Updated: March 16, 2021 10:21:58 pm
The Republic TV Editor-In-Chief Arnab Goswami’s counsel on Tuesday submitted before the Bombay High Court that the FIR and Chargesheet filed by Mumbai police in Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation case was solely intended to target his client for his earlier reportage against state government.
The counsel, also alleged that Mumbai Police including suspended API Sachin Waze, who was in charge of the probe, had got information pertaining to TRP manipulation in June 2020. However, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh revealed details of the alleged fraud naming Republic TV channel as suspect in October, 2020, almost four months later.
Referring to Waze, Mundargi said, “The officer is also very controversial…The officer, who is very much in the news and close to the party in power, gets this information in June, 2020…Bhandari is their (Hansa) employee. If there was any breach of contract, Hansa group would have come forward, which it did not. For nearly six months, they did not do anything.”
However, the Police failed to name Goswami as accused in the case, the lawyer said, adding that such an approach showed malice and malafide on the part of Police to target Goswami by ‘hook or crook.”
A division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice Manish Pitale was hearing plea by ARG Outlier Media Pvt Ltd, which runs Republic TV and other channels along with Goswami, challenging the police probe, FIR, proceedings and chargesheet and seeking transfer of the same to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or any other independent agency.
Senior Advocate Ashok Mundargi representing the petitioner company and Goswami submitted that the Police has not named Goswami in their chargesheet because they want to keep the criminal prosecution ‘open-ended’ .
“Target is petitioner Goswami and none else. His plea is maintainable. As they have referred to ARG Outlier Media and people connected with it including chalak-malak (operator and owner) in chargesheet but have deliberately not named him so that the investigation can be open ended and people connected with the channel can be harassed, “Mundargi argued.
Mundargi also submitted that there are nearly 30000 BAR-o-meters (installed in televisions in selected households to measure TRP) installed throughout the country, out of which 6 % are in Maharashtra and maximum are in Mumbai. “Out of these, maybe eight statements are recorded that channels have manipulated their TRPs, but they want the court to believe these statements and they are saying advertisers are cheated.”
Justice Pitale asked if any of the advertisers have come forward and approached Police, to which Mundargi responded in the negative.
The allegation is that there is rampant bribing for statistics in your (Republic TV) favour, Justice Pitale pointed out. “They were aware of such kind of things going on irrespective of any particular channel since June 2020 and Police said they had some secret source.” Mundargi said that according to Police Hansa employee Vishal Bhandari was involved in tampering readings.
Referring to Waze, Mundargi said, “The officer is also very controversial.. The officer, who is very much in the news and close to the party in power, gets this information in June, 2020. Bhandari is their (Hansa) employee. If there was any breach of contract, Hansa group would have come forward, which it did not. For nearly six months, they did not do anything.”
Mundargi further submitted that while Param Bir Singh, Mumbai Police Commissioner in October, 2020 told the media that Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) had implicated Republic TV, however, BARC had not initiated any such inquiry against Republic TV. There was no material provided by BARC to Police either through an analytical report or otherwise that Republic TV manipulated TRP, Mundargi said.
Responding to the Court’s query as to whether a Police officer can give such a statement to the media when investigation is on in a view to restore trust of citizens in the Police force, Mundargi submitted, “ There was no public outcry. None knew about the alleged TRP scam and despite that the senior police officer came before the media. This action on part of the police officer is also with malafide. The interview (given by Mumbai CP) speaks volumes on the way the case is investigated.”
He added, “There is no sufficient material to substantiate whatever was being said by him (Singh). I am demonstrating malice, malafide and an unnatural way of collecting evidence by Mumbai Police. There is an effort to somehow name the petitioner’s channel by hook or crook.”
The Court also observed that two chargesheets have been filed in the case and asked chief public prosecutor Deepak Thakare as to how long the investigation will go on, to which Thakare submitted that the same will be completed ‘ as earliest as possible.’
The Mumbai Police had recently filed an affidavit in reply and had refuted the allegations stating that the petitioner is trying to play ‘victim’ and attempting to transfer the probe to CBI despite not being named as an accused before the trial court.
After Thakare assured the Court that no coercive action will be taken against Goswami and other employees of ARG Outlier Media Private Limited, which runs Republic Media Network, till next hearing, the bench extended their interim relief from arrest and would continue hearing the plea on Wednesday.
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