MUMBAI POLICE on Thursday said it had busted a “racket” of “fradulent” manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRPs) involving three channels including Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV.
“So far three channels including Republic, Fakt Marathi, and Box Cinema have been found to be indulging in such malpractices,” Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said at a press conference.
Four persons – the owners of the Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema channels, and two former employees of the market research agency that collects the TRP data – have been arrested. They will be produced before a court on Friday.
Police said they were in the process of issuing summons to some senior employees of Republic, including their promoters, to establish if they were aware of the alleged manipulation.
Later in the evening, Republic claimed it was not named in the FIR registered by the police; rather another channel was. In response, the police issued a clarification stating that the names of Republic and the other two channels had come up during interrogation of the suspects in the case. A senior police official said the FIR was only the beginning of the investigation.
TRPs claim to show how many people, from which socio-economic categories, watched which channels for how long over a particular time period. TRP data are usually released weekly, and form the basis of claims by channels to being the “most watched” over that period.
Some 30,000 “BAR-o-meters”, which measure TRPs, are placed in homes across the country, including in about 1,800 homes in Mumbai, Commissioner Singh said. To prevent the data from being manipulated, the locations of these “panel homes” are kept secret. The data is used by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), an industry body owned by advertisers, ad agencies, and broadcasting companies, to calculate the TRP of each channel.
What TRP data show
TRPs claim to show how many people, from which socio-economic categories, watched which channels for how long over a particular time period. TRP data are usually released weekly, and form the basis of claims by channels to being the “most watched”.
“We found that some channels were paying former employees of agency Hansa Research Group, which is contracted by BARC to carry out the research, to manipulate TRPs in their favour. This is mainly in the Mumbai region,” Singh said. “They in turn were paying certain households selected for putting up BAR-o-meters to keep certain channels like Republic switched on to show higher TRPs,” he said.
Singh said some households were being paid Rs 500-600 per day to keep a particular channel on. “In some cases, people who do not understand English were keeping English-language channels such as Republic on through the day. We have recorded their statements,” he said.
The “unsual trends” in TRPs were first spotted by Hansa and BARC, who complained to police, Singh said. The Crime Branch registered an FIR at Kandivali police station on charges of cheating and criminal breach of trust, and arrested two former employees of Hansa – Vishal Bhandari, 21, and Bompally Rao Mistry, 44, on Wednesday. The owners of Fakt Marathi – Shirish Pattanshetty, 44 – and Box Cinemas – Narayan Sharma, 47 – were arrested on Thursday.
Both Hansa employees had left the company in June. One of them had Rs 20 lakh in his bank account, and Rs 8.5 lakh in his locker. The money “was to be paid to people to keep particular channels on”, Singh said. During interrogation, these men had said they had been paid by the three channels, Singh said.
Republic TV rubbished Singh’s claims. Editor-in-chief Goswami said: “Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh has made false allegations against Republic TV because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case investigation. Republic TV will file a criminal defamation case against… Singh. There is not a single BARC report that mentions Republic TV.”
On Republic TV’s claim that India Today, and not Republic, was named in the FIR, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe said: “In the FIR, the name of India Today is mentioned; however, it is not substantiated by any of the accused or witnesses. On the contrary, the accused and witnesses are specifically mentioning the names of Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema. Thorough investigations are going on.”
No official comment from India Today was available until press time.
At the press conference, Singh said “the money earned through advertisements by these channels through fake TRPs will be considered as the proceeds of crime. Once we find the accounts where the money was transferred, we will get them frozen”.
By manipulating TRPs, the accused had caused losses to advertisers and other news channels, Singh said. According to the commissioner, “the TV advertisement industry is worth around Rs 32,000 crore”.
Republic has accused the Mumbai Police and its chief personally for allegedly not carrying out a fair investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. After the Supreme Court allowed the CBI to take over the investigation, Goswami had demanded Singh’s resignation.
After two sadhus and their driver were lynched in Palghar, Republic had alleged – wrongly, as it turned out – a communal angle in the attack, and accused the government of failing to protect the Hindu holy men.
Mumbai Police had registered an FIR against Goswami after receiving complaints by Congress workers that he had made objectionable remarks against party president Sonia Gandhi with reference to the Palghar case.
In a statement, BARC India said it “continues to follow its established vigilance and disciplinary guidelines”. It said “BARC remains steadfastly true to its purpose to accurately and faithfully report ‘What India Watches’”, and “appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai Police and will provide the support asked of it”.
Hansa Research CEO Praveen Nijhara said in a statement: “Hansa Research and BARC conducted an investigation into the matter over the last few weeks, the conclusion of which resulted in Hansa Research filing an FIR against an ex-employee who was engaged in some wrongdoing. Hansa Research has always been vigilant about these issues and has been proactive in informing BARC and the law enforcement agencies as and when such cases have come to our notice. We would continue to cooperate with BARC and with the authorities as and when called upon to do so.”
As per police, it was Hansa and BARC that first spotted “unusual trends” in TRPs following which they approached the police. The crime branch then registered an FIR at Kandivali police station on charges of cheating and criminal breach of trust, following which they arrested a former employee of Hansa and his associate.
The police found Rs 20 lakh from his bank account and Rs 8.5 lakh from his locker which Singh said “was to be paid to people to keep particular channels on”.
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