The TRP scam has become a raging issue, specifically since Republic TV’s name was dragged into the controversy after the research report by Hansa Research, the FIR filed and the witnesses actually named India Today as the channel trying to manipulate the TRPs. However, in a curious case, it is now being reported that three witnesses have suddenly, in front of a magistrate, named Republic TV as the channel that gave them money to watch their channel, so as to spike the TRP in favour of the channel.
According to Times of India, Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh has told the platform that three witnesses have deposed before the magistrate and blamed Republic TV for paying them to watch the channel. The report says that the commissioner has ‘refused to comment further’ saying that the investigation is still on.
“Three of them have deposed before a magistrate saying Republic TV made payments to them, while the fourth witness made a similar statement against Box Cinema. Mumbai police commissioner Parambir Singh confirmed three witnesses had named Republic’s officials as being involved in the rigging of viewership. He refused to elaborate, saying investigations were at a crucial stage and any disclosure at this stage would hamper the probe”, the report said.
Curiously, the police have offered a preemptive explanation as far as the statement of the witnesses go. The Times of India Report says:
“The statements were made by the witnesses under Section 164 of the CrPC, which deals with recording and confession of statements by a metropolitan magistrate or judicial magistrate during the course of the investigation, police said. The magistrate records the statements only after he is convinced that they are being made voluntarily. Police officers said that now it could not be alleged that the cops had extracted these confessions from the witnesses”.
It is important to note that the police offer a preemptive explanation about how they have not extracted the confessions from the witnesses. But it is, in fact, true that the entire TRP scam case and how it has progressed since the beginning has left several questions unanswered.
The TRP scam saga: How it all began
On the 8th of October, Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh held a press conference where he categorically stated that Mumbai police have been alerted 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 have been reportedly involved in distorting the apparatus used by BARC to rate television channels. The commissioner said that arrests have also been made in this regard. He further added that Republic TV’s bank accounts were under scanner and that their officials would be summoned soon.
Interestingly, in the press conference, the Commissioner mentioned Hansa Research and how, to measure TRPs, BARC has installed 2000 barometers in Mumbai to monitor TRPs which is strictly confidential. Parambir Singh further said that the confidential contract was given to a company called Hansa Research which has filed the complaint against some former employees who misused the data on households where the TRP monitoring systems are installed.
It is to be noted here that during the press conference, the police commissioner specifically mentioned that his assertions were based on the Hansa Research complaint that was filed with the police.
FIR by Hansa Research emerges – had named India Today and not Republic TV
As mentioned earlier, in his press conference, Parambir Singh had specifically mention that Hansa Research had filed a complaint with the police. Now, after he implicated Republic TV in his press conference, the complaint that was filed by Hansa Research on the 6th of October, just 2 days before the press conference by Parambir Sing, emerged.
Interestingly, in this FIR that was filed by Hansa Research, Republic TV was not mentioned even once. The channel that was mentioned several times was India Today.
The FIR filed in the case was accessed by Republic TV on the 8th of October itself, which showed that India Today was named in the FIR, not Republic TV as alleged by Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.
The FIR alleging manipulation of Bar-o-meters installed by BARC was filed by Hansa Research Group Private Limited, the company responsible for installing and maintaining the Bar-O-Meter of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). Following the complaint, Relationship Manager of the company Vishal Bhandari was arrested by Mumbai police. During the investigation, he revealed that India Today and other channels instigated him and offered money to households with the meters to keep their TV tuned to those channels.
Moreover, he revealed that a person named Vinay asked Bhandari in November 2019 to approach 5 homes and ask them to watch India Today daily for 2 hours. The FIR filed in the case reads “Today on 6lh October 2020, Assistant Police Inspector, Mr. Kazi, has informed me that, Basis on the secret information received, they arrested Vishal Ved Bhandari, House no.6, Kashinath Khandu Bhandari Chawl, BMC Quarters, Chincholi, N B Road, Malad (W), Mumbai 400097, During the inquiry, he informed that he is working with Hansa Research Group Private Limited as a Relationship Manager, he also informed that to increase the TRP of India Today and several other channels, he used to instigate and offer money to panel homes, where BAR-o-Meter installed with the help of other several people. They asked me to visit their office for more understanding.”
In the entire FIR, Republic TV was not named even once. It was thus curious that the Mumbai Police Commissioner would name this FIR to allege that Republic TV was guilty.
Further, while reporting this FIR, Republic TV had revealed that even before the press conference, India Today reporters were in front of Arnab Goswami’s house and Parambir Singh had ensured that Republic TV journalists were not allowed to attend the press conference.
All-out war – Parambir Singh ties himself up in knots, Witness statement surfaces
After the initial celebratory tones of India Today, after the FIR surfaced, India Today went into damage control mode. Talking to Mumbai Police, Rajdeep tried to get a statement saying that India Today was not named in the FIR.
Rajdeep took to his channel to question the Joint Commissioner of Police. He asked, “an attempt has been made to suggest that India Today was mentioned in the FIR” and then, went on to demand clarity to exonerate himself and implicate Republic TV.
