Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh yesterday convened a press conference to alert about a new racket involving false television rating points (TRP). He said that three channels, including Republic TV and two other Marathi channels- Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema were reportedly involved in distorting the apparatus used by BARC to rate television channels. But later it was revealed that in the FIR filed in the case, India Today was named as paying BARC homes to watch the channel, and Republic TV was not named. Today, murkier details of the racket have come forth with the release of the remand note by the Mumbai Police in the case.
In the remand notice dated October 9, 2020, the police have sought the remand of the 4 arrested in the TRP scam case till October 13.
The remand note, which mentions both India Today and Republic TV, revealed that one of the accused Vishal Bhandari was engaged in financial transactions to manipulate viewership of the news channels.
Story gets a lot more curious. India Today named in remand note also. Strange TWIST despite denials by Mumbai investigators. | @MIB_India @PrakashJavdekar @BARCIndia | #TRPScam pic.twitter.com/g59u6YiNfk— Rahul Shivshankar (@RShivshankar) October 9, 2020
Curiously, India Today was not mentioned in the Mumbai Police’s press conference yesterday. Hours later, a controversy erupted after it was found that the FIR filed in the case had a reference to India Today but not Republic TV.
Four accused arrested in the TRP rigging scam
The remand note mentions the four accused in the case—Vishal Bhandari, Bompelli Mistry, Shirish Patanshetty and Narayan Sharma. Two of the accused were the ex-employees of the Hansa Research Group, an organisation that was tasked with monitoring the Bar-O-Meters to measure viewership while the other two are the owners of the Marathi channels accused of rigging the TRPs.
Bhandari, who worked as ‘Relationship Manager’ at the Hansa Research Group, has been accused of manipulating the bar-o-meters to favour certain channels. Hansa CEO had earlier today claimed that Hansa group and BARC conducted an investigation regarding the TRP scan and filed an FIR against an ex-employee.
To measure TRPs, BARC has installed 2000 bar-o-meters in Mumbai to monitor viewership which is strictly confidential. Hansa Research group was entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring these barometers. Bhandari had access to these bar-o-meters as he was an employee working with the Hansa Research Group.
In November 2019, a man named Vinay Tripathi contacted Bhandari and asked him to bribe residents of at least 5 panel households to watch India Today daily for 2 hours. According to the remand note, at least in 5 households where the bar-o-meters were installed, Bhandari asked the residents to watch India Today channel for at least 2 hours every day on the assurance of providing a certain amount of commission to them.
Ex-Hansa Research employee bribed households with Rs 200 per month for watching India Today daily for at least 2 hours
Bhandari reportedly got a commission of Rs 5000 and 5 families were paid every month Rs 200 for tuning in to India Today for 2 hours on a daily basis. The remand note says that this continued for six months from November 2019 to May 2020.
In his interrogation, Bhandari reportedly confessed of working for Bompelli Mistry. He claimed that Mistry gave him Rs 20,000 every month to bribe 8 to 10 households, where the bar-o-meters were installed for registering TRPs, to watch Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi. Bhandari added that Mistry asked him to give a commission of Rs 400 to Rs 500 to each family and keep the remaining amount for himself.
In addition to this, the remand notice also has a passing reference to Republic TV with no concrete transaction details as in the case with India Today. It stated that Bhandari was approached by a man named Rocky who asked him to get households with the bar-o-meters to watch Republic TV for a longer duration.
Mumbai Police says no clean chit to any channel yet after outrage sweeps over its bungled handling of TRP scam
After tying themselves into a knot over their bungled handling of the TRP scam, accusing Republic TV of rigging TRP scam while hiding that India Today was mentioned in the FIR, the Mumbai Police today took a defensive stance saying that all the channels are under the scanner and they have so far not given clean chit to any of the channels involved in driving their TRPs through unlawful means.
What have the accused revealed about the TRP scam? Which all angles will the the police investigate? Milind Bharabe, joint commissioner of police speaks to @rahulkanwal. #5iveLive #TRPScam pic.twitter.com/4Y4vLonIot— IndiaToday (@IndiaToday) October 9, 2020
Speaking to India Today’s Rahul Kanwal, the Joint Commissioner of Mumbai Police, Milind Bharambe, said, “The FIR did mention India Today’s name for being one of the channels who paid money to households to fix the TRPs but as per the consequent investigation, the evidence collected pointed towards Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema. However, our investigation is completely open and we have not given clean chit to any other channels. As per evidence collected, we will take action accordingly.”