Cobrapost Sting: The Two West Bengal Newspapers That Refused to Sell out

Executives from both papers refused to fall into the trap set by the Cobrapost reporter, saying that publishing advertisements with religious overtones went against company policy and "the soul of the organisation".

New Delhi: Of the 27 media houses that featured in the second half of the documentary ‘Operation 136’, made public this May 25 through social media, only two of them stood out for categorically refusing to entertain the undercover reporter proposing ‘Hindutva’ tilted news on behalf of a made-up entity, Srimad Bhagvad Gita Prachar Samiti.

In a roll-out that featured heads of the top of the line media houses ready to fall for big budget advertorials and jingles in favour of a political ideology, the Cobrapost reporter, posing as Acharya Atal, approached West Bengal based popular Bengali daily Bartaman Patrika through its senior general manager (advertisement) Ashish Mukherjee.

Unlike the others, Mukherjee refused to publish any religious content. Giving a lesson on ethics to the reporter by citing what he learnt from his former editor as “the soul of the organisation”, he said, was “the simple statement that (Sengupta told him), ‘Ashish Babu, you carry all advertisements (except those) where (in which) claim himself (anyone) to be god, to be good, to be best’.”   

Mukherjee was referring to Barun Sengupta, the veteran founder of the paper who preferred to go to jail during the Emergency in the 1970s to resist Indira Gandhi’s diktats on media rather than bowing down to it.

He refused to fall into the trap set by the reporter, who was posing as a godman and recording the conversation on a secret camera, when he tried to get him to raise the biased advertising budget from 1.5 crore to 10 crore for the paper.

“Absolutely not… it is not permissible,” he said.

The reporter thereafter approached an executive of West Bengal-based paper Dainik Sambad to publish jingles with a “Hindutva agenda” keeping the 2019 Lok sabha elections in mind. The executive there too refused to publish any ads with religious overtones.

“It is our policy, it is for all people,” he said. The Cobrapost report said, “He refused to do anything with the advertisement after hearing the name of the organisation, which shows the basic principles of the media house even while doing business”. 

The report expressed surprise and appreciation in equal measure, particularly in regard to Dainik Bartaman, for refusing to deviate from the main tenets of journalistic practice even for big money, stating that such a paper “sends out a ray of hope that Indian media is not completely sold out”.