The cornerstone of any journalistic exercise is credibility. But what can be said of a so-called sting done by a journalist, who has very little to show for this basic virtue of journalism?Pushp Sharma who conducted this farcical Operation 136 to 'expose' media organisations has a controversial past, to say the least.
He has two criminal cases lodged against him that are ongoing. One of them is about carrying out alleged fake sting operations in 2009 and other about fabricating RTI responses from the AYUSH Ministry in 2016. For these, Sharma was arrested twice by Delhi Police, according to reports published in The Times of India and The Print. The trial is yet to start in both the cases.
According to media reports, Pushp Sharma and his accomplice Pankaj Kumar used to fake road accidents to trap unsuspecting policemen. Once the police officer arrived, they’d pretend to reach a compromise, following which they’d ask the police officer at the scene to hand them change for Rs 500 and Rs 1000. The officer, who didn’t know he was being filmed would hand over the change. This footage was used to later blackmail the police officer. However, according to reports, Sharma and Kumar soon ran out of luck when Delhi Police managed to set a similar trap against them.
On October 21, 2009, two police officers from Vasant Vihar PS were asked to report at an 'accident' scene near IIT Delhi. Pushp and his accomplice tried the same modus operandi with the two police officers - Head Constable (HC) Rishi Rose and Ct. Satish. Rose gave Pushp Sharma change for Rs 500 to settle the matter with 'victim' Kumar. This video was recorded, and later Pushp Sharma called up HC Rose demanding money. Officer Rose then brought the matter to the notice of his seniors who promptly busted the racket on 17 November 2009, when Sharma was caught receiving Rs 10,000 from constable Rose. The case, according to a report in the Times of India, is currently pending trial at Delhi’s Patiala House Court. Cut to 2016, and Pushp Sharma again attracted controversy with his allegation that the AYUSH ministry was discriminating against Muslims while hiring yoga trainers. He cited an RTI reply in his report which was fake according to the Ministry. The AYUSH ministry lodged a formal complaint against Pushp Sharma for filing a 'fake' RTI and the journalist was booked on multiple charges.
Attempt to Malign the Fourth Estate
In 'Operation 136', Pushp Sharma masquerading as Acharya Atal reaches out to media houses and offers them money to run pro- Hindutva content. But look at the videos closely and they reek of convenient editing to tarnish the reputation of many mainstream media houses.
The Times of India has said that they were aware of Pushp Sharma's identity and were merely conducting a 'reverse sting'. The BCCL statement says, “They were acting under the advice of the BCCL legal team to trap the fraudster and to discover his true intent and details of the people, political formations or businesses backing him. Essentially, BCCL was in the process of carrying out a reverse sting with a plan to make the so-called Acharya Atal commit a mistake or even sign legal contracts so as to expose the people and organisations behind him".
Zee Media conducted 'Operation Rashtravad' where CobraPost’s feeble attempt to taint the media has been exposed. The sting operation shows ‘Acharya Atal’ trying to nudge Zee Media to do pro-Hindutva report. However, Zee Media representatives made it clear that they only report the verifiable truth. Still, Acharya Atal continued to court the journalists and sales team members to do communal news. The sting operation clearly exposes Acharya Atal's agenda which was to attack nationalist news outlets.
The India Today Group has accused Cobrapost of 'distorting the truth' with the intention of 'tarnishing its reputation'. “It is clear that the said broadcast is out of context and has been manipulated with clear intention to sully, tarnish, disparage, discredit and to running down an otherwise impeccable standing and reputation of the India Today Group. You are hereby called upon to immediately stop and suspend the broadcast regarding the India Today Group otherwise we will be left with no option to pursue strict civil and criminal remedies against you". Then company’s statement also says that it was made clear that no advertisement on communal lines would be aired by them, which wasn't reflected in the Cobrapost coverage.
J. Vigneshkumar, senior vice-president (marketing) at The New Indian Express was quoted by The Print as saying, "It is a clear case of a proposed advertisement campaign and on multiple occasions during the conversation, references have been made only to carrying ‘advertisements’. To paint it otherwise is being dishonest".
HT Media's chief Revenue officer also rebutted the allegations and was quoted saying by Indian Express, “We have an editorial policy which unequivocally discourages any paid news, and which we are very proud of. My personal comments clearly convey that if the content is legal and appropriate, and meets our editorial guidelines, we will carry it post-internal approvals. However, my entire comment has not been reproduced and has been conveniently edited.”
With little to show in reality, Cobrapost’s so-called expose is all smoke and no fire, done by a journalist who inspires little faith.