Mumbai: Former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Chief Executive Partho Dasgupta and journalist Arnab Goswami allegedly colluded to give the latter’s news channel, Republic TV, an advantage over rivals, according to purported WhatsApp conversations between the two that went viral Friday.
Among other things, the purported conversations show discussions between the two about lobbying with politicians and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) against certain reform proposals regarding TV ratings.
The WhatsApp conversations are part of Mumbai Police’s investigation into alleged manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRPs) by news channels, including Republic TV and a few others.
According to the title of these documents, they were recorded by Mumbai’s Kandivali police station as part of the panchanama for Dasgupta’s mobile phone on 26 December last year. The chats online purportedly detail conversations between Goswami and “PDG”. The Mumbai Police documents identify the latter as Dasgupta.
Mumbai Police arrested Dasgupta on 24 December last year and has filed a charge sheet and a supplementary charge sheet in the case since then.
A Mumbai Police officer who did not wish to be named told ThePrint that the WhatsApp conversations — which run into over a thousand pages — are part of the supplementary charge sheet.
Reached for comment, Mumbai Deputy Commissioner of Police S. Chaitanya said, “The Mumbai Police has no comment on these documents.”
The BARC spokesperson declined to comment as well. “As the matter is a subject of an ongoing investigation by the various law enforcement agencies, we are constrained to respond to your enquiries,” the spokesperson said.
ThePrint reached Goswami for a comment through a text message and also left him a voice mail, but hadn’t received a response by the time of publishing this report. Reached by phone, Dasgupta’s lawyer Shardul Singh Thakur refused comment.
‘Smriti great friend’
BARC is an industry body that oversees television ratings in India. It includes representation from advertisers as well as the television industry.
Late last year, Mumbai Police claimed to have unearthed a scam involving alleged rigging of TRPs by certain news channels in a bid to attract more advertisers. Goswami, who heads Republic TV as Editor-in-Chief, denied the allegations.
The purported WhatsApp messages between Goswami and Dasgupta allegedly include the former boasting about his reach within the government.
In a chat dated 17 July 2017, Goswami told Dasgupta that “Venkaiah is probable Vice President”. That was the day that Naidu, then the I&B Minister, was chosen as the BJP’s Vice-Presidential nominee at a parliamentary board meeting of the party.
To this, Dasgupta purportedly replied, “so again change of minister”, before adding, “So who next I&B”.
Goswami said, “shruti.. smriti”. “So happy. She is a fighter and a great friend,” he added. Union Minister Smriti Irani took additional charge as I&B Minister after Naidu entered the V-P race.
“Was worried about J,” he said. Dasgupta replied, “Milao.. Are you free.” To this, Goswami said “will organise for sure”.
In a chat on 30 August 2019, Partho said, “Any progress on PMO”, to which Goswami replied, “Yes, also meeting Javdekar (sic) in Mumbai tomorrow.”
“He is useless honestly and his secy is further. Can’t take a stand and implement,” Dasgupta purportedly replied.
Goswami allegedly said, “PMO being dealt differently.”
In another conversation in August 2019, Goswami allegedly sought to emphasise his connection with the National Security Adviser and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). This conversation allegedly took place on 2 August, three days before Article 370 was scrapped.
That day, Dasgupta purportedly asked Goswami if it is true that Article 370 will be revoked in J&K, to which the latter responded, “sir”.
He added, “sir I have set platinum standards in breaking and this story is ours.”
“Meeting NSA and PMO Monday,” he added.
In further chats, Goswami allegedly mentioned how Republic was on “top of the J&K story”.
A few days later, Goswami said, “Big yesterday because my first burst of reporters landing in Srinagar were from Bharat. Last night I had the biggest story first. Today I was called by NSA and asked how I got the news. Everyone in NSA and PMO is hooked to Bharat (sic).”
‘A media advisor position’
On 16 October 2019, Dasgupta asked Goswami to check if he could help him get a “media advisor kind of position with PMO” as he was “fed up with BARC”.
The two also discussed how actor Kangana Ranaut’s interview to Republic TV in the aftermath of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death in June 2020 generated TRPs for the channel.
Dasgupta purportedly praised Goswami’s interview for making Ranaut say things that were “controversial”.
In a chat dated 16 August 2019, Dasgupta allegedly complained to Goswami that journalist Rajat Sharma was giving him trouble for his “proximity” with him. But Goswami purportedly told him not to worry as “Rajat is in a mess with Jaitley almost gone”.
“Rajat is over. don’t take his bullshit anymore,” Goswami said, but Dasgupta told him that “others do”.
On Rajat Sharma’s appointment as president of the News Broadcasters Association, a body representing TV news channels, in September 2019, Dasgupta told Goswami, “So mota bhai influence didn’t work here, Rajat was elected as NBA head.”
