The Enforcement Directorate has filed a charge sheet before a special court in Mumbai in which it confirmed that no evidence was found against Republic Media Network and Arnab Goswami in the fake TRP case. On Wednesday, Judge MG Deshpande of the special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court took cognizance of the charge sheet.
The charge sheet that has been filed by the ED categorically said that the investigation by the Mumbai Police and the charge sheet filed thereof was at “variance” with the findings of the ED. According to the charge sheet, the panel households denied taking money to watch Republic TV or Republic Bharat. The charge sheet said that the regional managers who admitted to paying household panels to watch particular television channels denied doing the same for Republic TV. There was no indication of Republic TV or Republic Bharat engaging in these practices, “either by a statement or by digital data evidence,” it noted.
The charge sheet by ED also elaborated how the Mumbai Police, especially Sachin Vaze had accepted bribes during the investigation of the TRP case. It details how BARC had paid Rs 25 lakhs as a bribe to Sachin Vaze to spare them the harassment during the investigation. “Thus, it appears that illegal gratifications have been received by investigator-A of the Mumbai Police. As the matter was of serious nature, the same was referred to CBI on 01.07.2021. The outcome of CBI investigation on the above-said input is awaited for further action at this end”, the charge sheet says.
While Republic TV has been given a clean chit by the Enforcement Directorate, the charge sheet also details which channels could have been manipulating TRPs and other channels that are under investigation for manipulation.
As reported earlier by OpIndia, The raw data of the panels where the alleged manipulation in favour of Republic TV took place were sought and analysed by the ED. The ED then places a table where it is evident that these households, that Mumbai Police said were paid to watch Republic, were watching other channels and not Arnab Goswami. The channels that were being watched by these households were Box Cinema, Fakt Marathi, Mahamovie, Aaj Tak, India Today and News Nation. Apart from these channels, another name that comes up in the ED charge sheet is that of TimesNow, saying that this channel is now under investigation.
What the ED charge sheet says about India Today and TRP manipulation
It is pertinent to note here that the initial complaint by Hansa Research had named India Today, however, the Mumbai Police had held a press conference, falsely blaming Republic TV for TRP manipulation. During the investigation by the ED, data of households were analysed for the period between November 2019 to June 2020. This was done to analyse the basis of the data provided by BARC to ED. It is in this investigation that ED said no evidence was found against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami. The same portion of the ED, however, says the following about India Today:
“During the course of the investigation, ED has come across certain leads indicating that certain Households were watching News Nation and India Today Channels in lieu of receiving cash amounts from RMS. Further investigation in this regard is under progress”, cites the charge sheet.
During the PMLA investigation by the ED, Nitin Deokar, the Deputy General Manager of Hansa Research was spoken to. Deokar revealed that “Vishal Bhandari admitted that he has been approached telephonically by a person named Shri Vinay to convince 05 Panel Homes in Mumbai to watch India Today Channel daily for two hours and for the said task Shri Vishal Bhandari was paid Rs. 5000 as a commission and Rs. 200 per month were distributed to each Panel Household; that as per Shri Vishal Bhandari’s confession before BARC team, he has done this work of paying panel Households for watching India Today channel for the period from November 2019 till May 2020; that Shri Vishal Bhandari also confessed distributing the money to certain other Panel Households; that Shri Vishal Bhandari also provided the details of Panel household where the money was distributed”. Vishal Bhandari in this case is an employee of Hansa Research.
The charge sheet further says, “Statement of Shri Dharamveer Mahecha, Head-Vigilance and Investigations of M/s Broadcast Audience Research Council: On being asked about his directions to Shri Abhijeet Mehendale for conducting investigation of Household Panel of Shri Ved Bhandari, he stated that on 25.02.2020, the Market Analytics Team of BARC informed the Vigilance Team about the abnormal viewership growth during Middle of January, 2020 to Middle of February, 2020 of India Today in Mumbai; that the information was received by Shri Arijeet Banerjee, Manager of Market Analytics Team of BARC, who looks after the Viewership Trend of English News genre; that the BARC vigilance undertook field investigation for the same; that as per process, the channel was again re-investigated after 13 weeks and therefore, top 25 household panel were selected wherein the higher viewership with respect of India Today Channel was observed and the above mentioned panel homes information was provided to Shri Abhijeet Mehendale for conducting panel home investigation; that during the course of above investigation, Shri Abhijit Mehendale found that one of the panel homes had an additional meter lying in the house; the house belongs to Mr. Vishal Bhandari, who was working as Relationship Manager with Hansa and that Shri Vishal Bhandari was questioned by Mr. Abhishek Sarkar from M/s Hansa Research Pvt ltd and Mr. Abhijit Mehendale, AVP BARC India, about the presence of another meter in his house. Shri Vishal Bhandari stated that he had been approached by an unknown person and paid money to induce panel homes to watch India Today channel“.
What the ED charge sheet said about TimesNow and TRP manipulation
A surprising channel name that has emerged in the ED charge sheet is that of TimesNow. The PMLA investigation into the forensic report that was made on the instruction of BARC has revealed some troubling details. ED in its conclusions about the forensic report, that had apparently implicated Republic TV, says, “From the above discussion and table, it becomes apparent that the allegations made in the report are superficial and based on the analysis of limited aspects. Various other aspects such as the response of the Key Management Persons, video recording regarding allurement to three Households & show cause to Times Now, software developed by BARC to counter the TRP due to Landing Page, Vigilance Complaints, impact from surveying companies such as M/s Chrome were not taken into account while preparing the report”.
