Major news and media houses are left embarrassed by the Cobra Post Sting # 136

People don’t learn from history, not even recent history. An international political analytics company based in London and with clients around the world has to recently shut down its entire operations due to their role in manipulating voters in the 2016 US elections. This company which has offices in India and boasts that Indian National Congress is its major client delivered a proposal to INC for Karnataka Assembly and 2019 General Elections. A major sting operation was carried out a leading news agency where, the CEO was caught discussing voter manipulation in Sri Lanka and the company is now defunct.

In March 2018, Cobrapost.com carried out a major sting operation against senior members of various media outlets across TV, Newspaper, Radio and Digital Agencies. Tapes reveal the reporter asking the senior most members of these organizations about placing political ads to propagate right wing ideology through their medium to influence voters in the 2019 General Elections. With the exception of two vernacular newspapers; Dainik Sambad and Bartaman Patrika which refused to entertain the proposal, the rest agreed in some form or another to publish these ads in return for huge sums of money. Most of these exposed individuals openly requested the client to half of the amount in cash and one senior director of a leading media house even requested and provided details on how to channel cash through hawala system

Media companies rely on advertising revenue to run their operations and provide their audience with the best news and entertainment experience. There is a huge rush for TRPs, resulting in a bidding process for advertising space. However, commercial advertising is the purpose of marketing and advertising one’s brand, product and services. Political advertising campaigns when performed with a hidden agenda gives rise to increased polarity between communities and leaves society vulnerable to incidents of violence and breakdown of law order. Even without any disturbances, it pollutes the mind of an individual and influences his or her independent decision making.

In effect, these media houses do not give a second thought to the wider implications of their actions. Their only burning desire is to make money for themselves and their companies, with minimum regard for journalistic ethics and sensitive issues. As if we do not have enough divisions in our society, we now have mass media trying to encourage radical views. India today has an increasing number of young people consuming news across medium and they are a rich catchment audience for such endeavors. Catch them young and it’s much easier to peddle your views and spread your message.

Two things have shocked in regards to the Cobrapost sting. One, the near total absence of coverage of the sting in our newspapers with the exception of The Hindu and The Indian Express and Two, certain new age media agencies exposed in the sting were founded by young and promising individuals who we expect to follow progressive ideas and curate news that is free from influence and fair in its reporting. They seem to have started with a clean set of ideals but somewhere along the way they have lost track of their ideals. This should serve as an important lesson to aspirants who are looking for a career in the media. Fake news sells but Real news informs, educates and inspires.

As the fourth pillar of society, journalism plays a vital role in our daily lives. They are channels of information to the common man and also agents of empowerment through information. But the nature of news is changing.  India has the fastest growing number of digital news subscribers in the world and fake news has the potential to spread divisive information. Recently, in a largely peaceful neighborhood in South Bangalore, a mob of people lynched an innocent man suspecting him to be a child smuggler. Fake photos and morphed videos warning people to be careful of kidnappers were doing the rounds on the social media and the crowd mistook the dead man as one. Only three days later a similar incident happened in Hyderabad. These incidents prove the effect of fake news on society; it is just as well that Cobrapost came out with this sting as it serves as an opportunity to educate citizens of the value of their vote and by just witnessing some of the figures mentioned in the sting, we can tell you that every vote is valuable and can make a difference.