India Today should be investigated for paid media

Percentage of time devoted to rural news on TVPercentage of time devoted to rural news on TV. These figures don't show more than 7% of the time for over 2/3 of India's population and YET are deceptive, because this time shown too is rarely about rural issues and more likely to be other selling news from rural locations.

India Today and its sister channe Headlines Today seems to be unusually prone to “inadvertent” mistakes that surprisingly consistently look deliberate as well as designed to influence the public opinion against Aam Aadmi Party and in favor of Bharatiya Janata Party.

I am no lawyer, but mentioning several “coincidences” that seem a little unbelievable as “inadvertent”. Presenting my arguments here in case anyone wants to take this ahead.

India Today published a fake defamatory article about Aam Aadmi Party by “Shanti Bhushan” – its founder

Shanti Bhushan had never written that article. It is unclear how an article echoing a popular disinformation among bjp supporters wanders onto a news website on its own and the founder of the party it defames becomes its author “inadvertently”. While the artice was removed after Shanti Bhushan sent a legal notice, the pattern of fake and/or biased coverage continues.

Headlines Today Talk show defaming Somnath Bharti as the world’s top spammer and dealer in porn sites

This show traces a decade old blog post about the Topsites scam – not a news organization. A blog that is about as popular as this one. So I imagine this “expose” of paid media influencing electoral outcomes should be investigated at least as vigorously as a decade old post. Looking forward to a call from India Today asking me to appear on a panel.

How reliable are Conrad Longmore exposes? This is among the top results:

mobiquant conrad longmore

Mobiquant got exposed by Conrad Longmore and has written a scathing rejoinder about his credibility as a security blogger.

The purpose of this post not being to do a hatchet job on Conrad Longmore, I simply leave it at this. When a blogger with an unverifiable credibility makes a post, and a news channel does a 3 month investigation on it, one must ask why, because there is no shortage of bloggers with allegations. Your basic tech reporter would know this, but what do you expect when a masala journalist collects a bunch of political blabbermouths and runs a 3 month long investigation based on a decade old post without realizing something as basic as there not being special domain registrars for porn domains and that the buyer buys what they want and a SOFTWARE sells it to anyone wanting a domain, and automated directory content is not created by a human? You might as well sue google for their results containing porn and ban all Google employees from contesting in elections. Or declare that spammy phone directories like Just Dial are not a respectable way of earning a living. Let me not even get started on the Bag It Today scam that happens to be an affiliate of India Today and has the dubious distinction of lowest ratings, complaints of spam, over priced sales, refusals to refund, non-delivery and more – unlike Topsites.

The show does not mention a single law in India that Somnath Bharti broke, yet has political commentators known to have a pro-bjp stand saying things like “Even if pornography were legal, it is hardly a respectable way to earn a living”. That was Madhu Kishwar, in case any one is interested. It also features Vinod Kumar Binny, who has been in a permanent state of slander against Aam Aadmi Party informing authoritatively that claims made by Rahul Kanwal are true and that is how it happened. What his authority is, for certifying this is unclear. Also unclear that if he knew that porn domains were being sold by Somnath Bharti, why did he not alert authorities? The programme can only be considered biased, since last I checked, neither Madhu Kishwar not Vinod Binny know their head from their ass on internet crime, have a known anti-AAP agenda AND were invited to comment on the panel on an issue that solely deals with cyber crime. So their invitation to the panel can only be for their comments on the person and not the alleged crime – of which they seem to be as ignorant as Rahul Kanwal, perhaps more.

Somnath Bharti sold porn domains?

Somnath Bharti sold porn domains?

 

Which leaves the question of which competence of theirs qualified them to comment with any authotity on scraper directories, spam, scam or Spamhaus – which, incidentally is an anti-spam organization and service with zero legal authority or independent oversight. If a Spamhaus listing is prosecutable in India, we can prosecute a third of our elected leaders based on ADR India lists too? He is speaking of money that should show in tax returns, but there is no evidence of Somnath Bharti having got that money in the first place.

Additionally, this expose ran on their website next to a targeted advertisement for Modi, which also used the misleading acronym “CAG” – which, on clicking turns out to be a team to support Modi. This advertisement no longer runs – probably because of the model code of conduct.

modi advertisement somnath bharti slander

Narendra Modi’s ad targeted to slot next to show slandering Somnath Bharti. Verified from anonymized IPs – not my cookie.

Nor was this the first time a BJP member leveled allegations at Aam Aadmi Party while being captioned as a member of Aam Aadmi Party.

BJP leaders passed off as AAP on Headlines Today

BJP leaders passed off as AAP on Headlines Today

Together, these demonstrate a pattern of deliberately presenting an impression of members of Aam Aadmi Party declaring that it is party with bad practices.

Rahul Kanwal has also consistently made false allegations against Somnath Bharti on Twitter. An example. The person replying to his comment is Conrad Longmore, who originally did the expose of Topsites, in which Somnath Bharti was a minor name.

rahul kanwal allegation somnath bharti topsites

Rahul Kanwal publicly alleged on Twitter that the registration of Topsites changed overnight after his epose, when it had been changed in 2011.