The charge sheet says there are two video recordings of two households that point towards the fact that TimesNow had paid them to watch their channel. “A Show Cause was also issued to Times Now in this regard. This indicates certain irregularities vis a vis Times Now, which needs to be properly investigated”, it said.
“From the plain reading of these showcase notices and replies therein, it is apparent that there were three video clips of panel households wherein the panel households were supposedly indicating malpractices in viewing Times Now. There was further raw data analysis which showed an abnormal increasing average time spend watching Times Now vis-a-vis other English News Channels. The time period of this alleged maleficence on part of Times Now coincides with the period taken in the BARC audit report. In this regard, it may also be added here that viewership of English News Channel is very limited and even few compromised Households can increase TRP manifolds”, it says.
Further, the charge sheet says, “Further, BARC has also reported that they had received several complaints regarding certain Households that they are being paid money for watching Times Now channel and it is learnt that BARC vigilance team recorded videos of these Households stating that they are being paid for watching Times Now Channel. Further, BARC was requested to provide the said video through mails, however, the same has not been provided yet. Further investigation in this regard is under progress”.
Interestingly, the charge sheet alludes to the statement issued to ED by Dharamveer Mahecha (Retired Lt. Col.), Head-Vigilance and Investigations of BARC. On being asked about the investigation, he said that there were vigilance inputs regarding TimesNow manipulating TRPs and thus, an investigation was carried out. The field investigation confirmed that TimesNow had paid certain households to watch their channel.
The charge sheet then says, “On 28.11.2017, representatives from the channel visited BARC office, where they were shown the Times Now data Analysis (raw data) reflecting a spike in the viewership in week 15 to week 16 and week 25-26, 2017 while indexing the channel to other English News Channels, Week 34 to 39, 2017 in Mumbai, week 31 to 39, 2017 in Madhya Pradesh/Chhattisgarh, week 30 to 40, 2017 in UP/Uttarakhand. The channel representatives were also shown videos of three-panel homes, where the household alleged that certain individuals approached them and asked them to watch Times Now. He further stated that Shri Romil Ramgarhia, then COO of BARC was aware of the above vigilance proceedings on Times Now”.
In November 2017, the charge sheet says that Times Network sent their second response to these charges after being shown the videos of their manipulation. In December, they sent another response saying that they were not involved in the manipulation of TRP. Interestingly, there is no further information available on this. It is clear that BARC had evidence of TRP manipulation, but no information is available as to what steps were taken by BARC after Times Now said they were not involved in manipulation, despite being faced with video and data evidence.
Interestingly, when BARC got ACPCL to conduct a forensic audit, the ACPCL ex-founder and Managing Director told ED that they were not given the information regarding the vigilance inputs regarding TimesNow’s manipulation of data or the video evidence that BARC had in its possession. “On being shown the inputs/documents relied upon in vigilance proceedings conducted against Times Now during 2017 and asked whether the said inputs related to vigilance proceeding was shared with him during the forensic audit. he stated that he was not shared with any specific inputs to vigilance proceedings against Times Now for the audit period”, the charge sheet says.
It is to be noted that ED has asked BARC to produce the video evidence in its possession against TimesNow, however, the same has not been furnished yet. The ED says that investigation in this matter is on, therefore proving that TimesNow is now under ED investigation as far as the TRP case is concerned.
Sachin Vaze and Param Bir Singh had revealed that Anil Deshmukh wanted Arnab Goswami falsely implicated and arrested in the TRP case
While the ED has given a clean chit to Arnab Goswami, it is pertinent to remember why this saga had erupted. In September 2021, Sachin Vaze, the Maharashtra police officer currently under arrest had told the Enforcement Directorate that the former Maharashtra Home Minister and NCP leader Anil Deshmukh had wanted Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami to be arrested in the TRP rigging case.
The tainted cop had revealed that Anil Deshmukh, NCP leader and former Maharashtra Home Minister, had been personally involved in the attempt to get Arnab Goswami arrested, apart from demanding bribes and extortions worth crores from business owners.
Sachin Vaze had submitted before the ED that after he was reinstated into the force by Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh after paying Rs 2 crores, Anil Deshmukh used to personally call him at his office or home to brief him on various cases. These included the TRP rigging case, Arnab Goswami’s arrest in the abetment to suicide case regarding the death of architect Anvay Naik, Dilip Chhabria’s case, and the social media fake follower case.
“In the TRP case Anil Deshmukh wanted to arrest Arnab Goswami. In the Dilip Chhabria Case, Anil Deshmukh wanted me to get some kind of settlement with his partner of approx. Rs.150 crores. In Social Media Fake follower case he wanted to have all-out action against the culprits.” Vaze revealed this in his statement to the ED.
It is also pertinent to note that recently, the tainted ex-Police Commissioner of Mumbai Param Bir Singh, facing a probe by central agencies in the Antilia bomb scare and Mansukh Hiren murder case, confirmed that the TRP case against Republic Media Network was a hoax and part of a planned conspiracy against Journalist Arnab Goswami. During an interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Singh also alleged that ex-Police Officer Sachin Vaze was taking instructions from the then Home Minister Anil Deshmukh in the TRP case along with other cases.