By Makhdoom Babar
(Additional reporting by Christina Palmer in New Delhi, Sandra Johnson in Washington D.C and Cherry Ferguson in London)
This is the age of information, the IT and above all the media, both print and electronic. . It is said that after the renaissance of media across the world, the wars are fought and won with the media being on the frontline. Be it US attack on Iraq or be it terror attack in India, the media is immensely used to propagate one’s views and perception. The media endeavors are extensively manipulated to change the world opinion in own favor and against the enemy. Almost all the governments have given a free hand to their respective intelligence agencies to manipulate media and fund the media organizations and individuals to gain the required results. No matter if it is the CNN journalists embedded US troops, invading Iraq or venom emitting Indian journalists and TV Anchors targeting Pakistan after the Mumbai carnage, the Intelligence hands are always their to direct them and to fund them.
However, Indian Intelligence Agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)has taken the issue more seriously than its contemporary agencies in the region and even across the world. A comprehensive investigation into the matter by the team of investigative journalists of The Daily Mail reveals that in fact raw moved into the direction of utilizing media factor almost 30 years back. In the mid 80s, when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, RAW sent a media related proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) which was straight away approved. According to this proposal, RAW was given a free hand to use as much as required funds to make a solid grip on national and international media. Initially, RAW came up with a long term project through which, RAW started short listing young, potential and ambitious Indian journalists and later started penetrating them to different media organizations across the world. Today, according to rough estimate, 90 percent of the Indian or Indian origin journalists working in different media organizations through out the world, are those having the RAW blessings and one way or the other, promoting Indian perception and delivering to the RAW’s requirements. The success of RAW in this direction can be gauged from one fact that it has managed to get Indian journalists inducted even in leading Chinese media organizations like the China Daily, the Beijing Review etc.
In the 2nd phase, RAW started funding local media organizations in India and also started buying the services of journalists working in the foreign countries’ leading media organizations. According to a Japanese journalist, who worked in India for a Japanese news agency for about 3 years, the India-based foreign journalists are very well “look after” and “entertained” by RAW officials who develop interaction with these foreign journalists as very warm but mysterious friends. These India-based foreign journalists are at least once a year, are offered a vacation trip to Dubai where their boarding, lodging and even shopping, are all paid off by their “friends”. According to some reports, RAW is practicing the same with certain Islamabad-based foreign journalists.
The Daily Mail’s investigations reveal that RAW started another project around five years back under which Air Time is purchased on popular English language international television channels and then during that air time, special programs are televised to promote India’s view point with RAW’s perspective. India Hour on BBC is one of the examples in this direction.
The Daily Mail’s investigations further reveal that RAW launched a mega project to control regional journalists and to bring them to a secret RAW platform when it established South Asian Free Media association (SAFMA) a few years back. The SAFMA, the darling baby of RAW has so far been focusing on highlighting the issue of Indian occupied Kashmir with RAW’s perspective and nothing much or more. The members of SAFMA, whenever asked as to how they manage to generate funds for the highly lavish functions and seminars under its banners since all of them are paid employees of different media organizations of South Asia, remain mum.
Back home, RAW is not only funding individual columnists and intellectuals but is also comprehensively funding a number of newspapers and television channels. RAW not only makes direct payments to a variety of regional and English language newspapers but also arrange advertisement support for these media organization. Many of these newspapers are run as “projects” of RAW and all assets are owned by the agency itself. Some the newspapers that are getting regular RAW funding and patronage include India News, Aajkal, Al-Hyndelyom, Asia News, Bharat Observer, The Christian Messenger, Daily Excelsior, Daily Roshni, The Daily India, Dakhshan bharat, Deshdoot, The Echo of India, Daily Greater Kashmir, Daily Jaihind, Kashmir Times, Kashmir Observer, Maharashtra Times, Nagalnd Post, Daily Phayul, Rajdhani Times, Daily Saij etc. These newspapers despite getting direct funding from RAW, also have the blessings of getting government advertisements and advertisements of leading Indian Business houses, having extraordinary relations with RAW. Furthermore, all the Indian airliners have strict orders from RAW to purchase these newspapers for on-board circulation. Apart from these newspapers support, RAW has also ‘gained” the “services” of different columnists, reporters and analysts at top media organizations like Times of India, Indian Express, The Hindu and Hindustan Times etc.
