DIRTY WAR BREAKS OUT BETWEEN SHEKHAR GUPTA & COBRAPOST
Cobrapost editor takes on Shekhar Gupta on the ethics of sting operations
- kanwar manjit singh
Cobrapost editor takes on Shekhar Gupta on the ethics of sting operations



ANIRUDDHA BAHAL, the editor of Cobrapost and the man behind many journalistic scoops, scooped via sting operations, has slammed senior journalist Shekhar Gupta, president of the Editors Guild of India and former editor-in-chief of the Indian Express, for casting doubts over the efficacy of stings as a legitimate journalistic tool.
 
Reacting to the Cobrapost shocker story on how some of India's top media houses seemed fairly ready to accept humungous amounts of cash to give an utterly communal slant to news stories, manufacture news, publish partisan coverage and breach every known ethical line, Shekhar Gupta had said, "I do not accept stings as journalism."

He also claimed that his own venture, "The Print," had a code of ethics that "firmly bars stings."

In a stinging response (pun incidental), Aniruddha Bahal has not only accused Gupta of applying "dual standards", but even pointed out that Gupta himself had published news stories based on sting operations, and had even hailed sting ops at various points in his career.

But perhaps the unkindest cut of all was Aniruddha Bahal's reminder about the PayTM link.

Cobrapost's sting, codenamed Operation 136, featured a video of Ajay Shekhar Sharma, the senior vice president of PayTM and the brother of its founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Bahal explained how the video showed Ajay making "damning disclosures on how PayTM shared their data about users from Kashmir with the prime minister’s office" and also the fact that Vijay Shekhar is an investor in Shekhar Gupta's The Print.
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Shekhar Gupta: "I do not accept stings as journalism."
Aniruddha Bahal: Shekhar Gupta is happy to report on CDs that the cat drags in, but has problems when Cobrapost investigates and takes ownership of its stories.
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"Gupta published a story on The Print about Pushp Sharma, the journalist who reported the (Cobrapost) story (but) ... included no disclosures about how the investors with The Print were named in the Operation 136 sting," Bahal wrote in his no-punches-pulled piece in Caravan.

He said this flies in the face of the ostensible claim of The Print that talks about "uncompromising standards" to avoid "even the appearance of conflict of interest.”

"Shekhar Gupta’s memory, too, appears to be playing some tricks," Bahal said.

Bahal said The Print carried a story on BJP's B Sriramulu negotiating a bribe with PV Sreenijan, the son-in-law of the former chief justice KG Balakrishnan, based on a sting operation. This sting was released by the Congress ahead of the Karnataka assembly elections. Bahal questions why Shekhar Gupta did not think it appropriate at that time to "comment on the motives of the people who conducted it, or the ethics of the sting operation itself."

Calling Shekhar Gupta’s comment on Cobrapost's Operation 136 as "disingenuous to say the least," Bahal said The Print did not have any problem in reporting about Cambridge Analytica. "It appears that a British company promising to fix elections in Sri Lanka (as revealed in a sting) is of greater news value to Gupta than mainstream TV channels and newspapers doing the same in India."
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Cobrapost had released video of brother of PayTM founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma talking about how PayTM shared data about users from Kashmir with the PMO. Vijay Shekhar is an investor in Shekhar Gupta's The Print. Now, The Print has done a story in Cobrapost reporter who carried that sting, but it did not tell readers that PayTM boss is investor in The Print.
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As Bahal narrates, Cobrapost's Operation 136: Parts I and II revealed what 43 Indian news platforms, television channels, print publications, radio and online media, were prepared to do in return for compensation from a fictitious religious organisation, including peddling Hindutva ideology, defaming political rivals, and polarising the electorate. 

Many of the individuals caught on camera agreeing to do the most reprehensible stuff "were senior sales and management personnel, and in many cases, the owners of the concerned media organisations themselves."

Bahal, in comments clearly directed at Gupta and his ilk, said no media organisation in a Western liberal democracy could survive a story like Operation 136, but in India, "we specialise in going after the messengers instead of the message."

Bahal seemed to have dug deep into the past, fishing out one after the other examples of sting operation based journalism that ran under Gupta's tutelage at the Indian Express as well as at India Today, but the most painful reminder, perhaps, was of the 2003 front-page story in the Indian Express, headlined, "Caught on tape: Union Minister taking cash, saying money is no less than God.” 

The Indian Express had published transcripts of the sting showing the then union minister Dilip Singh Judeo accepting cash for granting mining rights in Chhattisgarh to an Australian company. 
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Aniruddha Bahal: "Shekhar Gupta’s memory, too, appears to be playing some tricks."
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Bahal reminded Gupta how the video CD's authenticity was unconfirmed at the time and the fact that the Outlook magazine reported that the Indian Express had maintained that "the source of its report is of marginal importance.”  


Bahal also spoke of another CD that he says "mysteriously arrived at Gupta’s doorstep at the Indian Express." This involved Shanti Bhushan's conversation with Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh about Prashant Bhushan's ability to 'manage' a judge.

"It is evident that (Shekhar) Gupta is happy to report on CDs that the cat drags in, but when a media platform such as Cobrapost investigates and takes ownership over the story, he appears to have several problems," Bahal wrote.
 

Shekhar Gupta is currently the top man at the Editors’ Guild of India which had recently expressed concern over Cobrapost’s expose. Bahal said while the Editors Guild sermonised about the ethics of sting operations, it should know that "its president is a past master at it."

The only problem, Aniruddha Bahal says, is that Shekhar Gupta finds the stings alright "as long as it is done by somebody other than Cobrapost."
 

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