The Enforcement Directorate (ED), in its chargesheet in the Television Rating Points (TRP) case, has said that it has not found evidence against Republic TV.
The central agency has not named ARG Outlier Media, which owns Republic TV, or any of its members, including editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, in its chargesheet filed earlier this month before a special court in Mumbai.
Goswami and four others from the company were named in the Mumbai Police case, based on which the ED had filed a separate offence of money laundering.
The ED has said that its investigation was at “variance” with the one conducted by the Mumbai Police, claiming that the forensic report relied on by the police was “superficial” and “based on analysis of limited aspects”. The ED has also not named any officials of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), unlike the Mumbai Police.
The agency has named 16 people in its chargesheet, all linked to three movie channels and former relationship managers of Hansa Research Group Private Limited, which measured TRP on behalf of BARC.
In 2020, the Mumbai Police, under then chief Param Bir Singh, had claimed to have cracked a case involving manipulation of TRP ratings of television channels for better advertisement revenue. In its supplementary chargesheet, the police had claimed that manipulation was also done on behalf of Republic TV.
In its chargesheet, the ED has said that the role of Republic (ARG Outliers) in bribing or influencing the panel households to watch its channels was investigated in detail. “However, it became evident that the investigation done by Mumbai Police is at variance with the investigation done by the ED,” the chargesheet stated.
It added grounds for this conclusion, including that panel households that were taken as samples denied having taken money for watching Republic TV or Republic Bharat.
It also said that the relationship managers, in their statements, denied paying households to watch the two channels and no financial trail has been found so far to connect payment of monies by Republic TV to any manager.
“As such, the role of Republic TV in bribing/influencing panel households to watch Republic TV has been investigated in detail. However, no such evidence is forthcoming either by the statement or by digital data evidence,” the chargesheet said.
It has added that the Mumbai Police had relied on a forensic audit report by a firm called Acquisory Risk Consulting Private Limited. The ED got an audit done from another firm, Choksi and Choksi. The agency has claimed that the report shows that the allegations made in the forensic audit report relied upon by the Mumbai Police were
“superficial”. The ED has claimed that the report failed to appreciate the application of rules and subsequent changes made by BARC and came to erroneous conclusion.
The ED has named Box Cinema, two of its directors; Lotus Enterprises, which owns the channel Fakt Marathi, its directors; Teleone Consumer Products Private Limited, which owns the channel Mahamovies; Bompally Mistry, the proprietor of Sanch Media who is alleged to have assisted for the revenue manipulation, and seven former relationship managers of Hansa Research.
The ED has alleged that there was a conspiracy to rig TRP and cause undue benefits to these channels in form of revenue earnings. It has also said that there are certain leads on certain households watching News Nation and India
Today in lieu of receiving cash from the relationship managers.
“Further investigation is in progress,” the chargesheet added.
The ED has claimed that the modus operandi of this scam is dependent on small statistical data of nearly 1,800 households in Mumbai and 45,000 all over India to recreate viewing patterns of 197 million households.
“This gave a huge incentive to manipulate data by manipulating a few households. This way, disproportionate amount of revenue through advertisements and also increase in valuation of shares of the company was achieved at a very nominal expense. It is very difficult to pinpoint as to when this manipulation started but various channel owners gamed this system and manipulated the system for considerable period of time,” the ED has chargesheet stated.