Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh on Thursday claimed the Mumbai Police Crime Branch had busted a Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation racket.
He alleged at a press conference that certain television channels such as Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema had indulged in such malpractices.
Singh said since Republic TV is involved in the TRP racket, the involvement of the promoters, directors or any other employee of the channel would be investigated, and summons will be issued asking them to present themselves before the police for questioning.
Rubbishing Singh's claims, Republic Media Network's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami said in a statement that he would file a criminal defamation case against the officer.
Goswami asserted that the Broadcasting Research Council has not mentioned Republic TV in a single complaint. He alleged that the charges had been levelled because the Republic Media Network had questioned Param Bir Singh in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. Goswami said Singh should issue an official apology and face Republic TV in court.
According to Singh, the investigation began on a complaint of Hansa Research Group which alleged an ex-employee was involved in the manipulation of barometers and leaking out the firm’s confidential data. Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd is a market research company which has been tasked to maintain and fetch viewership data from these machines. Barometers are instruments which help the agency to calculate TRP of a particular program or of a channel. The data is later passed on to the BARC which announces TRPs on a weekly basis.
Suspicious trends in the TRP of a particular channel were also observed in an analytical report of BARC, alleged Singh. According to the police, the accused involved in the racket manipulated the sampling metering services by inducing the barometer users and paying them periodically to watch particular TV channels.
The households were paid a monthly inducement of Rs 400-500 to watch a particular channel, Singh said. There are 2,000 barometers installed in Mumbai to monitor TRPs, Singh said, adding that BARC gave a contract to Hansa to monitor these barometers.
"When we contacted the households where the barometers were installed, they confirmed to us that they have been paid to keep Republic TV on their television, regardless of whether they were at home or away. Some of them were not educated, yet they were watching an English news channel," said Singh. "This is paid manipulation of TRP involving breach of trust and cheating, he added.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Praveen Nijhara - CEO, Hansa Research, said, “This is with reference to the media reports regarding TRP ratings being manipulated. Hansa Research and BARC conducted an investigation into the matter over the last few weeks, the conclusion of which resulted in Hansa Research filing an FIR against an ex-employee who was engaged in some wrongdoing. Hansa Research has always been vigilant about these issues and has been proactive in informing BARC and the law enforcement agencies as and when such cases have come to our notice. We would continue to cooperate with BARC and with the authorities as and when called upon to do so.”
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.
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.
"We suspect that if this was happening in Mumbai then it could be happening in other parts of the country as well," he said.
"We are also probing if the funds which came to these channels are from proceeds of the crime. Action will be taken accordingly," Singh added.
BARC is an organization which functions under the governance of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). According to the 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 programs 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 further results in losses of hundreds of crores of rupees because of such manipulation and fake statistics of TRP, the Mumbai Police said.
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."
"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."