Coming towards the Electronic media of India, RAW has made remarkable achievement in diluting media with Intelligence endeavors. It is not only funding different anchors and analysts but RAW has established a huge network in shape of ZEE T.V. Though RAW spends a huge chunk of money to achieve targets by funding 9x News, Aajtak, NDTV 24×7, Times now, TV9, Time TV etc, yet it runs the most venomous news Channel the Zee TV. Zee News’s offices are considered to be Media Headquarter of RAW.
The Investigations of The Daily Mail further reveal that RAW controls a whole paraphernalia of media network including ZEE TV and Films Network, Asian News International (ANI) etc.. The ZEE network retains the pivotal position in this RAW controlled propaganda and misinformation spiral. It was actually RAW that has been the master mind behind the establishment of ZEE Television Network. According to our sources the proposal for establishing a private sector television channel actually under the control of Indian intelligence agency was first presented to the Late Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The proposal could not materialize at that time as Mrs. Gandhi had certain reservations about giving more powers to RAW for she suspected it of being behind her earlier electoral defeat at the hands of another Late Prime Minister of India Mr. Murar ji Desai. However, Indian movie star Amitabh Bachan who was a personal friend of Rajiv Gandhi got the cue. His brother later reportedly siphoned part of the Rs.64 crore kick-backs of the Swedish Bofor guns deal into setting up a private satellite channel by the name of TV Asia.
TV Asia enjoyed certain patronage from Indian government and intelligence agencies though it was financed privately. In return RAW enjoyed certain leverage on TV Asia; nonetheless its officials continued the campaign for having their own channel. The break through was achieved when a high ranking RAW operative Vasant Parekh found a willing partner in the Chairman of Essel Group of Industries, Subash Chandra. The Essel Group was mainly involved in the business of entertainment and amusement parks. Being an adventurous entrepreneur, Chandra indicated his willingness to Vasant Parekh for investing partly in the RAW’s satellite TV venture provided it also shared a big portion investment and backup support. RAW hierarchy did not require much persuasion to dole out a hefty amount of US$ 25 million as an initial participation share in the project. The deal was struck and the ZEE Television Network was formally launched in 1992 with Subhas Chandra as the Chairman and Vasant Parekh as the founding member on its Board of Directors. It was agreed to induct and employ a certain number of RAW operatives in all cadres of the network. RAW personnel were thus recruited amongst the programme producers, anchors, newscasters, and even amongst the marketing and business managers. The arrangement facilitates RAW to send its agents undercover to Pakistan and even other countries. Having a media tag gives these operatives an easy access to cultivate a number of personalities in the target country, which would have been otherwise difficult. The broad outline of the propaganda objectives of ZEE TV defined by RAW were:
—Undermine the ideological frontiers of Pakistan through oft repeated Indian rhetoric of cultural and social uniformity of South Asian sub-continent;
—Malign Pakistan by a deliberate negative projection of the events and developments in the country. The aim was to systematically build a poor image of Pakistan may it be in the context of internal political developments, religious or social events, women issues, child labour, brick kiln workers, Ahmedi or Christian minorities, secretarian clashes, Mohajar ethnic movement, foreign policy or bilateral relations with India. Although human rights violations, social, cultural, religious and economic problems exist at a much gigantic proportion in India these were to be downplayed in Indian context;
—Projection of India as a modern secular and progressive state which is the world’s largest democracy;
—Propagation of India’s foreign policy objectives and its position on Kashmir;
—Promotion of Hindu mythology through serials based on mythology as well as soap operas telecast on the network;
In pursuance of this policy ZEE lays special emphasis in cultivating prominent personalities in Pakistan for accomplishing the ideological agenda. Bigwigs in Pakistani entertainment and show biz, poets, writers, eminent sportsmen and politicians are a prime target. The common modus operandi is that Pakistani celebrities are invited as chief guests or special guests to various ZEE programmes. A lot of praise is showered, calling them artists whose talent is not restricted by any boundary, frontier or divide and that the people of the two countries love each other, only the politicians conspire to keep them separated. Overwhelmed by the tremendous show of hospitality the artist either ends up unwillingly endorsing the host’s views or says something that is construed to be negating the ‘Two Nation’ basis of Pakistan’s independence. According to credible information RAW also sponsors organizing of performances, shooting of videos and securing of contracts for Bollywood movies and entertainment agencies for some of these personalities belonging to the Pakistan entertainment, film and music.
