On Thursday, Mumbai Police claimed to have busted a TRP manipulation racket involving Republic TV and two Marathi channels. Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV, immediately accused Mumbai police chief Param Bir Singh of making false allegations because the channel had questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case investigation.
Speaking to NDTV, Singh dismissed these allegations and denied that the TRP investigation was linked in any way to the Rajput case.
Singh had, on Thursday, said that Republic TV was also involved in the “false TRP” racket and that the crime branch has arrested two persons, owners of two Marathi channels, for manipulating viewership ratings.
Singh’s press conference on Thursday was greeted by Goswami’s rival channel anchors with glee, as they sought to place themselves above the alleged scam. A video of Goswami, one of the most strident anchors on Indian TV, being mobbed by reporters of other channels also went viral.
I&B minister Prakash Javadekar and BJP chief JP Nadda have accused the Congress of assaulting media freedom. A coalition government of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress is in power in Maharashtra.
Another police official told PTI that two former employees of Hansa agency, involved in the process to determine the TRPs, have also been arrested.
TRP is calculated on the basis of TV channel viewership in a confidential set of households and is the barometer by which companies decide where to place their advertisements. The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) releases weekly rating points for TV channels in India and its officials are also being questioned in connection with the case, Singh said.
There are 2,000 barometers installed in Mumbai to monitor TRPs, the police chief added, and BARC gave the contract to Hansa agency for monitoring these barometers.
How the probe began
According to a press note shared by LiveLaw, the police said its crime branch arrested a person from Malad upon receiving a complaint and the person revealed he had been working for a company which is part of BARC.
The press note also said that one of the arrested accused and some of the wanted accused were employees of Hansa Research Group Pvt. Ltd and they had “misused the confidential data which had been entrusted to them”.
The investigation into ratings manipulation is based on a complaint by Hansa, Singh said.
“During the investigation it came to light that some former employees of the agency were involved in compromising the data and they were sharing it with some television companies,” he said.
It was revealed that these people had manipulated the sampling metering services by inducing the barometer users through periodical payments to watch particular TV channels, Singh added.
“Many people, in whose homes these barometers have been installed, have accepted that they were getting monetary benefit for keeping their TV sets on even when they did not watch it.”
This was apparently done for “wrongful gains” of some TV channels and resulted in losses to advertisers and their agencies, he said.
Singh told NDTV that BARC gave evidence of rigged ratings based on data of households where barometers were installed. The charges listed in the Mumbai Police FIR include criminal breach of privilege and cheating, he added.
Singh said that any advertising revenue made by manipulating ratings is a crime. “We will investigate that. We have three months to do so.”
Republic TV statement
Republic TV has rubbished Singh’s claims. In a statement, Goswami said the Mumbai police chief made false claims against Republic TV as the channel had questioned him in the Rajput case investigation and the channel will file a criminal defamation case against Singh.
BARC has not mentioned the channel even in a single complaint, he said, adding that Singh should issue an apology and get ready to face the channel in court.
Responding to Goswami’s claims, Singh told NDTV that the complaint was lodged by Hansa, not the police. “Suspicious trends were noticed by them, not us. They noticed suspicious trends of ratings or certain channels. They shared details of discrepancies.”
Singh further said that the police “investigations in the Sushant Singh Rajput case were professional and the Supreme Court also endorsed it. Our investigation into the TRP case will also be professional.”
In a late night statement, Republic also claimed that a copy of the FIR in the TRP case mentioned India Today as the channel that should be investigated. “There is not a single mention of Republic TV.”
Singh, however, clarified that India Today was named by one of the witnesses in the FIR, but no one named the channel during the investigation.
“As the probe progressed neither BARC, nor witnesses, nor accused named India Today. All named Republic TV, Marathi channels. As of now [there is] no evidence against India Today. We are proceeding against Republic TV, Marathi channels,” he told NDTV.
(With PTI inputs)