The fake TRP saga has taken a slightly strange turn. In the TRP case chargesheet filed by the Mumbai Police, pages after pages of personal chats between Arnab Goswami and the ex-BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta have been added. Hundreds of pages of chat, with seemingly nothing incriminating as far as the TRP case is concerned. No chat between them about money being exchanged, about the ratings being manipulated, nothing. Yet, all chats, even personal jokes, have been added in the chargesheet.
At the very outset, one has to wonder what the purpose of this move could be. It is not really possible that the police thinks that private chats between two individuals add any value to their TRP case itself. Thus, the logical conclusion is that the chats were added either to tarnish the overall image of Arnab Goswami or, to make the chargesheet voluminous so it appears as though it contains enough evidence.
Since the filing of the chargesheet, ‘liberals’ have been over-the-moon and have been thoroughly discussing every joke cracked by Arnab Goswami. They even tried to insinuate that Arnab Goswami knew about the Balakot strikes much before it happened because he had in passing mentioned ‘something big is going to happen’. They, of course, ignore the fact that everyone was saying exactly the same, including several channels like Times Now who are now discussing these chats threadbare.
There is another aspect to this chargesheet, however, that has not been discussed.
In the chargesheet, the Mumbai Police has added a forensic report prepared by a risk consulting firm called ‘Aquisory’ to BARC.
We had earlier reported how this forensic report had problematic chats between the BARC officials and the BARC researcher about how Sony Live had to be added to the Alpha Report since they were telecasting IPL. That in itself should have ideally promoted an inquiry by the Mumbai Police, however, it did not.
In the TRP case chargesheet against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami, the evidence against India Today and AajTak
A further perusal of the report shows that there are incriminating chats even between an India Today official and BARC officials, much before Republic was even launched.
In the summary posted in the Forensic Report, it says that there were chat message conversations between Romil, Partho (BARC) and “external officials of channels” hinting about “pre-fixing the channel ratings”.
It is pertinent to note that the messages pertain to 12th April 2016 when Republic TV (English) or Republic Bharat (Hindi) had not been launched. It says the in the chat, Romil (BARC) tells Partho (BARC) that he has “prepped Vivek Malhotra for No.2”.
Subsequently, in the 26th April 2016 chat, Partho asks if they can get ABP to No. 3.
The most clinching evidence included in this forensic report is the mention that there was a conversation between Vivek Malhotra and Romil on the 10th of May 2018 that there was a promise to AajTak that the channel would be No. 1. However, the channel was No. 2 and that is what Romil had ‘prepped’ Vivek Malhotra for. This, the forensic report says, was a conversation that took place right after the release of ratings.
It is important to note here that Vivek Malhotra is the Group Chief Marketing Officer of India Today Group. According to his bio on Linked In, he is still at that position.
In the light of the conversation about the promise to AajTak to be number one and the conversation about ABP being No.3, it becomes important to look at the chats itself, which have been added as Annexure.
In the chat on 12th April 2016 between Romil and Partho, it is being discussed how they had prepped Vivek Malhotra for no.2. This is after it was revealed that AajTak was promised to be made No. 1. Thus, at this point in time, it begs the question of whether AajTak was actually far before even the Number 2 spot and wanted to be Number 1. However, the manipulation was too much to get them to Number 1 and hence, BARC officials had to ‘settle’ and ‘prepare’ Vivek Malhotra for the channel to be Number 2. These details would only be revealed once a thorough investigation is done in this direction.
In the second chat, the conversation is about ABP and India News.
In this chat, it appears that Partho is asking if they can get ABP to Number 3. However, Romil is saying that ABP is already on Number 3 in the Urban sector. Partho is also talking about how being on Number 3 is encouraging India News.
It is pertinent to note that India News was at Number 3 for a very long time in 2016. There are several news articles about the same. In July 2016, Exchange4Media reported that India News “has witnessed maximum gain after the DAS III roll out to become one of the most viewed channels across the HSM category”.
At that time, Varun Kohli, CEO, India News had said. “I will attribute this success to our differentiated content and the dedication of our entire team at India News who have made the channel stand out in a short span of time. I will say that we have put in a lot of hard work; all the teams, including the content team.” Speaking about impact on ratings post DAS III roll out, Kohli added, “We have gained considerable market share because we have a huge rural viewership compared to other channels and it has helped us to rise in our ranks and the latest BARC data is a reflection of this fact.”
Bhadas4Media had reported in 2018 that India News was evidently paying people Rs 500 to watch their channel. OpIndia could not independently verify this information.
With these chats, it becomes evident that India Today is smack in the middle of the TRP scandal. It is pertinent to note that in the initial Hansa Research Report, it was indeed India Today which was mentioned and not Republic TV. Further, the FIR that was filed subsequently also mentioned India Today as the channel manipulating TRP, and not Republic Today.
In these chats that have been included in the chargesheet, it also becomes apparent that the saga of TRP malpractice has been going on since even before Republic TV or Republic Bharat was launched and the forensic report clearly mentions that there was a promise to make AajTak number 1.
It would be pertinent to remember here that this does not seem like a one-off practise by India Today or AajTak. OpIndia had first exposed the matter earlier in the day regarding the BARC imposing penalty of Rs 5,00,000 on India Today after they could not give a satisfactory answer to BARC Disciplinary Council (BDC) as to how their viewership was increasing. According to our sources, a show-cause notice was sent to TV Today Network and BARC regarding viewership malpractice on April 27, 2020. After the TV Today Network Limited failed to satisfy the BDC, it ruled that the channel could not satisfactorily explain the rise in their TRPs in certain geographies (Mumbai and Bangalore).
In its ruling, the BDC had termed the rise in the viewership of the channel as “abnormal” and “inexplicable”. The Council had ruled that India Today had breached section 7 of the EULA and had thereby committed viewership malpractice. As a result, a penalty of five lakhs was imposed by BARC on the channel.
While several anchors put up a show on television about how Arnab Goswami’s shoes were too small to fit, the TRP scam is much larger than media reports suggest. Several channels were involved in the rigging of TRP. While there is nothing wrong in being in touch with BARC officials, as is the practise across the board with news channels and their representatives, it seems that it is AajTak that was promised a number 1 spot.
ED registers ECIR in TRP scam, India Today being questioned
While Mumbai police continue its witchhunt against Republic TV and the channel’s editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami in the alleged fake TRP scam, the Enforcement Directorate had once again summoned India Today Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Dinesh Bhatia and Distribution Head KR Arora for questioning in the case on the 18th of January. Prior to this, the Office of Joint Director had summoned the Group CFO on January 8, 2021.
The Enforcement Directorate had earlier registered an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR), the equivalent of FIRs filed by the Police, in the TRP case. The ED is investigating money laundering allegations and it was reported that all channels mentioned in the original FIR would be probed. It was also reported that along with the channels named in the original FIR, which did not have the name of Republic TV, the Mumbai Police probe could also be under scrutiny. The ED is the second central agency to come into the matter after the CBI. The CBI had earlier registered an FIR over the matter.
Since the ED filed its ECIR in the case, it has been making swift headway in the fake TRP manipulation case. Thus far, the ED has also questioned members of the BARC management and India Today under lens in the context of TRP manipulation.