In a massive revelation in the TRP scam investigation, the Enforcement Directorate has released its Provisional Attachment Order, detailing the depth of the TRP scam and exposing the channels manipulating TRPs. India Today has been named 50 times in the order in the context of the TRP scam, along with Box Cinema, Fakt Marathi and Maha Movie for which money was paid to the households with the Bar-o-meters to increase their TRPs.
By contrast, the ED order does not mention Republic TV as one of the accused in the TRP manipulation scam as alleged by the former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh who has now been ousted in connection with the ongoing Antilia bomb scare case. Republic TV stands vindicated as the extensive findings and the elaborate testimonies in the ED order decisively debunk the Mumbai Police’s narrative that Arnab Goswami’s channels had dishonestly raised its TRP by bribing the households with Bar-o-meters.
Here are some of the highlights of the 64-page Provisional Order released by the Enforcement Directorate:-
India Today mentioned 50 times in the order with respect to TRP manipulation
India Today has been extensively mentioned in the Provisional Order, precisely 50 times in the 64-page long document. It is the same channel that was originally mentioned in the FIR with the Mumbai Police regarding the TRP manipulation scam and was inexplicably given a clean chit by the Mumbai Police within 48 hours of the complaint being filed. The report by the Enforcement Directorate mentions that the accused relationship managers working at the Hansa Research Pvt. Ltd. were paid money to induce households with Bar-o-meters to watch the India Today channel.
Main complainant Nitin Deokar of Hansa Research names India Today in the context of ‘bribes for TRPs’
The ED order mentions that the main complainant of the TRP manipulation case, Mr Nitin Deokar, Deputy General Manager of M/s Hansa Research Group Pvt. Ltd., testified in his statement that one Vishal Bhandari had admitted of being approached telephonically by a person named Vinay to convince 5 panel-homes in Mumbai to watch India Today channel daily for two hours. Deokar further mentioned that for this Bhandari was paid Rs 5,000 as a commission and Rs 200 per household was distributed to each panel household for watching the said channel. Deokar cited Bhandari’s confession before the BARC team to state that he had done the work of paying panel households for watching the India Today channel for the period from November 2019 till May 2020.
BARC Head of Vigilance and Investigation admits abnormal viewership growth of India Today in January-February 2020
Another intriguing revelation mentioned in the released ED order is that of BARC vigilance head Dharamveer Mahecha, who said that he was informed by the Market Analytics Team of BARC about an abnormal viewership growth of India Today on 25.02.2020 and a field investigation was undertaken.
As per the company process, the channel was again re-investigated after 13 weeks and the top 25 household panel were selected wherein the higher viewership of India Today Channel was observed. This reveals that even the rating agency BARC had doubts over the unnatural rise in the viewership of India Today, further firming up the suspicions about the TRP manipulations.
The panel information was handed over to one Abhijit Mehendale for carrying out the investigation into the unusual spike in India Today’s TRPs. Mehendale, AVP BARC, found that the presence of an extra meter inside a panel house that belonged to Vishal Bhandari, who worked as the Relationship Manager with Hansa. When accosted about the additional meter, Bhandari reportedly confessed to Mehendale that he had been approached by an unknown person and paid money to induce panel homes to watch the India Today channel.
Hansa’s ex-relationship manager confesses to manipulating ratings for India Today
The Provisional Order by the Enforcement Directorate also included the testimony of a former relationship manager at Hansa who confessed to having manipulated ratings for the India Today channel. In his confession, Umesh Chandrakant Mishra, Ex-Relationship Manager of Hansa Research, said that he was approached by Mr Vinay Rajendra Tripathi, also an Ex-Relationship Manager of M/s Hansa Research Group Pvt. Ltd, who offered him to convince some of the Panel Households where Bar-O-Meters were installed to watch the channel India Today for half to one hour daily. For this, Umesh was given around Rs. 15,000 per month in his bank account.
Umesh added that around Rs. 3000 had been distributed by him among the households (Rs. 500 each) in cash and the rest of the amount was his commission and expenses for the said task. He said he had done this work of paying the Panel Households for watching the India Today channel for the period between November 2019 to May 2020, minus January 2020.
Household owners confess to being paid for watching India Today
Also, the ED order enlists the testimonies of the household owners who have confessed to being paid to watch certain channels, including India Today. One Mukesh Dauda stated that he had been paid by Shri Dinesh Vishwakarma for watching India Today and News Nation. Similarly, another household owner with Bar-o-meter installed, Rajesh Rudramani Shukla recorded his statement under section 50 of PMLA, 2002 on 13.01.2021 wherein he stated that he had been paid by Shri Umesh Mishra for watching News Nation and India Today Channel.
Likewise, Vishal Bhandari in his statement said he also watched different channels, including India Today, after Vinay Tripathi approached him to convince Households for watching India Today and since his house also had a Bar-O-Meter installed.
BARC VP confirms abnormalities in viewership of India Today
Pulak Banerjee, Vice President of M/s Broadcast Audience Research Council, in his statement to the Enforcement Directorate confirmed abnormalities in viewership in respect of India Today, News Nation, Box Cinema, Maha Movie, Fakt Marath.
Fifth channel accused of manipulating TRP
Till now only four channels were named in the case filed by the Hansa Research in the case, India Today, Box Cinema, Fakt Marathi and Maha Movie. But the ED provisional order has revealed the name of a fifth channel, News Nation. According to the ED, panel households were bribed to watch the News Nationa channel also, helping in increasing its viewership data.
ED lays out financial trails of companies that routed money to rig TRPs
The ED found that the mode and manner of the payments to the households was layered and routed through various intermediaries to obliterate the trail of money flow and to make it difficult to link the channel owners with the bribe money. However, it has laid out financial trail of 3 channels, namely—Fakt Marathi, Maha Movies, Box TV—between November 2019 to September 2020 with respect to manipulation of ratings.
The order says, “It is absolutely clear that the entire revenue generated by the aforesaid four channels, during the tabulated period, were generated by increasing TRP, consequently attracted more clients for advertisement which in turn increased the revenue for the respective channels. Hence by committing scheduled offences, the revenue of the four channels was increased during the period.”
Furthermore, the advertisement revenue generated during the period of criminal manipulation of TRPs of the channels is termed by the ED as “Proceeds of crime” in terms of Section 2 (1)(u) of PMLA, 2002 which was acquired illegally on the basis of manipulation of the TRPs rating by conniving with the relationship managers (RMs) and bribing the households to raise the TRP, which in turn helped in getting the revenue, which otherwise would not have been possible.
Channel owners and Hansa relationship managers charged under provisions of PMLA
In accordance with Section 3 of the PMLA, 2002, the channel owners namely Shri Narayan Nandkishore Sharma(Owner of Box Cinema), Shri Shirish Pattanshetty (50 per cent owner of Fakt Marathi), Shri Manish Singhal(50 per cent owner of Fakt Marathi), Shri Darshan Singh(Director of the company that runs Maha Movie) and Shri Vishwajeet(Director of the company that runs Maha Movie) are accused of having committed the offence of Money Laundering.
Additionally, the relationship managers namely/Shri Umesh Mishra, Vishal Ved Bhandari, Dinesh Vishwakarma, Vikas Burungale, Mahesh Bompalli, Ashwin Motiwale and Rajesh Vishwakarma are also held equally responsible for their knowing assistance in the entire act of money laundering in terms of section 3 of PMLA, 2002.