Arnab Goswami and ex-BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta exchanged only friendly chats: Republic TV to Bombay HC

The Whatsapp chat between Republic TV's editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and former BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta were merely chats between two very close friends that had nothing to do with TRP manipulation, Goswami's lawyer told the Bombay High Court on Monday. The submission was made by senior advocate Ashok Mundargi, the counsel for Goswami and ARG Outlier Media, the company that runs all Republic TV channels.

Mundargi was responding to the court's query on what was the most clinching evidence cited by the Mumbai police's crime branch in the chargesheet in the TRP scam. "The highest evidence is these chats. However, please go through the entire chats because the police has taken these chats out of context to build its case," Mundargi said. He then read out some of the Whatsapp chats between Goswami and Dasgupta and told the court that the two had merely been discussing some "persons, market trends" etc.

"This chat was between two very close friends. There is nothing, not one text, or one message, which shows that TRP manipulation was discussed. They were discussing topics that two friends might ordinarily discuss," Mundargi said.

A bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale then asked if, as CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), Dasgupta had helped "tweak" the TRPs (Television Rating POints) in favour of Republic TV to help Goswami. Mundargi responded saying while that was the police's case, it had not established the same in the two chargesheets filed in the case.

Mundargi was making his submissions on the pleas filed by Goswami and ARG media seeking several reliefs in the TRP scam case. The main concern is that the police had filed two chargesheets but was yet to name Goswami and several other employees of ARG media as accused in the case, he said. The police had merely named them as suspects and was prolonging the probe, resulting in their continued harassment, Mundargi added.

He said the court must ask the police not to go on with the probe indefinitely, and that it must grant Goswami and others protection from arrest till the investigating remained pending. The HC, however, said there was no law that empowered a court to direct the investigating agency to complete its probe within a specific time.

"Even when the agency is using its investigation as a tool of oppression against someone, to what extent can the court comment? The investigating is the domain of the investigating officer in a case," the HC said. It, however, added that a state or Central probe agency must not harass citizens.

The high court also asked what was the point of naming Goswami and others merely as suspects.

"If you (police) aren't going to name them as accused then, this divine exercise is a waste of time," the HC said. Last week, during the hearing on the above pleas, the HC had said that despite the two chargesheets, the police had failed to show any incriminating material on record against Goswami.

On Monday, it asked if Goswami had been summoned for questioning by the police since the pleas had been filed in the high court, to which Mundargi replied in negative. "150 other employees of ARG have been summoned so far.

Five of whom are still named only as suspects," he said.

The HC also asked that since the Whatsapp chats claimed to be encrypted and safe, what would the police do if the parties in the case deleted the chats.

To this, state's counsel Deepak Thakare said the state Forensic Science Laboratory could retrieve even deleted Whatsapp chats.

"Then what was this whole 'halla' (noise) about privacy and end-to-end encryption about Whatsapp messages?" the HC asked.

Thakare told the judges that he will make a statement on March 25, the next date of hearing, on the time the police will require to complete its probe. According to police, they possess the evidence to show that Goswami had connived with senior officials of the BARC to rig the TRPs of Republic TV.

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