The Daily Mail has learnt that RAW’s further tightened its noose on media during the first government of BJP under the then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Parmod Mahajan. RAW had in the meanwhile already taken control of the struggling television news agency Asian News International (ANI) founded by an ambitious cameraman Prem Parakash. When the agency ran into financial troubles RAW came forth to help it with idea of producing South Asia News line which all the Indian entertainment TV Channels not producing their own news bulletins were force to telecast. Parmod reportedly threatened these channels with the sweeping powers under the PRASAR BHARATI (Indian Broadcasting) ACT, 1990 Chapter IV, 23; “Power of Central Government to give Directions” if they did not comply. Even his successor Sushma Swaraj kept calling shots at the media also making coercive use of the draconian Indian National Security Act, 1980. Three Advisory Bodies have been pivotal in this regard to streamli mittee. The DFF amongst other things virtually controls the films dealing with news, current events and documentaries. RAW has a permanent representation on this Committee which can use any pretext to penalize channels not receptive of its directives.
Our correspondent Saira Ilyas adds from London: The enormous success of ZEE in South Asia and Middle East encouraged its sponsors to target the Asian viewers in Britain and Europe. The prime objective was to disillusion the expatriate Pakistanis and Kashmiris from their ideological basis. Britain being the home of largest Kashmiri refugee community outside Asia has become a cause of concern for the Indian establishment. The growing influence of Kashmiri community in the political circles of UK, their frequent protests over the human rights violations in the Indian held Kashmir and demand for the right of self-determination for Kashmiris is often embarrassing for the Indians.
ZEE UK was therefore launched in 1995. The ZEE’s strategists, however, realized that Braitain and Europe was a different ball game. To lure the Pakistani expatriates it was decided to telecast a mix of Indian and Pakistani programmes. It is learnt that a team was sent to Pakistan to negotiate the purchase of PTV programmes for telecast on ZEE UK. ZEE was able to procure from the PTV library many classical dramas, the most recent hit telecasts, musical programs, special occasions telecasts for Eid, Muharam, Ramadan including and other purely Islamic religious programs. These programs were reportedly sold to the ZEE at throw away prices. The PTV establishment of the time credited itself for having sold the programmes with no other clientele. Little did they know the diabolic use that ZEE had planned for these programs. However, PTV authorities maintain that some of its programs were recorded off air by a Lahore based spurious company and sold to ZEE TV. Subsequently PTV obtained a court injunction to stop ZEE from telecast of some of its programs. Nonetheless this gap is now filled by the private productions that have mushroomed in Pakistan over the last few years.
The ZEE UK program managers ran an extra-mile in their endeavors to establish it as a neutral TV of the entire South Asian community in Europe. The propaganda against Pakistan was deliberately kept sublime in the initial year of its launching. However, it continued its policy of reporting negative developments in respect of Pakistan and black outing positive aspects may it be as non political news as winning a cricket match by Pakistan. Nonetheless, ZEE’s one sided hype during events such as the Kargil conflict and later during the Mumbai terror attacks gave away any semblance of neutrality that the channels had been portraying. The propaganda blitz unleashed by ZEE since the take over by the BJP appointed RAW administration has exposed the real face of the channel and the Indian government’s propaganda campaign; the Central Press Accreditation Committee (PIB), Film Advisory Committee (DFF) and Hindi Advisory Committee.
It is popularly believed in the South Asian community in UK that ZEE-RAW nexus was fully unveiled during the RAW staged hijacking drama of an Indian airliner in December 1999. Throughout the hijacking drama ZEE newscasters and expert panelists many among whom were actually undercover RAW officials, continued to narrate RAW orchestrated script like parrots in an unbelievable frenzy. ZEE was further exposed by completely biased reporting following the RAW staged spate of attacks in India after September11 such as the attack on the sham State Assembly of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Parliament, US Consulate Calcutta as well as the 2002 border standoff between Pakistan and India and lately the Mumbai carnage.
RAW prolific media network however received a setback when its sponsored Reminisce Television Network (RTN) could not succeed in UK and Europe. The free to air transmission of RTN’s Channel Asia 1 could not get enough advertisements due to over crowding of the market by many Asian Channels. The RTN also had an Urdu Channel ANJUMAN to target Pakistani viewers besides Gujarati, Lashkara (Punjabi), Bengali and other regional language channels. RAW is now concentrating on ZEE and SONY Entertainment Television (SET).
This is just one case that The Daily Mail has presented here for its valued readers across the world. The Daily mail is near to complete its investigations about RAW’s relations to many other Television Channels and newspapers of India and Aajtak-RAW nexus would be the 2nd of this series of investigative reports. The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that RAW is spending at least 500 million to 700 million rupees on media organizations and individuals per year and ZEE TV project is not included in this budget.