Mumbai: The Special Investigation Team (SIT), which is probing the alleged Television Rating Points (TRP) rigging case, arrested Republic TV CEO Vikas Khanchandani on Sunday, taking the total number of people arrested in the case to 13.
The police had already arrested the channel's distribution head and Assistant Vice President Ghanshyam Singh, who was recently granted bail after spending 25 days in custody. Khanchandani had applied for the anticipatory bail application before the sessions court on Friday and the plea was scheduled to be heard on Monday.
On Sunday morning, a team from Mumbai Police arrested Khanchandani from his house and he was produced before the Esplanade Court, which sent him to police custody for two days. On November 24, the SIT had filed a 1,400-page chargesheet against the previously arrested 12 accused. While filing the chargesheet, the police had clarified that this was not the end of investigation.
While seeking police custody of Khanchandani, the police said in court that they had retrieved WhatsApp chats between Khanchandani and Ghanshyam Singh regarding TRP manipulation. The police also reiterated the allegation of dual-frequency tactics for TRP rigging -- dual frequency is when a particular channel is being displayed on two frequencies or numbers.
The defence counsel argued that there was no mention of Khanchandani in the chargesheet, adding that Khanchandani had so far complied with all notices and summons and appeared before the crime branch. The only reason for his arrest was that he worked for Republic TV and there is an ongoing dispute between the state government and the channel's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, said the defence counsel.
In the first week of December, ARG Outlier Media Private Limited, which owns the Republic Media Network, had filed a plea before the Supreme Court seeking protection for its employees in cases lodged against them in Maharashtra. The SC refused to entertain the plea, terming it as 'ambitious'.
It all began in the second week of October when Mumbai Police arrested four people, including two former employees of a market research company, along with the owners of two channels. Mumbai Police had then claimed that several channels were involved in TRP manipulation and named Republic TV, along with Fakt Marathi, Box Cinema and other news channels as indulging in alleged manipulations.
So far, the SIT has arrested the owners of Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema channels, along with several former relationship managers of a market research company, Hansa Research Group, hired by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to maintain and fetch viewership data from bar-o-meters installed at homes. During the month-long investigation, several other channels came under police radar.
In the alleged malpractice, the relationship managers were paid to rig the TRPs, manipulate the sampling metering services by inducing bar-o-meter households to watch particular TV channels and pay them periodically. Households were paid Rs 400-500 monthly, to watch a particular channel. There are 2,000 bar-o-meters installed in Mumbai to monitor TRPs.
The BARC is an organisation under the governance of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). It has installed approximately 30,000 bar-o-meters in various parts of India, which monitor various programmes and based on the statistical metrics, it awards ratings to various television channels. Based on these ratings, advertisers pay to advertise. Manipulated TRPs result in miscalculated targeted audiences for advertisers.