Days after Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh, in an explosive statement, accused Republic TV of ‘TRP manipulation’, Republic TV has accessed the 7-page Hansa research Group complaint, on the basis of which an FIR was registered in the TRP scam case. Contrary to the narrative put forth by the Mumbai Police, the complaint categorically mentions India Today on two occasions but does not make any reference to Republic TV or other channels.
The Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd. had filed the complaint against unknown persons and two of its employees, namely, Vishal Bhandari and Dinesh Vishwakarma. The company informed that they undertake the Panel Home Operations for a metering company MDL to collect raw data of TV viewership for BARC.
Hansa employee asked panel homes to watch India Today daily for 2 hours
On June 17, Hansa Research Group employee Vishal Bhandari had informed to BARC Vigilance Team that he had received a call from one Vinay in November 2019. As per the complaint, Vinay had asked Bhandari to visit 5-panel homes, where bar-o-meters are installed, and convince them to watch India Today news channel for 2 hours every day. He had received ₹5000 to execute the task and was also paid ₹1000 to equally distribute among the 5-panel homes. Bhandari, who had executed the plan on the behest of Vinay, continued it unabated from November 2019 to May this year.
During the 7-month period, Bhandari would meet different people at the Malad railway station to receive his cash reward. During their internal investigation, BARC cross-verified the claims of Bhandari. Several panel homes have admitted to receiving monetary compensation in lieu of watching ‘certain channels’ and ‘influencing the viewership’.
Whatsapp chat messages reveal all lies of India Today
Hansa Research Group employee Vishal Bhandari had shared several Whatsapp chats between panel home members and his contacts. “Mujhe channel ka cash aata hai. Abb vo bhi nhi lene kaa sakta (I get money from the channel. But, its difficult to get the money now)”, a message from Bhandari read. In another Whatsapp correspondence, Bhandari said to one Vivek, “Mera channel ka pay ayega 11 ya 12 ko trko pura deta hu ( The pay for my channel would come on 11th or 12th of this month. I will pay you once I receive the money)”
Bhandari had also messaged another handler with the name ‘Subhash Lane 1 Nw.’ He wrote, “25 ko naya channel le raha hu
me, toh uska bhi advance payment kar dunga (Taking up a new channel on 25th of this month. I will make an advance payment to you).” In another Whatsapp correspondence, Bhandari corrected a handler who asked him to send the details of the contact in ‘India Tv’. He said, “Ganesh, India Today, Any issue call me I will send him.”
It is pertinent to remember that Bhandari had admitted to BARC Vigilance Team that he was working on the behest of one Vinay in favour of India Today. Besides his confession, his Whatsapp communication also reflects how he has been coordinating with his handlers and a ‘contact’ in India Today. Interestingly, the complaint finds no mention of Republic TV network but mentions India Today on at least 2 occasions.
The report matches with the FIR registered by the Mumbai Police on the complaint of Hans Research into TRP manipulation. The FIR, which came to hours after Mumbai Police Commissioner had named Republic TV, also mentions the name of India Today, accusing that money was paid to panel homes to watch the channel for 2 hours a day. The FIR didn’t mention the name of Republic TV, contrary to the claims of the commissioner.
Hansa Research group seeks criminal prosecution of Vishal Bhandari and others
“That the above act of tampering with the actual collection of data by interfering and influencing the households. The persons behind these criminal acts have hatched a criminal conspiracy with the intention to interfere with the legitimate collection of Data and thereby cheat other channels, advertisers and finally the public,” the complaint noted. Hansa Research Group also pointed out that the employees defrauded the company, violated the confidentiality clause of their Non-Disclosure Agreement(NDA) and was thus liable for prosecution under Indian Penal Code IPC Sections 420 (cheating) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
Republic TV issues statement
After accessing the complaint by Hansa Research, Republic TV issued a statement, saying that it exposes India Today completely. It says that while the complaint mentions India Today multiple times, Republic TV is not mentioned at all. “The Hansa complaint is what India Today Group was hoping would not see the light of the day. However, the truth always has a way of coming out, and Republic will ensure that it does, in its entirety”, the statement said.
The Arnab Goswami led channel also said that “Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh owes a public apology because the original complaint based on which the FIR was filed also specifically names only and only India Today and not Republic TV, just like the FIR itself”.
Republic TV affirmed that it stands vindicated after the original Hansa complaint has been published, and “the canard of lies propagated by India Today now crumbles in the face of hard evidence.” The network asked both Param Bir Singh and India Today to explain whether there was a burial of evidence, a skirting of the due process of law and and airbrushing of the truth.
India Today admits to data manipulation
Earlier, in an OpIndia exclusive news break, it emerged that India Today had been held guilty of ‘viewership malpractice’ back on July 31st and was asked to pay a penalty of Rs 5,00,000 to BARC by the BARC Vigilance Council. India Today, after several hours of the news break, published a statement where they admitted that they were indeed fined for viewership manipulation but said that they will take legal action against BARC since their involvement in the scam was meant to be ‘confidential’.