False TRP: Heads of 2 ad firms to be questioned as well at Crime Branch office in Fort today

A day after alleging that several television channels were involved in the manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRPs), the Mumbai Police on Friday issued summons to the chief finance officer (CFO) of Republic TV and the heads of two advertising firms.

Republic TV CFO Shiva Sundaram, along with founder, chairman and managing director of Madison World and the CEO of IPG Mediabrands, have been asked to appear at the Crime Branch office in Fort at 11am on Saturday.

"The summons have been issued under section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and they have been asked to record their statement," said Milind Bharambe, joint commissioner of police, crime branch.  

On Thursday, Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh had announced the unearthing of a racket in the manipulation of TRPs and named several channels, including Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema, and accused them of having indulged in such malpractices. Republic TV has already rubbished Singh's claims and said that it would file a case of criminal defamation against him .

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, the police commissioner had said, "We will also summon advertisers to investigate whether they were complicit or were victims of this racket."  

Earlier, on Friday, the four people arrested in the case, Vishal Bhandari, 20, Bompalli Rao, 45, along with the owner of Box Cinema, Narayan Sharma, 47, and the owner of Fakt Marathi, Shirish Shetty, 44, were produced before the court on Friday which remanded them in police custody till October 13. 

In their remand application, police said that when a company, Hansa Research Group, approached a Kandivli resident, Tejal Solanki, at whose house a barometer had been installed, she told them that Bhandari, an ex-employee of Hansa, used to pay them to keep their television tuned into India Today channel for at least two hours every day. In May, Bhandari quit his job. 

 Hansa Research Group is the company which maintains and fetches viewership data from barometers on behalf of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which awards TRP ratings to channels on a weekly basis.  

The remand copy further mentioned that a person named Rocky would pay people for watching Republic TV for as many hours as they could. When BARC was contacted, they produced a suspected analytical report on the viewership of Republic TV, the police claimed in their remand copy. 

"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," said Bharambe. However, Mumbai Police maintained that no one had been given a clean chit, yet.

According to police, the accused were involved in a racket manipulating the sampling metering services, by inducing the barometer users to watch some particular TV channels, by paying them periodically. The households were paid Rs 400-500 monthly, to watch a particular channel. There are 2,000 barometers installed in Mumbai to monitor TRPs.

 BARC is an organisation under the governance of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). According to Mumbai Police, BARC claims that it powers the Rs 3,32,000 crore Indian television advertising industry by providing sharp insights. It has installed approximately 30,000 barometers in various parts of India which monitor various programmes and based on the statistical metrics, BARC awards ratings to various television channels. Based on these ratings, advertisers pay for their advertisers. Manipulated TRP ratings adversely result in miscalculated targeted audience for the advertisers. This results in the loss of hundreds of crores of rupees because of such manipulation and fake TRP statistics, Mumbai Police said.

For BOX

Malicious campaign by vested interests: India Today Group

In a statement issued on Friday, the India Today Group said there was a malicious campaign by a few vested interests to drag the name of the India Today Group into the TRP scandal. “We had no prior knowledge of the FIR, nor do we know or have dealings with the arrested accused. The Commissioner of Police confirmed this by issuing the following clarification: '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.’”

Accusing Republic TV of attempting “to deflect the blame to other networks to hide their own criminal wrongdoing”, it said, “The complaint in the FIR is being presented as a result of the investigation when the recorded statement of police states otherwise. A sustained attempt is underway to make the investigation murky by misrepresenting facts, coercing witnesses, organising fake demonstrations.”

The statement added, “In a separate matter, BARC has fined India Today without presenting any concrete evidence or convening a proper judicial committee. The issue had been under contention with them, but since they have leaked the confidential hearings, the India Today Group will consider appropriate legal recourse to get justice.”

“We welcome any probe the police may wish to conduct and are fully confident that we will come out unscathed as we have not acted in any inappropriate manner. What we have right now is nothing but malicious, unsubstantiated allegations by a vested party,” it said.

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