New Delhi: In an emailed response to The Wire on Cobrapost’s recent ‘sting’ investigation – in which the Times Group’s owner and managing director Vineet Jain was filmed offering to accept black money from an undercover reporter posing as a prospective client – the media house has claimed that the video recordings put out by the website were “doctored” and “incomplete” and that the truth is that Jain knew he was being stung and had mounted a “reverse-sting” against the reporter in order to “reel him in”.
“We were aware that the reporter in question was a dubious character and our senior functionaries played along with his activities to reel-him in to discover his true intent and backing and to find out which business house or political parties were behind him,” Mritunjay Kataria, general manager corporate-legal, wrote in an email to The Wire on May 26.
“In fact, it was our reverse sting, carried out knowingly with a plan to make him commit a mistake and expose the people behind him,” he added.
Providing an explanation for the written proposal Sanjeev Shah, executive director of Bennet Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL)sent on February 2, 2018 to the undercover reporter, who said he represented the ‘Shrimadh Bhagwad Geeta Prachar Samiti” in Pune, Kataria said that this was done to “trap” the Cobrapost representative and “expose his criminal activity”. BCCL is the company that owns the Times of India and associated media platforms such as Times Now television and the Economic Times.
“We have substantial evidence with us regarding this and our act was carried out with the advise [sic] of our legal team and investigation team,” Kataria wrote. “As there was only an activity to trap [the] cobrapost.com representative and to bring him out as an imposter, no actual business dealing was done and no money was exchanged in any form whatsoever. In fact, the reporter was insisting on payment by cash and we continued reeling him in to understand his backing. If he had signed a contract on this subject, we would have been able to expose his criminal activity.”
Since Kataria’s response suggests the Times Group has video evidence of its own ‘counter-sting’, The Wire has requested that its reporters be given access to this material in order to take the story forward.
As part of its investigation, Cobrapost said its reporter introduced himself to Times executives as ‘Acharya Atal’, the representative of an unnamed ‘sangathan’ committed to Hindutva, the ideology of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He said he wanted a commercial deal with the Times Group where he would pay Rs 500 crore in exchange for the promotion of the Hindutva agenda across all platforms of India’s largest media group. In some of the recordings Cobrapost released on May 25, Jain and Shah can be seen discussing various ways in which the undercover reporter’s desire to settle part of the deal in cash could be accommodated.
In an apparent response to this part of Cobrapost’s sting, Kataria said, “we categorically state that we do not deal in cash in any manner and all of our large business dealings happen in a legal manner though necessary banking channels. Our statements made in this context were misquote [sic] and misrepresented by cobrapost.com, with knowledge of wrongdoing.”
The Wire’s extensive coverage of the Cobrapost exposé can be accessed here.
Appended below is the full text of the email received by The Wire from Mritunjay Kataria,general manager corporate-legal, Bennet Coleman & Co. Ltd on May 26, 2018
Your below email has been forwarded to me for a suitable reply.
At the outset, we reject all of your motivated and coloured questions, which presume that the content presented by cobrapost.com is genuine.
We squarely deny all of the allegations made by cobrapost.com. They have maliciously presented a one sided view of the events, with intention of creating sensationalism at the expense of our organisation and to adversely affect our reputation, standing and integrity before the public.
We had provided our detailed response to cobrapost.com, which debunked all of their malicious assertions against us, but our version has not been included by them in their report. They have chosen not to publish such material, hence non-inclusion of our specifically relevant factual inputs was an act of wrongdoing with knowledge and ill intent to create a fictitious scandal, against which we shall proceed suitably. This was also an act in breach of journalistic ethics, for which they should be ostracized.
The content presented by cobrapost.com is heavily doctored, incomplete and has been presented in a selective manner using out of context statements by us. The story presented by them is completely false and fabricated and we have already forwarded the matter to our attorneys for necessary legal action.
Cobrapost.com has been dishonest and malicious in their reporting, especially when they have all relevant details from us, which they conveniently chose not to consider. For example, we had informed them that we were aware that the reporter in question was a dubious character and our senior functionaries played along with his activities to reel-him in to discover his true intent and backing and to find out which business house or political parties were behind him. In fact, it was our reverse sting, carried out knowingly with a plan to make him commit a mistake and expose the people behind him. We have substantial evidence with us regarding this and our act was carried out with the advise of our legal team and investigation team. As there was only an activity to trap cobrapost.com representative and to bring him out as an imposter, no actual business dealing was done and no money was exchanged in any form whatsoever. In fact, the reporter was insisting on payment by cash and we continued reeling him in to understand his backing. If he had signed a contract on this subject, we would have been able to expose his criminal activity.
Even when this ruse was on, we only made a marketing offer to reel him in to reveal his antecedents. We categorically state that we do not deal in cash in any manner and all of our large business dealings happen in a legal manner though necessary banking channels. Our statements made in this context were misquote and misrepresented by cobrapost.com, with knowledge of wrongdoing.
In light of the above noting, we advise you to refrain from publishing any derogatory or defamatory content against us relying on the illegal and malicious assertions made by unethical and malicious entities like cobrapost.com and their reporters who have a criminal past and who are out on bail and who have spent considerable time in jail for illegal activities including fraud and forgery.
We hope that you shall consider our views favourably, remove any defamatory content against us from your website / social media accounts and desist from making any further defamatory statements against us. You would agree that uploading any cobrapost.com content without verifying the facts from us is unethical, contrary to journalistic duties and not befitting a media house like yours. If you are ill advised to present the cobrapost.com narrative in the same manner as they have, or in any other manner to defame us, we shall be restrained to initiate suitable legal action against your organisation as well to protect our reputation.
Thank you and with regards,
For Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd.