The Zee media conglomerate has sent a legal notice to Cobrapost, and to The Wire, The Quint, and Bhadas4media, reports Exchange4media. The group was reacting to Operation 136, an exposé sting by Cobrapost. In the sting, journalist Pushp Sharma posed as a representative of a sangh parivar group, and offered money to different media groups in exchange for coloring their coverage in favour of pro-Hindutva interests. Many of the individuals Sharma approached, who were being recorded secretly, showed interest.

[Read Zee’s legal notice, courtesy The Wire]

In the legal notice, Zee took the ‘doctored video’ route, claiming, “a planned conspiracy and a set of self-serving, false, fabricated and baseless piece of writing which in itself is based on tampered, doctored and edited recordings.” Zee warned that it would bring both civil and criminal defamation cases (defamation can still be prosecuted as a criminal case in India).

Cobrapost and Zee

Among all the organizations ‘stinged’ in Operation 136, Zee has the highest number of videos dedicated to them. In a series of five videos, Sharma meets a series of executives from Zee, and they’re all seen showing interest in what he is proposing.

In Zee’s part of the sting, executives like Gauri Mahapatra, who heads sales and marketing for the Odia Zee Kalinga news channel, are shown displaying interest in Sharma’s proposition. The other execs are Purushottam Vaishnava, who has been the CEO of Zee’s regional channels since April; and Sagar Arora, Pradip Kumar Sinha, and Abhishek Pandey, who are all marketing executives.

The five-part series, which Zee wants to be taken down, is available here, here, here, here and here.

Zee also reacted to the series on its news channels, asking in one, “Has Cobrapost conspired to defame nationalist media?”

Operation 136 at a glance

In Part 2 of Operation 136, which references India’s low press freedom ranking in its name, seventeen news organizations were approached by Cobrapost.com, which specializes in sting operations like this, and offered money to color their coverage in favour of Hindutva and the Modi government. The organizations include the Times Group, the India Today group, Zee Media, Dinamalar, Lokmat, Dainik Bhaskar, Star India, and the New Indian Express, among others.

Suvarna News and Dainik Bhaskar were able to get court injunctions preventing their segments from being available. While Dainik Bhaskar got its injunction before Cobrapost published all of its videos, Suvarna News got its segment taken down after it was published.

The sting also included Paytm, where one of the company’s top execs is shown bragging about sharing user data with the Prime Minister’s Office. Paytm has said that the executive in question, Ajay Shekhar Sharma, was unaware of company policy and wasn’t authorized to talk to the media. Paytm said this in a post denying Sharma’s claims.