Why Shekhar Gupta’s objections to the Cobrapost paid-media sting are disingenuous

06 June 2018
In addition to the apparent dual standard applicable to The Print’s coverage of sting journalism by Cobrapost as compared to other sting operations, Shekhar Gupta’s memory, too, appears to be playing some tricks.
Hemant Chawla/The India Today Group/Getty Images
In addition to the apparent dual standard applicable to The Print’s coverage of sting journalism by Cobrapost as compared to other sting operations, Shekhar Gupta’s memory, too, appears to be playing some tricks.
Hemant Chawla/The India Today Group/Getty Images

Shekhar Gupta, the founder and editor-in-chief of the news website The Print, and the president of the Editors Guild of India, tweeted on 26 May, “Since you asked: 1st, my personal (editorial) view. I do not accept stings as journalism. It’s a publicly explained view. The Print’s Code of ethics firmly bars stings, pl check the link. The code at IE barred stings too & I presume it hasn’t changed.” He was responding to Yogendra Yadav, the national president of Swaraj India, who urged Gupta, and other editors of national news organisations, to speak up about “Operation 136: Part II”—the second part of a sting operation by the investigative news website Cobrapost, which was published the previous day. The Cobrapost investigation looked into paid news items, and showed how dozens of media houses were ready and willing to push a Hindutva agenda on their official platforms in exchange for large sums of money.

Shekhar Gupta’s tweet was disingenuous to say the least.

To put things in perspective—as recent as May 12, The Print carried a story on asting operation in which B Sriramulu, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was seen allegedly negotiating a bribe with PV Sreenijan, the son-in-law of the former chief justice KG Balakrishnan. The Print reported that the “purported sting operation showed BJP candidate Sriramulu trying to facilitate a deal with a relative of then CJI Balakrishnan on behalf of the Reddys of Ballari.” The sting, released by the Congress ahead of the Karnataka assembly elections, was not even conducted by a media platform. Yet The Print’s story casts no comments on the motives of the people who conducted it, or the ethics of the sting operation itself.

In March, The Print reported on the British news organisation Channel 4’s sting operation on senior executives of the political consultancy company, Cambridge Analytica. The report noted that the company’s board had suspended its chief executive officer, Alexander Nix, “after he was shown on video discussing entrapping politicians with bribes and prostitutes and spreading disinformation.” In fact, the tag for “Cambridge Analytica” on The Print’s website shows 19 stories related to the firm, none of which concern the ethics of Channel 4’s decision to use hidden cameras. This is not to question whether Cambridge Analytica was a story worth pursuing—of course it was, especially their activities in India. But it appears that a British company promising to fix elections in Sri Lanka—as revealed in Channel 4’s sting—is of greater news value to Gupta than mainstream TV channels and newspapers doing the same in India.

Aniruddha Bahal is the editor of Cobrapost.com

Keywords: journalism media ethics sting operations Shekhar Gupta Indian Express India Today Cobrapost
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