as an RSS worker, who wants pro-Hindutva content related to the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta to be played on the radio station. When Pushp says that putting the content out under the name of RSS could invite objection, Reddy agrees that they should do it without naming the Sangh.
Sting Alleges Dainik Jagran Agreed to “Bash Behenji”
Another video of Cobrapost’s sting on Dainik Jagran shows reporter Pushp Sharma at the daily’s Chandigarh office, where he held negotiations with Vaibhav Gupta, Senior Manager for Ad Sales at Radio City.
At first, Pushp Sharma says he wants content on Dainik Jagran to “bash” his political opponents. Sharma says this should be achieved by using terms like “Pappu” and “Behenji.”
Vaibhav Gupta nods in appreciation, adding that Behen ji is a “general term.”
"You cannot point it at any specific person. You can call any person Behenji." - Vaibhav Gupta, Senior Manager at Radio City
When Pushp talks about placing such content on the front pages of the Hindi daily, Vaibhav Gupta responds that he can offer premium positions across three verticals –print, radio and digital. On radio, Gupta offers the first commercial advertisement slot as a premium position for jingles.
According to Cobrapost, Pushp meets Vaibhav Gupta for a second time, when Gupta offers to put out requested content on Dainik Jagran’s first page over a period of three months and for a fee of Rs 2.09 crore.
Radio City Senior Manager Vaibhav Gupta claims that samples of print stories and radio content carrying Hindutva messages and mocking political entities have been approved by his seniors.
When asked about the mode of payment, Vaibhav Gupta said the Jagran group could accept payments in cash, but not directly. This, he adds, would be routed through some agency or trade partners, as “Jagran only deals in cheques”.
Along with these officials, other Dainik Jagran employees stung by Cobrapost include:
- Mayank Srivastava, Senior Marketing Manager, Chandigarh
- Anurag Gupta, General Manager, Dainik Jagran, Dehradun
- Rajesh Kumar Mahaa, Advertising Manager
- Rajneesh, Dainik Jagran, Kangra, Himachal
- Ravi Kumar Pandey, Associate Vice President (Marketing), Dainik Jagran, Noida
- Anil Gupta, Regional Sales Head, Radio City, Delhi
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