Cobrapost Sting: The messenger may be wrong, but not the message

The Cobrapost has also not released uncut-unedited version of the sting videos. But does that mean the sting holds no water?


About four days ago the Cobrapost sting hit the internet and what followed shook not only the Indian Media world. The sting operation named ‘Operation 136’ was done on some of the biggest names of Indian media including popular news channels, newspapers and some news portals. Operation 136-a two-part series reveals how the Indian media is allegedly ready to bend for a huge sum of money.

The sting was conducted by senior journalist Pushp Sharma who disguised himself as “Acharya Atal” from Shri Bhagwad Geeta Prachar Samiti while dealing with the media professionals. The part one of the sting was released by Cobrapost a few months ago. On Friday evening, the portal which calls itself a “non-profit news organization prominently known for Investigative Journalism” rolled out the second part of the sting.

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More than a dozen media houses including some prime time news channels having high ratings were on the list. Cobrapost alleges that these media houses were ready to push the Hindutva agenda in favor of the ruling party for money. In the series of videos, the reporter can be even heard often referring to pushing the ‘Soft-Hindutva’ agenda. He talks about creating satire programs that would target the opposition leaders-likes of Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, and Mayawati. He also mentions 2019 Lok Sabha Election in almost all the videos from which we can safely infer that the agenda is to influence voters. The hefty price he offers in exchange of these is around 500 crores.

As much as the content of the sting, the past of the journalist Pushp Sharma, who conducted it, is shocking too. Sharma who has previously worked with publications like Tehelka and Channels like Headlines Today already has two criminal cases against him: one by AAYUSH Ministry for faking an RTI reply and other for conducting a fake sting. He was even arrested by the police in both the cases.

What are the criminal cases against Pushp Sharma?

In 2009, Sharma was arrested for allegedly carrying out a ‘fraudulent’ sting. He was also accused of trying to extort money from a police officer. The Delhi Police which arrested Sharma said that he along with his friend Pankaj Kumar would fake road accident and set a trap for victims. Mostly, policemen and government officials. According to the statements from the police, Pushp Sharma has an entire “Library of the stings”. “The accused disclosed that in the past he has conducted several of similar sting operations. So far two police officials including one head constable and one sub-inspector were his target. The same is being investigated,” the statement said.

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In yet another incident in 2016, he was arrested for allegedly “fabricating” an RTI response from the AAYUSH Ministry. Sharma was working with Milli Gazette at that time. The Ministry said that he fabricated an RTI response on a query related to Muslim yoga teachers. His claim was also challenged by the Ministry. He had reported that Muslim yoga teachers are being denied jobs and are discriminated against. The charges on Sharma were serious in nature including cheating, forgery and promoting enmity between different groups.

Pushp Sharma’s version:

On the other hand, though Pushp Sharma doesn’t deny the facts; he claims that it is a “witch-hunt”. In a blog post on Cobrapost, he says that he is being hounded as his stories hurt “certain interests or powerful individuals”. He blames the establishment and media at large for this.

Image Source: Newslaundry

Clarifying his stance in the money extortion from policemen case, he says, “A false case was filed against me after yet another investigation that I had done on the SHO of Najafgarh Police Station alleging that I had extorted Rs. 10,000 from a constable. However, the sole witness that was produced before the court turned out to be a police informer. The case is still pending for the past 9 years.”

He ends the post referring to the cases as a ‘professional hazard’.

Reaction to ‘Operation 136’:

The Cobrapost sting ruffled some feathers. While some claimed that they were conducting a reverse sting on the journalist posing as ‘Acharya Atal’, almost all of them outright denied the charges made by the portal. Few of them also said that the videos published by the portal were doctored and had falsified information. Some even cited the cases on him to discredit the sting.

The sting videos published by the Cobrapost are undoubtedly edited. They include voice-overs and stop motions for effect. Thus, no one can really tell what has been omitted and what has been kept. The portal has also not released uncut-unedited version. But does that mean the sting holds no water?

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Though the videos have been edited, in many of the uncut bits, it becomes widely clear that the big media agreed to run the propaganda for which they were being offered a large money. Some were even caught on camera discussing routes to launder money to avoid legal complications. For this, they even mention taking help of big corporates. Doesn’t it indicate a nexus between the corporate and media? In one of the video, a Senior Vice President of a payment app is even seen boasting about his political connections within the ruling party. Don’t these count?

Whether Pushp Sharma is guilty of the cases on him or not is a different question. Whether his sting is genuine or not can be the matter of concern and it should be found out. But that does not also mean that what was caught on camera was all false.

Well, the message need not necessarily be wrong if the messenger is wrong!

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