Cobrapost and the Venom Within

29 May,2018


By Ranjona Banerji


O my, the knives are out. Having been “stung” by Cobrapost, the Times of India group has been forced to practice “investigative” journalism, a concept not always associated with its stable of media outlets. It turns out that while Pushp Sharma, representing Cobrapost, was offering Bennett Coleman MD Vineet Jain Rs 500 crore to push his Hindutva agenda, Jain and his employee Sanjeev Shah were doing a “reverse sting” on Sharma, trying to get him to reveal something unsavoury about himself. It says a lot about the management’s confidence in journalists at BCCL when the managing director and some marketing person conduct sting operations.

It took BCCL almost 48 hours to come up with this, er, spin. The other clear tactic is “attack the person”. Thus we have been informed by TOI and The Print that Sharma has dubious antecedents.

The Economic Times meanwhile pulled down its own article on the Cobrapost sting on PayTM:

However, BCCL has not released its own reverse sting on Sharma as yet. Instead, in tune with its total lack of understanding of responsible journalism, the group’s flagship English language “news” channel Times Now ran an evening show on the “sensational Tejpal Tapes”. This jeopardises the case and the cause of the rape victim. To try and use a rape victim to deflect attention from your owner’s predicament is cheap and sleazy and deplorable. I use these words. I want to use something much worse.

India Today put out this statement:

“At the outset, we vehemently deny the portrayal of India Today Group as a media house that will compromise its editorial integrity. It has never happened in the past and there is no question of it ever happening. In fact, in the meeting with our senior management, your reporter was told in no uncertain terms that the Group will not do anything unethical, and that any advertising creative that divides the country on religious or caste lines will not be acceptable, and will not be aired on our channels. However, in your video posted online, this has not been adequately reflected and has distorted the truth,” the statement said.

“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,” it added.

(Taken from The News Minute:

This article from The Print has other media house responses:


Open Magazine had a somewhat different response from other media houses: it took action against employees shown on tape talking to Sharma:


This is The Wire’s story on how the Cobrapost sting was covered.




This is what I wrote for Scroll just after the Cobrapost story broke:


There remain a few aspects to be further discussed. One is how readily many employees were eager and willing to push the agenda of a religious group, for money. In this case, a supposedly Hindutva group with a very clear message of divisiveness and polarisation. The other is the question of money alone. That the situation in the media business is so bad that ethics, such as they exist, are the first to get ditched. The third is the complete debasement of the editor and the newsroom. The managers spoken to did not discuss the role of the journalists in this “package” to Sharma. Instead, they had several ready packages of their own to offer.

Nostalgia plays tricks on one’s memory but any of us who have been around for a few decades have experienced days when marketing could not make such promises without editorial sanction. We were not perfect, but the mind balks at much of today’s journalism.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in this opinion piece on Cobrapost in The Indian Express has excoriated us and laid out the high price India will pay for the loss of media credibility.

I do not know if it is too late to try and recover. Judging from the justifications of the actions of managements by senior TV and print journalists, I wonder. Obfuscation, shifting of blame, false equivalences and little nostalgic stories cannot cover up the enormity of what Cobrapost has done. I do not like sting operations either but I cannot on that basis alone ignore what these media managements are willing to do. I also will not forget that there have many times in the past when journalists have quit because they disagree with their managements. In another world, this would be one of those times.

But alas.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal



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One response to “Cobrapost and the Venom Within”

  1. Namit B says:

    Neither Times nor ThePrint mentioned his (Pushp Sharma’) achievements who is 2011 IPI (international press institute award winner).

    Times and ThePrint attacking on him for personal reasons.

    Times – As the group “Daddy” has been caught so obviously they are bound to be vindictive.

    ThePrint – Got investment From PAYTM , whose sting was conducted by Pushp Sharma.

    This is link please have a look.

    Rest his stories speak itself so please beware of this PAYTM footlicker’ campaign against Pushp.

    ये वो स्टोरी है जिसके बाद बाबा रामदेव ने पुष्प के खिलाफ मोर्चा खोला पर इसी स्टोरी की वजह से रामदेव पर सी बी आई का केस हुआ.

    एक बार फिर हिन्दू चेहरे को नंगा किया इसी पर पुष्प को इंटरनैशनल अवार्ड मिला .
    अमित शाह के खिलाफ स्टिंग करके सारी सी डी सुप्रीम कोर्ट मैं जमा की.

    Now please decide if they hate Pushp its easy to understand.