BBC News – The story barely reported by Indian media

Justin Rowlatt, South Asia correspondent

New Delhi – India, 28 May 2018. It is a potential scandal that claims to strike at a key pillar of Indian democracy – the freedom of the press – yet it is barely being reported in the Indian media.

There’s a simple reason for that: this alleged scandal involves many of the most powerful media institutions in the country.

A sting operation by a news organisation called Cobrapost claims to have revealed a deeply engrained bias towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within many of India’s leading media groups, as well as a willingness among some of the country’s most senior media executives and journalists to take money in return for pushing a political agenda.

Cobrapost, a small but controversial outlet known for undercover stings, describes itself as a non-profit news organisation that believes too much journalism in India has been “trivialised”. It has dubbed its story “Operation 136” – the figure is a reference to India’s ranking in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Their website says its recordings show that some of the country’s leading news organisations are willing to “not only cause communal disharmony among citizens, but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party”- and all in return for cash.

Undercover stings of this kind are notoriously unreliable. The footage can easily be taken out of context or edited to change the meaning of a conversation or misrepresent its real nature.

An undercover reporter from Cobrapost, Pushp Sharma, says he approached more than 25 of India’s leading media organisations, offering them all a similar deal.

He claimed to represent a wealthy ashram, a Hindu monastery, which, he said, was willing to pay large amounts of money in the run up to next year’s general election in an attempt to ensure the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, remains in power.

Mr Sharma says he outlined a three-stage strategy his paymasters wanted to bankroll.

First, he proposed the media organisations promote what he describes as “soft Hindutva”, the idea that Hindu faith and values are the defining ideology of India. He suggested this could involve promoting the sayings of Lord Krishna or retelling stories from the Bhagvad Gita, the epic poem that is one of the most holy texts of Hinduism.

The next stage would involve attacks on the BJP’s political rivals, particularly Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Congress Party.

Finally, the plan was to move on to promoting incendiary speeches from some of hard-line proponents of Hindutva, including some divisive radical Hindu figures.

The idea of this stage of the operation, Mr Sharma explained to some of the executives, was to polarise voters in the hope that the BJP would benefit at the ballot box.

‘Viral videos and jingles’

Amongst the media groups Cobrapost says it approached were giants like Bennett Coleman, the media empire that owns The Times of India, the largest selling English language newspaper not just in India, but in the world.

It also targeted the The New Indian Express, another large English language newspaper, and the India Today Group, which owns one of the country’s most popular television news channels.

Hindi language newspapers and regional media groups were also approached.

According to Cobrapost, all but two of the more than two dozen groups it had meetings with said they were willing to consider the plan.

Videos of the encounters posted on the Cobrapost website show media executives, editors and journalists discussing how they might be able to accommodate his proposals.

The different organisations come up with a whole range of suggestions, from publishing undeclared “advertorials”, to paid news items and special features.

Some say they would set up “special teams” to push the ashram’s agenda. There is talk of creating viral videos, jingles, quizzes and events.

Cobrapost has made some potentially very serious allegations about some of the countries most powerful media organisations.

In most democracies, claims like this would have generated a huge national scandal with banner headlines and public outrage.

But, here in India, only few online media organisations – including the Wire, Scroll and The Print – have given the story extensive coverage.

‘Reverse sting’

Some of the big media groups targeted in the sting have responded to Cobrapost’s claims, however.

They deny any wrongdoing and say that the undercover footage has been edited to misrepresent the real nature of the encounters.

The Times of India, for example, says it is “a case of doctoring of content and falsification” and says none of the media organisations Cobrapost names “agreed to any illegal or immoral activity and no contracts were signed”.

The Cobrapost videos appear to show Vineet Jain, the managing director of Bennett Coleman, the publisher of the Times of India, haggling over how much the group would need in order to consider the proposal. Mr Jain says he wants $150mn (£112mn) but finally settles for half that.

There is also a discussion about how any payment could be made in cash, possibly to avoid paying tax.

Bennett Coleman has since rejected any suggestion of dishonesty. In fact, an article in the Times of India explained that Cobrapost was the victim of what the newspaper calls a “reverse sting”.

It says “senior functionaries” of Bennett Coleman were well aware that Mr Sharma was an imposter and deliberately went along with his proposals in an attempt to “trap the fraudster and discover his true intent”.

The India Today group also denied that it had done anything wrong. In a statement it said that the company’s managers would not do anything unethical, and that any advertising that divides the country on religious or caste lines will not be acceptable or aired on its channels.

Meanwhile the New Indian Express has said that there are no editorial issues for the newspaper because the meetings were between the undercover reporter and advertising executives and the discussion was only about the possibility of an advertising campaign.

It also said it would never accept advertisements which encouraged communal disharmony and that the executives made clear that any advertisement would need to be legally vetted.

There is no question that the Cobrapost allegations need to be treated with healthy scepticism. But there is also no question that they raise potentially troubling doubts over the independence of the media in India, particularly when it is a year away from a general election.

That the world’s largest democracy languishes towards the bottom of the rankings for press freedom is already a matter of national shame.

If proven, these allegations would no doubt see India slipping yet further down the table.

A headline in the online news site Scroll captures the challenge the country faces.

