On Thursday, Mumbai police said that it had busted a “racket” of “fraudulent” manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRPs) by three channels, including Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV. Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said at a press conference, “So far three channels including Republic, Fakt Marathi, and Box Cinema, have been found to be indulging in such malpractices.” He also mentioned that four persons – the owners of Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema and two former employees of the market research agency that collects TRP data – have been arrested.
As of now, the police have summoned the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Republic TV, Shiva Sundaram, on 10 October at 11 a.m. alongside this, Sam Balsara, founder, chairman, and managing director of Madison World, and Shishir Sinha, the operational head of Lowe Lintas, have also been summoned to record their statement in connection with the TRP scam. Milind Bharambe, the joint commissioner of police (Crime), told Hindustan Times, “They have been called to record their statement under section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code.”
Republic Reacts to the Allegations
The channel has denied taking any responsibility for misconduct and claimed that they are not the ones named in the FIR registered by the police, rather another broadcast channel was. The police have already issued a clarification on this, say that the names of Republic and the other two channels have come up during the investigation. Senior police also commented that an FIR is only the beginning of an investigation.
The Editor-in-chief of Republic, Arnab Goswami, said, “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… Singh. There is not a single BARC report that mentions Republic TV.”
The TRP Scam – Simplified
The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) has installed some 30,000 ‘BAR-o-meters’ in the TV sets of “panel homes” throughout the country, out of which 1,800 are in Mumbai, and they record the channel being watched to calculate its TRP. This data is released weekly, and the advertising on the channels completely depends upon the TRP, along with other things. Based on the TRP rating, channels or shows claim to be “No. 1” or “Most Watched” in the country. The details of the panel homes should be private, but they are public, and many channels have been accused previously as well, to bribe the households and have them watch their channel to increase their TRP.
Commissioner Singh said, “We found that some channels were paying former employees of agency Hansa Research Group, which is contracted by BARC to carry out the research, to manipulate TRPs in their favour. This is mainly in the Mumbai region.” He added, “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.” According to him, some households were being paid Rs. 500-600 per day to keep a particular channel on. “In some cases, people who do not understand English were keeping English-language channels such as Republic on through the day. We have recorded their statements,” he added.
“Unusual Trends” and Hansa Research
Commissioner Singh said that these “unusual trends” were first noted by Hansa and BARC, who registered a complaint to police. The Kandivali police station arrested two former employees of Hansa – Vishal Bhandari, 21, and Bompally Rao Mistry, 44, on Wednesday and the owners of Fakt Marathi and Box Cinemas on Thursday. Singh also pointed out that both the employees had left Hansa in June, and they had Rs. 20 lakh in a bank account and Rs. 8.5 lakh in the locker. This money “was to be paid to people to keep particular channels on.” These men have also confirmed that they had been paid by three channels.
At the press conference, Singh said, “the money earned through advertisements by these channels through fake TRPs will be considered as the proceeds of crime. Once we find the accounts where the money was transferred, we will get them frozen”. Praveen Nijhara, CEO, Hansa Research, released a statement saying, “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.”
The Policy Times Suggestions
- Now that Mumbai Police is strictly taking action, the media channels should change their approach towards news dissipation and stop indulging in such malpractices.
- Media is not regulated, but policy changes are required to stop the hate-mongering in broadcast news.
- Advertisers can take a bold stance here by pulling out their advertisements from such channels that openly spread fake news.
- Republic TV has been known to report misleading news in the Palghar Sadhu case and Tableeghi Jamaat case. There are FIRs filed, and police action is required immediately.
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