Just when BARC declared its weekly report on TRPs of TV channels, news of fake TRPs made headlines on Thursday.
Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh held a press conference about the same and named Republic TV and two Marathi channels - Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema in its FIR for indulging in the manipulation of TRPs.
Hitting out at Singh, Republic TV claimed that it had accessed the FIR filed by the Mumbai Police on the complaint of Nitin Deokar, the Deputy General Manager of the Hansa Research Group Private Limited, and that Republic TV’s name was not mentioned in the complaint. Rather, it said, the FIR showed that Vishal Bhandari, arrested by the police, had revealed that India Today and other channels instigated him and offered money to panel homes where barometers were installed.
Responding to this, 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.”
BARC announces its weekly report on TV channel's TRP and within the city, 2,000 barometers have been installed. A company named Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd monitors the TRP which is strictly confidential.
Apparently, the houses where barometers were installed had been asked to watch a particular channel, said Mumbai Police.
According to Singh, “All efforts are being made to trace the roots of the matter. Several teams have been sent to various states across India to nab the absconding accused persons.”
“Former and present employees of Hansa are on our radar,” Singh said, adding the crime branch is also roping in forensic science experts in the probe. "We will also investigate how many TRP points were manipulated and what effect it had on advertisements," he said.
Republic TV promised to take Mumbai Police to the court and said that the Commissioner has named the channel because they questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. Goswami also said that he will file criminal defamation against Singh.
The Mumbai police have recovered Rs 20 lakh cash from one of the accused, he said, adding that they also found Rs 8.5 lakh in his bank locker.
So far, the Crime Branch has arrested two ex-employees of Hansa Research Group, Vishal Bhandari, 20, and Sanjiv Rao, 45, along with the owner of Fakt Marathi, Shirish Shetty,44, and the owner of Box Cinema, Narayan Sharma, 47.
The owners and promoters of Republic TV are likely to be called for questioning, Singh said.
The two channel owners arrested were produced in court and Mumbai police have got their custody till Friday, Singh said. The arrests were made under sections 409 and 420 of the IPC, he added.
In a statement issued later on Thursday, BARC said, "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."
(With inputs from Sachin Gaad)