Republic TV is among the three channels being investigated for allegedly gaming ratings and using them to spread fake narratives and gain ad revenues, the Mumbai police said today. Two TV channel owners have been arrested and the directors and promoters of Republic TV are being investigated for ratings fraud.
Officials of Republic TV – which claims the highest TRPs or Television Rating Points among news channels – will be summoned today or tomorrow, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh told reporters, dropping a bombshell in the middle of a row over the media coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput case and aggressive criticism of the Mumbai police by some channels.
The accounts of Republic TV and the others could be frozen if it was established that the channels made advertising money using rigged ratings, he said.
The ratings scam emerged during a larger analysis of the manipulation of news trends and how a “false narrative” was being spread, especially in connection with the probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, Mr Singh said. The information had been shared with the central government, he added.
“The biggest name to emerge is Republic TV,” said the police chief. The channels whose owners have been arrested are Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema.
The bank accounts of the channels will be investigated, Mr Singh told reporters, besides the funds they receive from advertisers and “whether they are from proceeds of crimes”. More channels could also be examined, he said. Asked whether the inquiry would include Arnab Goswami, the Editor-in-Chief of Republic, the police chief said: “Anyone involved in the channel, no matter how much in the top, how senior, will be questioned, and if involved they will be investigated. No one, no matter how senior, will escape.”
He explained that the scam was based on household data being revealed to channels, which used it to manipulate ratings. “Based on these ratings they received illegal advertising funds. This will be considered proceeds of cheating,” said the police chief.
“There was false TRP spreading. TRP ratings were being bought. The manipulation was mainly for advertising revenues.”
Mr Singh said former employees of Hansa, an agency that placed ratings metres in select households, shared confidential data with the three channels being investigated. Hansa’s data is used by BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council), which releases weekly rating points for channels across the country.
In Mumbai, 2,000 barometers are installed to monitor ratings and BARC hired ‘Hansa” to monitor these. The investigation is based on Hansa’s complaint, the top cop said. “We suspect that if this was happening in Mumbai then it could be happening in other parts of the country as well,” he added.
The media organisations allegedly bribed the households being metered to keep their channel switched on all the time even if they were not watching it. “If you see the data, poor uneducated households that don’t speak English were watching only English TV channels,” Mr Singh said. He claimed that the families were offered a monthly payment of Rs 400-500 for their role in pushing up ratings.
In a statement, Arnab Goswami said he would sue the Mumbai Police commissioner and accused him of making false allegations “because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case investigation”. He added: “He should issue a public apology or get ready to face us in court.”
BARC has been served notice and its officials are also being questioned. “As in all our previous cases of suspected panel homes intrusions, BARC India continues to follow its established vigilance and disciplinary guidelines. BARC remains steadfastly true to its purpose to accurately and faithfully report ‘ What India Watches’. BARC India appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai Police and will provide the support asked of it,” said a company spokesperson.
Ratings manipulation has been a familiar charge in the television industry. Central ministers have commented on it and even the Supreme Court recently criticized the race for TRPs in a case involving Sudarshan TV’s “UPSC Jihad” show. The court had commented on the power of the electronic media to target a community, damage reputations or tarnish someone’s image. “The problem with the electronic media is all about TRPs, leading to more and more sensationalism that damages the reputation of people,” a judge had remarked.
Read full statement by Republic TV here
“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 Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh. There is not a single BARC report that mentions Republic TV. The people of India know the truth. Mr. Param Bir Singh’s investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput case is under a cloud and this is a desperate measure because of Republic TV’s reportage on Palghar, the Sushant Singh Rajput case or any other case. This kind of targeting only strengthens the resolve of everyone at Republic TV to push for the truth even harder. Param Bir Singh stands completely exposed today, since BARC has not mentioned Republic in any single complaint. He should issue an official apology and get ready to face us in court.”