On Thursday Mumbai Police said it had busted a “racket” of “fraudulent” manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRPs) involving three channels including Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV.
“So far three channels including Republic, Fakt Marathi, and Box Cinema have been found to be indulging in such malpractices,” according a statement by Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said at a press conference.
Singh said TRP manipulation allowed these channels to boost viewership numbers and attract more advertisements fraudulently. Families, including those residing in slums, were paid Rs 400 – Rs 500 per month to keep these channels switched on. In some case people who don’t understand English channels such a Republic TV continuously on at home, he added. The statement of these people also have been taken.
What is TRP?
TRPs are used to measure viewership for programmes and channels, and help advertisers decide where to advertise.
Series of Event:
As per Singh, some 30,000 “BAR-o-meters”, which measure TRPs, are placed in homes across India, including about 1,800 homes in Mumbai. To prevent the data from being manipulated, the locations of these “panel homes” are kept secret. The data is used by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), an industry body owned by advertisers, ad agencies, and broadcasting companies, to calculate the TRP of each channel. As per BARC, suspicious trends were seen in the case of Republic TV.
Singh further said that police have found out that some channels were paying former employees of agency Hansa, to manipulate TRPs in their favour, mainly in the Mumbai region. “They in turn were paying certain households selected for putting up BAR-o-meters to keep certain channels like Republic switched on to show higher TRPs,” he said.
Hansa Research Group Private Limited, an independent agency, which is contracted by BARC had lodged a complaint against Republic TV and the two other channels after they spotted an “unusual trends” in TRPs. The Crime Branch registered an FIR at Kandivali police station on charges of cheating and criminal breach of trust, and arrested two former employees of Hansa – Vishal Bhandari, 21, and Bompally Rao Mistry, 44, on Wednesday. The owners of Fakt Marathi – Shirish Pattanshetty, 44 – and Box Cinemas – Narayan Sharma, 47 – on Thursday. The four individuals have been sent to police custody till October 13 by a court.
Both the Hansa employees had left the organisation in June. One of them had Rs 20 lakh in his bank account, and Rs 8.5 lakh in his locker. The money “was to be paid to people to keep particular channels on. During interrogation, these men had said the three channels had paid them, Singh said.
Police further said they were in the process of issuing summons to some senior employees of Republic, including their promoters, to establish if they were aware of the alleged manipulation.
In response to the allegations, Last in the evening of Thursday, Republic TV’s Editor-in-chief Goswami said that it was India Today, and not Republic TV that was named in the FIR filed in the case. He further said Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh had made false allegations against his channel, as they have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case investigation.
To this, India Today TV responded through an interview with Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe, who stated that investigations had not revealed any connection between the alleged scam and India Today TV. Police clarified stating that the accused and witnesses have specifically mentioned Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema during interrogation. They also said the FIR was only the beginning of the investigation.
The police chief said the money earned through advertisements in a fraudulent manner would be considered as “proceeds of crime.” “Once the account to which this money was found they will be frozen,” Singh said.
Through TRP manipulation, these channels have caused losses to advertisers, and other news channels, wherein the TV advertising industry is worth around Rs 32,000 crore.
Meanwhile, today Hansa issued its first response after Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh’s factually bereft attempt to falsely implicate Republic Media Network in an alleged ‘TRP scam’ backfired and it emerged that it was India Today that was named in the relevant FIR and not Republic TV.
Media and the general public is questioning the credibility of such a senior officer and also why Republic TV was dragged into this scam, wherein in the complaint of Nitin Deokar, the Deputy General Manager of the Hansa revealed that India Today was mentioned multiple times and Republic did not find any mention.
Further details about the TRP scam, the involvement of India Today and the false allegation by the senior officer Singh is yet to be known.