“Cobrapost expose shows Indian media is sinking”, it runs. “Now we can fight back or be drowned.”

The Tribune – Act against those issuing threats: Dhadrianwale

Patiala – Panjab – India, 27 May 2018. A few days after receiving “death threats”, Sikh preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale on Sunday alleged that the previous SAD-BJP government had failed to act after the “planned” attack on him two years ago.

He said though he was satisfied with the way the Congress government had reacted to the threats issued to him, it “has not shown much keenness to act against the ones issuing threats”.

“I have not approached either the police or the government after the recent threats issued to me by chief spokesperson for the Damdami Taksal Charanjit Singh Jassowal,” he said.

“However, I hope that the Congress government curbs religious hooliganism and expose those issuing threats in the name of religion,” he said.

Talking at his Gurdwara Parmeshar Dwar Sahib on the Patiala-Sangrur highway, Dhadrianwale claimed that he had no plan to join active politics.

“I oppose their (SGPC) system of running the Sikh affairs and therefore I cannot be part of such an electoral process. My fight is with the system involving our religion and it will continue till my last breath,” he said. (TNS)

To Zelzate and Sas van Gent (NL) – Gent: Belfort and Braemkasteel

Zelzate (Be)
12 April 2018

Connexxion Bus 6 to Sas van Gent and Terneuzen

DFDS Seaways
In the foreground: Gent – Terneuzen goods line

DFDS Seaways
In the foreground: Gent – Terneuzen goods line

13 April 2018


Gentbrugge Braemkasteel
13 April 2018

Stelplaats underneath E17

Stelplaats underneath E17

To see all my pictures:

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Man in Blue

Deccan Chronicle – Why Vidya, Sidharth, Farhan, Aditi, other stars are raving about cop Gagandeep Singh

Popular Bollywood celebrities have heaped praise on the Sikh police officer, who saved a Muslim man from allegedly being lynched

Mumbai – Maharshtra – India. 28 May 2018. A video of the cop, Gagandeep Singh is doing the rounds on social media, with people hailing his bravery.

While people on Twitter applauded Singh’s act and his commitment towards his work, the Bollywood stars have called him the ‘real hero’.

“We are quick to condemn those who take a life, but we must be quicker to commend those who save one. #hero #GagandeepSingh

Actress Vidya Balan called Gagandeep a “true Indian”.

Author Chetan Bhagat wrote: “The Sikh police officer who saved the Muslim man. I don’t care who’s in power. That’s the India I want and ever will want. Even if I am the only one left wanting it”.

Talking to the micro-blogging site, actress Aditi Rao Hydari wrote: “So true… there is hope! #Hero #GagandeepSingh”.

Actor Sidharth Malhotra tweeted: “Being a good example is the best form of service. #hero #Gagandeep.”

In the video being circulated over social media, Singh was seen surrounded by the crowd, who were attacking the Muslim man, who was found with a Hindu girl at a temple in Uttarakhand’s Ramnagar.

The Hindu – Pakistan summons India’s Deputy High Commissioner over Gilgit-Baltistan

Islamabad – Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 28 May 2018. The Pakistan cabinet on May 21 approved the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 to integrate the region of Gilgit-Baltistan into the federal structure of the country.

Pakistan on Monday summoned India’s Deputy High Commissioner J P Singh and issued a demarche over the Indian statement that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, which also includes the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan areas, is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession in 1947.

The Pakistan Cabinet on May 21 approved Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018, which was also endorsed by the assembly for the region. The order is being seen as Pakistan’s efforts towards incorporating the disputed region as its fifth province.

India on Sunday summoned Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah in New Delhi and lodged a strong protest over Islamabad’s latest move, saying any action to alter the status of any part of the territory under its “forcible and illegal occupation” has no legal basis.

The Ministry of External Affairs said it conveyed to Mr Shah that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, which also includes the so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ areas, is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession in 1947.

Commenting on India’s remarks, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal said that Singh was summoned on the issue. Dr Faisal, who is also the Director General (South Asia & South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) issued the demarche to Mr Singh.

Mr Singh was summoned “to register Pakistan’s categorical rejection of the Indian statement on the Gilgit Baltistan Order 2018 and its baseless, fallacious claim” over Kashmir, according to a statement issued by Dr Faisal’s office.

It said a written demarche to this effect was also handed over to Mr Singh.

The Foreign Office spokesman in a statement claimed that the “Jammu and Kashmir was a disputed territory”.

“Pakistan categorically rejects India’s protest against the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 and its claim over Jammu & Kashmir as an ‘integral part’ of India. Everything from history to law to morality to the situation on the ground belies India’s spurious claim,” the spokesman said.

“These resolutions, pledging the right to self-determination to the people of Kashmir, were accepted by India, Pakistan and the international community,” he said, referring to UN Security Council resolutions.

The spokesman said that Pakistan as a responsible member of the international community, had always taken steps consistent with UN Security Council resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir dispute.

“The latest measure is no exception, as its aim is to further empower the people of Gilgit and Baltistan. We will continue to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions until this dispute is finally resolved through peaceful means, he said.

Pakistan has bifurcated occupied Kashmir into two administrative parts, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Gilgit-Baltistan was treated as a separate geographical entity by Pakistan till now.

China’s controversial $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through the disputed region.