The Joint Commissioner, however, interestingly admitted that it was indeed India Today that was named in the FIR. This revelation itself leads the Mumbai Police to tie itself up in knots since once this admission is out in the open, not much else makes sense.
Interestingly, Parambir Sing said that while the FIR mentioned India Today, as ‘the probe progressed’ no evidence was found against India Today and instead, evidence was found against Republic TV.
It is to be noted that the FIR was filed on the 6th. By the 7th, Mumbai Police had already sent a notice to BARC to get viewership data of Republic TV. And by the 8th, Parambir Singh had enough evidence to do a press conference and implicate Republic TV.
By the end of the day, Republic journalist spoke to Tejal Solanki who specifically implicated India Today. She said that her son was asked to watch India Today specifically. However, she did appear scared. She kept asking the journalist if nothing would happen to them and they would be safe.
The scared witness was then spoken to by India Today where they twisted her statement completely to implicate themselves. In fact, the scared witness kept repeating that no channel had paid her and she watched no channel to increase the TRP. That statement was then taken by India Today to say that she had admitted being paid money to watch Republic TV.
While the witness was being manipulated by India Today, interesting visuals started to appear on Republic TV. They had got footage where it showed how Mumbai Police personnel were guarding the house of Tejal Solanki.
The footage is from the 9th of October accessed by Republic that showed how Tejal Solanki, witness in the TRP scam case was being guarded rather closely by Mumbai Police and was allegedly not allowed to speak to the media.
Explosive information emerges – India Today had already been implicated of manipulating TRP
On the 9th of October itself, OpIndia exposed that a show-cause notice was sent to TV Today Network Ltd and BARC regarding viewership malpractice on 27th April 2020, according to our sources. The response by TV Today Network Limited, who is a subscriber of BARC, was not found satisfactory by the BARC Disciplinary Council and the BDC had ruled that the response by India Today “does not satisfactorily explain the buoyancy of India Today channel, in particular, geographies (Mumbai and Bangalore)”.
Further, the BARC Disciplinary Council had ruled that “the statistical data provided by BARC Measurement Science Team showed an abnormal and inexplicable increase in viewership”. Continuing in their order BDC said, “furthermore subscribers reply and/or representations do not provide satisfactorily explain the abnormal increase in the viewership”. Here, subscriber means India Today that had responded to the show-cause notice furnished to them and BARC by BARC Disciplinary Council.
What followed in the order was even more startling.
The order further said that since it was the first offence of India Today, they were left with a warning and their license was not cancelled, however, TV Today Network Limited was asked to pay Rs 5,00,000 penalty to BARC.
Clearly, India Today had a pattern. What is more intriguing is that India Today was caught manipulating TRP in Bangalore and Mumbai according to this order. In that case, when India Today was caught manipulating TRP in Mumbai and the Hansa Research FIR also mentioned India Today, it was becoming increasingly clear that India Today was involved in this scam – the question remained – why was Republic being implicated then?
Hansa Research report, on the basis of which FIR was filed, emerges – No mention of Republic, multiple mentions of India Today there too
On the 10th of October, 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 mentioned India Today on two occasions but did 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.
The details of the 7 page Hansa Research report can be read here.
Republic TV CEO and CFO questioned, asked how they acquired Hansa Report that implicated India Today in TRP scam
Interestingly, by the 11th of October, Republic TV CEO and CFO were questioned for a total of over 20 hours. The questions largely included how Republic TV managed to acquire the Hansa Report that had implicated India Today and not Republic TV. Essentially, the report that busted holes in the claims made by the Mumbai Police and the Mumbai Police Commissioner.
Their journalist Pradeep Bhandari was also summoned and booked in non-bailable offences. He later got anticipatory bail.
Witnesses magically name Republic TV on 16th October
From the very beginning to the end, the only mention of Republic TV as an accused in the TRP scam case was made by the police commissioner Parambir Singh. The Hansa Research report, the FIR that followed and the Witness statement while talking to the media made absolutely no mention of Republic TV but instead, implicated India Today.
In fact, it is to be noted that the witness who named India Today while talking to a reporter was also guarded closely by the Mumbai Police since the 9th of October.
On the 16th, magically, the witnesses have named Republic TV according to the Times of India and the paper claims that Parambir Singh has confirmed that news.
How evidence turned after the Mumbai Police’s conduct was rather questionable in the entire case is a mystery. In fact, while there is mounting evidence against India Today, there is absolutely no evidence that has come forth against Republic TV so far. On the 9th of October, a remand notice issued by the Mumbai Police had also named India Today several times and detailed their involvement in the scam. Republic TV was almost forcefully mentioned in the remand notice against the accused in the case with no evidentiary backing.
In fact, while evaluation of this case, one also has to keep in mind how the Maharashtra coalition government has hounded Republic TV and its chief, Arnab Goswami for the past few months misusing its state machinery including the Mumbai police. The over 200 FIRs after the Palghar coverage, the physical attack on Arnab and his wife by a Congress goon, the police refusing to name the Congress goons in the FIR after the attack and the repeated questioning and the multiple cases lodged. It is evident that the coalition government in Maharashtra has an axe to grind with Republic TV and its editor-in-chief, Arnab Goswami.