New Delhi: The Mumbai Police Thursday alleged that Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV has been manipulating television rating points (TRP) data to boost its advertising revenue.
Republic TV — an English news channel launched by Goswami in 2017 — has been consistently topping the viewership charts released weekly by industry body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) since it hit the screens.
Even Republic Bharat — the group’s Hindi news channel launched last year, has topped BARC’s TRP charts in the Hindi news genre.
But the Mumbai Police Crime Branch has accused Republic and two other channels, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema, of being involved in a “major racket” of manipulating viewership data.
Addressing a press conference Thursday, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said the police has already made some arrests, including the owners of the other two channels, and is in the process of questioning more people.
“If needed, we can even call the owners, promoters and directors of Republic TV for questioning,” the commissioner said.
Republic TV is owned and managed by ARG Outlier Media Asianet News Private Limited, which is a subsidiary company of SARG Media Holding Private Limited, of which Arnab and his wife Samyabrata Goswami are co-founders and promoters, and own 93 per cent of the shares.
Republic TV has denied the allegations in a statement on behalf of Arnab Goswami, saying Singh is making false allegations against it since it “questioned” him in connection with the investigation into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide.
Republic Media Network's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami's statement pic.twitter.com/axhbJZ47eA
— Republic (@republic) October 8, 2020
Meanwhile, a BARC India spokesperson said: “As in all our previous cases of suspected panel homes intrusions, BARC India continues to follow its established vigilance and disciplinary guidelines. BARC remains steadfastly true to its purpose to accurately and faithfully report ‘what India watches’. BARC India appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai Police and will provide the support asked of it.”
What is the fake TRP case?
‘Fake TRPs’ came under the scanner in July this year, when the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) had questioned data released by the BARC. It had lodged a complaint against Hindi news channel TV9 Bharatvarsh citing manipulated BARC data, and alleged that the inflated ratings of the channel could well be a result of “corruption and connivance” between TV9 Bharatvarsh and BARC. The channel had denied the allegations. The matter has since been sorted out.
Now, in the Republic TV matter, the Mumbai Police says BARC has engaged a firm called ‘Hansa’ to install barometers in households of consumers to record their viewing, based on which the TRPs are calculated. The relevance is that TRPs determine advertising rates for the channels.
The website of Hansa Research says it is the largest Indian consumer insights company, undertaking engagements with clients across 77 countries. It is part of RK Swamy BBDO, an advertising agency. ThePrint reached Hansa CEO Praveen Nijhara for comments via calls and messages, but received no response until the time of publishing this report.
“There are about 30,000 barometers installed across the country, with about 2,000 of them being in Mumbai alone,” Commissioner Singh said.
“During investigation, we found that some employees of Hansa were compromising this data. They were sharing this with television channels and some households were being paid to keep a particular channel on to drive up its TRP, irrespective of whether they are watching it,” he continued.
“As per the analytical report that the BARC has submitted, suspicious trends can be seen in case of Republic TV.”
Singh added that even a minor manipulation can impact advertising revenue by hundreds of crores, and that the Mumbai Police will see if the advertising revenue obtained through such manipulation is to be tested as ‘proceeds of crime’.
“We will also question the advertisers through whom such revenue has been obtained, and if these are indeed proceeds of crime, we may even seize the amount and freeze accounts,” he said.
So far, the Mumbai Police has arrested two people associated with BARC and Hansa, and secured their custody from the court till 9 October. They have been booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code related to breach of trust and cheating. Rs 20 lakh was recovered from one them, with an additional Rs 8.5 lakh seized from his back account.
The owners of Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema have also been arrested, while the crime branch has questioned several customers who allegedly received money to watch certain channels.
The commissioner also said certain witnesses have come forward, stating they were promised a monthly monetary consideration and “induced” by the arrested accused persons and their accomplices.
What did Republic TV say?
In a statement, Republic TV said the allegations are false and a result of its “questioning” the Commissioner Singh on the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide investigation.
“Republic TV will file a criminal defamation case against Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh. There is not a single BARC report that mentions Republic TV. The people of India know the truth,” it stated.
The channel alleged that Singh’s investigation of the Sushant Singh Rajput case is under a cloud, and making allegations against it is a “desperate measure” because of its reportage on the Palghar lynching case, the Sushant Singh Rajput case and many others.
It said such “targeting” only strengthens the resolve of everyone at Republic TV “to push for the truth even harder”, and demanded Singh issue an official apology and get ready to face the channel in court.
Arnab Goswami also released a video following the commissioner’s address, accusing him of lying and urging his viewers to support him citing his channel’s reportage on the Sushant Singh Rajput case, the Hathras case, Shaheen Bagh protests and the Palghar lynching case.
Not Republic’s first controversy
Goswami and his channel have repeatedly run into controversies in the last several months, particularly over its reportage.
In April, Goswami was questioned by the Mumbai Police for allegedly making defamatory statements against Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi in his news shows on the mob lynching incident in Palghar. Subsequently, multiple FIRs were registered against him.
He was also in the news after allegations emerged that he had abetted the suicide of an architect and his mother two years ago — a claim denied by Republic TV.
In June, the Mumbai Police summoned Goswami for another round of interrogation when a complaint was filed against him for allegedly creating communal disturbance through his TV show over the gathering of migrant workers in Mumbai’s Bandra in April. The complainant said Goswami in his show tried to spread hatred against Muslims.
Goswami had lodged a complaint about an ink attack on him, for which two youth Congress workers were arrested.
The Supreme Court had, in May, quashed the multiple FIRs against Goswami, except for the one filed against him for a debate on the Palghar incident.
The Bombay High Court in June stayed two FIRs filed against Goswami and said no coercive steps should be taken against him until further orders.