Free Press in India?

June 6, 2018 India , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo



Tom Arms



Two things are indisputable. India is the world’s largest democracy and freedom of press is an essential pillar of democracy. It follows that absence of the latter undermines the claim to the former. According to an online Indian news organisation called Cobrapost there is growing concern that that is the case.


Cobrapost recently organised a sting operation which it claims to have revealed a deeply ingrained bias towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within many of India’s leading media groups. It also says some of the country’s most senior media executives and journalists are willing to take money in return for pushing a political agenda.


Undercover Cobrapost reporter Pushp Sharma took on the guise of representative from a wealthy Hindu monastery and approached more than 25 of India’s leading media organisations, offering them all a similar deal: Big cash for positive coverage for the BJP (the Hindu Nationalist Party) in the run-up to next year’s general election.


Amongst the media groups Cobrapost claims to have approached were The Times of India–the largest selling English language newspaper in the world. They also approached the New Indian Express and the Indian Today Group, which owns one of the country’s most popular television news channels.


According to Cobrapost, all but two of the 25 media groups approached said they were willing to consider the proposal and actually came up with specific plans including undeclared advertorials, paid news items, special features, viral videos, jingles, events and quizzes. The Times of India representative was filmed asking for cash payments to avoid tax.


The newspapers have, of course, denied everything. But they have also failed to report what would be a major scandal in any other democratic country in the world. The only reason that the Indian public know anything about the story is because it has been picked up by a few online media organisations such as The Print, Wire and Scroll.


Pushed into a corner, The Times of India finally printed an article in which it claimed that they knew all along that Mr Sharma was an imposter and deliberately went along with his proposals in an attempt to “trap the fraudster.”


The New Indian Express said that the discussions did not involve editorial issues because the meetings were with advertising executives and the discussion was only about the possibility of an advertising campaign. Furthermore that the group’s papers would never accept advertisements which incited communal discord and that any advertisements would need to be legally vetted.


The traditional media giants are saved by the fact that none of them appear to have signed any contracts. The only proof of possible wrongdoing is video and audio tapes which can be edited to project the editorial slant of Cobrapost. Also, there is no suggestion that the undercover reporter was representing the government or a political party. He was representing one Hindu monastery.


But the story has dealt a blow to India’s claims of a free press and a democratic government.





Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email[email protected].

Editor review


No Comments Yet!

You can be first to comment this post!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.