In a sensational revelation, the Mumbai Police claimed to have busted a major fraud of manipulating TRP (Television Rating Point) data by at least three TV channels and nabbed two persons, Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh said here on Thursday.
The channels allegedly indulging in the fraudulent activities include Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema, and the action follows a complaint registered by the Crime Branch recently.
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'.
"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.
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.
As the news broke, reporters scrummed around Goswami’s vehicle for a comment. The senior journo was accompanied by his wife Samyabrata Ray.
While Goswami kept showing the peace sign and smiling at the cameras, it was an India Today reporter, who was seen hounding the former and asking about the allegations levelled against his channel.
After stalling Goswami’s vehicle persistently, the reporter was manhandled by security personnel, and moved aside.
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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.”
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.
Meanwhile, 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 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.
"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.
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 IANS inputs