This has continued after elections were announced and Model Code of Conduct was in place. In the India Today Conclave, Rahul Kanwal anchored a discussion between Digvijay Singh, Amit Shah and Manish Sisodia where he remarks that Digvijay Singh and Manish Sisodia are sitting together opposite Amit Shah. This is another echo of BJP’s accusations of AAP being a Congress ploy against bjp. Later on the same evening, when Arvind Kejriwal was answering audience questions, Rahul Kanwal brought up the Somnath Bharti “expose” again accusing him of inaction against his own party members. But Rahul Kanwal has to date never mentioned a single India law broken by Somnath Bharti – so what would the investigation be on the grounds of? TRPs?

Somnath Bharti had sent him a legal notice, which he ignored and continued his campaign of defamation. Today, he has produced a “Somnath Bharti” signature – which is not identical to his signature and is asking people to “see for themselves”. While the blatant misrepresentations have been downplayed as “mistakes”, and the consistent calls for naming the laws broken by Somnath Bharti are ignored, he continues to exploit the gullibility of masses who rarely examine the evidence on display and go by the confidence in claiming that it is proof of wrong doing.

There is a leaked video of “serial liar Arvind Kejriwal asking Punya Prasun Bajpai” (to use Niti Central lingo) to play up parts of the interview. This video was clearly leaked by someone at Aaj Tak, another channel from the India Today group. Their disclaimer on the leak makes no mention off how the footage was leaked or if this is professional protocol, but instead makes a point of stating that *they* broadcast the full interview. Subtext being “whatever Arvind Kejriwal may have requested”. Casual conversation between interviewer and interviewed person is normal, as is normal for the person interviewed providing their view of what is important from the answers in terms of editing. I have never been interviewed on TV, but every single print publication that interviews me gets several “guidelines” from me regarding how my interview answers are used. This is because I have been misquoted in edits very often to the point where I don’t do these interviews on phone and reply by email telling them strictly to copy-paste answers or not change any meaning. I also often find that something peripheral becomes a highlight and the crux of my argument gets a passing mention if at all. So I often stress that “This blah blah” is the most important from my answer. For someone like Kejriwal, who has had stray comments eclipse crucial issues in media coverage, I don’t imagine this concern is wrong at all. It is his answer, and he has perfect authority to say what is the most important point in what he said – which would be the highlight of his answer. Whether channels do it or not, or leak the request rather than derail the interview, and so on is up to them.

I would like post interview footage of other political interviews by India Today group to be examined to establish whether such conversation is a unique thing that happened with Arvind Kejriwal, or if they are in the habit of such undisclosed instructions, which get leaked only for some people. The leak is clearly from within the organization and by a person with reasonable authority over footage tapes – which would be a specific number of people – I assume these aren’t left lying around to be lost.

Someone was also able to edit it nicely to engineer a perception. Here is an “expose” of the “expose” by angry AAP supporters.

I also want to note the media bias over the lack of outrage over far more damning exposes by Gulail and Cobrapost that show actual crimes, as opposed to a casual conversation post a joint experience on camera. We have a media creating a perception that a comment really made being important in the interview and thus deserving highlight is a greater outrage than illegal use of state machinery for illegal surveillance of a private citizen for the personal interest of the Chief Minister. Or stings showing how Social Media can be used to manipulate Electoral outcomes. But then, for our media, fair elections seem to be a far more inferior priority than peddling their desired outcomes. We have so far seen manipulated poll surveys as well.

The bias is further enhanced through “hit and run” reporting, where stings against AAP proved to be doctored are broadcast, but not their being proved false. Where Conrad Longmore’s expose is quoted, but not him mentioning that there wasn’t a single case against Topsites for fraud. Where the “Nigerian raid” is reported, but not the fact of their complaints about forced prostitution and trafficking with collusion of police – which strangely were brought to their “assaulter” instead of those touchingly defending them. Yeah, Harish Salve vanished – to save other people. That is where that “outrage” went, but that was omitted from broadcast.

This clearly points to an attempt to influence electoral results by inventing and perpetrating a negative image about Aam Aadmi Party using television media and violates the right of citizens to receive accurate information through news. I do not believe that an editor does not notice if it is really Shanti Bhushan doing a submission or someone else. Or that they have no idea who they invite on talk shows or remain mysteriously unaware that the party that boycotted them didn’t send anyone to participate in their show (or perhaps was not invited). I find it unbelievable that even a tamasha journalist would mistake Madhu Kishwar or Vinod Binny as experts on cyber crime.

In my view, Rahul Kanwal, and other sources of these mysterious mistakes that only “inadvertently” happen in a way that shows one party in bad light happen should be investigated for electoral fraud, and there should be a gag on Rahul Kanwal till the investigation is complete, in the interest of democratic rights of Indians. Parties should be chosen or rejected based on their deeds, not invented media campaigns.

If Rahul Kanwal is genuinely that stupid, then he shouldn’t be on air anyway.

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About the Author

Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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