The Mumbai Police on Friday issued summons to the chief financial officer (CFO) of Republic Media Network to appear before it on Saturday morning in connection with the “spiked TRP scam”.
In addition to CFO S Sundaram, two agencies that were involved in getting advertisements of the channel were issued summons to appear before the police on Saturday.
Also, the accountants of TV channels Box Cinemas and Fakt Marathi, also alleged to have paid for high TRP (Television Rating Point) along with Republic, have been issued summons to join the probe.
The police, meanwhile, said it will write to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) seeking details of any suspicious activity on the part of a few other channels, including India Today.
While India Today had been named in the FIR as a channel that allegedly made payments to Hansa Research Group, which calculates TRP for BARC, to get high TRP, the Mumbai Police on Friday said that purely on the basis of the interrogation of the accused, prima facie it does not appear that India Today was involved in the alleged scam.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe said, “However, no one has been given a clean chit. We will be writing to BARC to find out if there was any suspicious activity regarding the TRP of India Today. That will be conclusive evidence of the culpability of any channels involvement in the scam.”
So far, based on the questioning of the two arrested accused – Vishal Bhandari (21) and Bompally Rao alias Sanju Rao (44) – the police have sought details of Republic, Box Cinemas and Fakt Marathi from BARC. “There was unusual activity in the TRPs of all the three channels,” said a senior IPS officer.
The police said the tinkering of the TRP in the current case first came to light after BARC found some unusual readings earlier this year. During an internal investigation, it found that Hansa employee Vishal Bhandari was involved in tampering readings.
In fact, Hansa has found that Bhandari had two BAR-o-meters (installed in televisions in selected households to measure TRP) set up at his father’s residence. Sources said while Hansa had asked him to quit in June, the company did not file a police complaint at the time.
The police said that this information reached one of their officers earlier this week. Based on this, it carried out an investigation and detained Bhandari. “When we informed Hansa officials about it, they said that their earlier audit report had shown that Bhandari was tinkering with the system. In his statement to the police, the deputy general manager of Hansa said that as per their audit report, Bhandari had asked people to keep India Today switched on to increase TRP,” said an officer.
“However, when we questioned Bhandari, he took the names of Republic, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinemas… Even of the four persons whose statements were recorded, who were allegedly paid by Hansa, three denied that they were asked to watch India Today. The fourth person changed her statement about having been asked to watch the channel. All of them have named these three channels,” the officer added.
During Bhandari’s interrogation, the police came to know about Bompally Rao alias Sanju Rao. “Rao was the go-between for channels and Bhandari. These channels contacted him for higher TRPs and paid him. He in turn paid Bhandari and the families who kept these channels switched on,” said an officer.
The police have learnt that Hansa has around 20 regional managers for its approximately 1,800 homes in Mumbai that have BAR-o-meters installed. Bhandari was in charge of 83 such homes in Mumbai’s northern suburbs. Of these 83, the BARC report said there was suspicious activity in 10 homes.
“This is a high percentage when it comes to accounting for TRPs,” an officer said. The police are checking if there is any suspicious activity in other homes where BAR-o-meters have been installed.
Bhandari, Rao and the owners of Fakt Marathi (Shirish Shetty) and Box Cinemas (Narayan Sharma) have been so far arrested in the case. They were produced before the court on Friday, which remanded them in police custody till October 18. Three persons have been identified as wanted accused in the case.
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