On 25 May, the investigative news website Cobrapost released “Operation 136: Part II,” the second part of a sting operation in which the journalist Pushp Sharma, under the cover of a “seasoned pracharak,” met senior members of numerous media houses and offered to pay them large sums of money in exchange for running a Hindutva campaign on their platforms. The news organisations featuring in the stings included the Kannada news channel Suvarna News and its sister publication, Kannada Prabha. On the day that Cobrapost released the videos of the stings, both organisations, as well as the Dainik Bhaskar Group, secured injunction orders against Cobrapost.
Both Suvarna News and Kannada Prabha are owned by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the media baron and member of parliament in the Rajya Sabha from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Chandrasekhar is also currently the vice chairman of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in Kerala. In the cover story of the 2017 media issue, Nikita Saxena and Atul Dev reported on Chandrasekhar’s political ambitions and his vast media empire. In the following excerpt from the story, Saxena and Dev report on the editorial transformation of Suvarna News and Kannada Prabha under Chandrasekhar. According to HS Balram, a former director of Asianet News Network—which is also owned by Chandrasekhar—the media baron “was tilting towards the BJP, even if he didn’t directly say so.” As a result, Balram added, the Kannada Prabha’s “policy was, tilt towards the BJP.”
Suvarna News was launched in March 2008, some nine months before the deal with Star that left Asianet News in Chandrasekhar’s hands. The channel was placed under the umbrella of Asianet News Network, the entity that controls Jupiter Capital’s print and television media entities.
The new channel grew out of a news bulletin on Suvarna, a Kannada general-entertainment channel that Jupiter founded in 2007. Shashidhar Bhat, the founding editor of Suvarna News, recalled that as Suvarna’s news operations expanded, Chandrasekhar told him that he wanted a “people-oriented channel that would not favour any political party.” A Jupiter executive declared that Suvarna News would stand for “transparent and unbiased journalism.”
At the time, the Kannada television news market was sparsely populated. Suvarna News was only the third channel to enter it. The new venture’s main competitor was TV9 Kannada, then, as now, the market leader.