Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh addresses media at CP office, in Mumbai, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020
Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh addresses media at CP office, in Mumbai, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020

Mumbai Police on Thursday claimed to have busted a major fraud of manipulating TRP (Television Rating Point) data by at least three TV channels and nabbed four persons, Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh said.

The Mumbai Police chief named Republic TV and two smaller TV channels - Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema - in his press conference. The action follows a complaint registered by the Crime Branch recently.

The probe was conducted after an FIR was lodged by Hansa Research Group and Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which conducted an investigation into the matter of the TRP in the last few week. Research CEO Praveen Nijhara said the agency filed an FIR against an ex-employee who was engaged in some wrongdoing.

Here is what we know so far

What is the accusation?

Addressing the media, Singh said that following a complaint, one person working for Hansa Research Group Pvt. Ltd., a company which is part of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), was arrested from Malad.

He along with another person are accused of misusing confidential data that was entrusted with them for "wrongful gains by various TV channels" which in turn led to losses to advertisers and advertising agencies.

The police action was launched on a complaint from Hansa, the firm contracted by BARC, to place audience measurement meters to trace television channels that are being watched by households.

Singh said about 30,000 such meters had been installed across India, of which 2,000 were in Mumbai. He said the Mumbai police found that several people where these meters were placed were "paid money to tune in to a selected channel".

"Preliminary probe revealed that they manipulated the sampling metering services by inducing the barometer users and paying them periodically to watch particular TV channel/s," Singh said.

Some of the people in whose homes these barometers have been installed have confessed that they were paid Rs.500 for keeping their TV sets switched on even if they didn't actually watch.

The Kandivali Police Station has registered a case, arrested the two accused persons before a Magistrate Court which has remanded them to police custody till October 9.

Who are the accused

Singh said the owners of the 3 channels involved in the alleged scam have been charged with criminal breach of trust and cheating for 'fixing data'.

He further said owners of two local channels had been arrested along with two ex-employees of Hansa, who are suspected of leaking the communication about the meters placed in the households.

"While 2 channels owners are arrested, the police will question the Republic TV owners/directors soon. Nobody will be spared and stringent action will be taken," Singh warned.

Hansa Research statement

In a statement, Praveen Nijhara, CEO, Hansa Research, said it had jointly conducted an investigation into the matter over the last few weeks with BARC, which led to Hansa Research filing an FIR against its ex-employee who was engaged in some wrongdoing.

"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," Nijhara said in the statement.

He added that the agency is always vigilant and will cooperate with the law enforcement authorities.

"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," Nijhara said.

"As in all our previous cases of suspected panel homes intrusions, BARC India continues to follow its established vigilance and disciplinary guidelines... BARC India appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai Police and will provide the support asked of it," a BARC India spokesperson said.

The body added that it remains "steadfastly true" to its purpose to accurately and faithfully report "what India watches".

Republic TV statement

Hitting back at the Mumbai Police, Republic TV's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami said it was an attempt to target the channel for its coverage of the Maharashtra government.

Threatening to slap a criminal defamation case against Singh, he accused the police chief of making "false allegations" against the Republic TV because the channel had questioned him in the investigations of the Sushant Singh Rajput case.

"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," Goswami added.

"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," said the channel.

Confusion over FIR

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.”

How probe is progressing

A high-level team led by Joint Police Commissioner Milind Bharambe, DCP Nandkumar Thakur and DCP Akbar Pathan, along with other officers are investigating the matter.

An official said that several teams have fanned out across India to nab some other absconders in the matter.

The police have said that certain witnesses have come forward confessing that they were given monthly monetary inducements by the accused in the matter.

(With agencies)

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