“Mota bhai” is the term Gujaratis use to address elder brothers.
Talking about the appointment of Sourav Ganguly as BCCI chief later that year, Goswami said, “Rajat looks like an utter fool as he has announced that he will be taking over BCCI.”
The chat appears to be a reference to buzz that Sharma was vying for the post of BCCI president.
The purported WhatsApp chats between Goswami and Dasgupta allegedly also detail conversations between the two about certain reforms to change the way ratings are calculated, including use of digital technology.
In 2018, there was a discussion between the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the I&B Ministry on a proposal to ask DTH operators to install a chip in new set-top boxes to calculate data about the channels watched and the duration.
In the purported WhatsApp chats, Dasgupta allegedly told Goswami that the “TRAI proposal” would politically hurt “both parties”.
Dasgupta allegedly also asked Goswami to use his contacts with leaders to sabotage the proposal to replace the manual system of meter installation in households, which is currently followed.
“TRAI spreading misinformation against us that we are not putting on ratings. I helped BJP on that advertiser story too… it’s time they shaft people who are against them,” Dasgupta said to Goswami in March 2019, according to the documents.
In another alleged conversation the following month, Goswami said, “In two months if BJP comes TRAI won’t have teeth. They have taken on AS who told them to pull back and they didn’t.”
To this, Dasgupta asked Goswami if he can text ‘AS’ and get TRAI rapped. Goswami agreed, but asked Dasgupta to give him three reasons that he can share with ‘AS’ to explain how the move will politically hurt him, the documents show.
In his messages, Dasgupta also seemed worried about the prospect of action being taken against him. “They have said in their showcause — BARC is acting at the behest of some big stakeholders… I hear if they move, my passport will be revoked etc,” he said.
Two days later, Goswami, messaging Dasgupta, allegedly said a strong message had been conveyed on TRAI.
In another purported conversation over the same issue later that month, Goswami said “critical people in the PMO” are aware of the issue.
In May, after the Lok Sabha election results, Goswami allegedly texted Dasgupta to say that he “can happily push back now”.
“Great news. Amit Shah in government. The order changes. Complete clean up. You can happily push back,” he purportedly wrote.
“Amit Shah is now the MIB (Minister of Information and Broadcasting)… as in whoever comes doesn’t matter,” he said.
‘Complaint against Republic’
Soon after the launch of Republic TV in May 2017, Dasgupta messaged Goswami about a complaint from news channel NDTV regarding the former’s dual LCNs (Logical Channel Numbers). LCN is an identification number assigned to a TV channel. Having dual LCNs allows a channel to be placed outside their genres by distributors and helps push up ratings.
“The set that is calling you has no influence at all. Not even a secretary meets India Today, NDTV at times is boycotted by the government,” Goswami said, adding that he has a letter from India Today asking for a dual LCN. To this, Dasgupta purportedly replied that Goswami should leak it as “one must play dirty”.
The use of dual LCNs had sparked a controversy after the launch of Republic Bharat, the Hindi news channel of the network, as well. In February 2019, TRAI received complaints regarding the same from TV Today Network, which owns Aaj Tak, as well as India TV and News18.
In March that year, Dasgupta purportedly messaged Goswami about a meeting of the News Broadcasters Association, where the subjects discussed included “Partho-Arnab proximity, landing pages and dual tripe LCNs of Republic as usual”.
Landing page is the channel that a television set automatically switches on to.
In August, Goswami asked Dasgupta how TV18 had shot up to number 2. The two then allegedly had a conversation about how the “government can help with this”.
Goswami said, “We did everything and TV18 does nothing. TV18 is giving up networks they are so confident of landing being measured.”
“Dont let TV18 win like this,” he added.
Dasgupta allegedly replied that BARC management has to be independent and that “nobody is letting that happen”.
Goswami purportedly said the government thinks BARC is helping TV18.
“PMO guys said that yesterday to a channel head that TV18 is winning like this. You moderate TV18 landing, they will come down to 7 pc pr less given their content,” Goswami said.
To this, Dasgupta replied, “It is severely moderated.”
‘Sharing confidential information’
The documents show that, on a number of occasions, Dasgupta and Goswami allegedly shared confidential data with each other.
In 2017, Dasgupta allegedly said to Goswami, “If you have exclusives lined up you should talk to BARC to release data first week. We don’t give daily reach figure to everyone — happy teams are unofficially coordinating.”
Similarly, after the launch of Republic Bharat in 2019, Goswami told Dasgupta, “I will fight all out Partho boss. Honestly, will not spare a single effort and will implement every suggestion to take us to the highest position. Won’t let a second on air go without winning.”
Dasgupta responded, “Am sure boss, nowhere would we share things as we do with you.”
Later that month, one of Dasgupta’s purported messages to Goswami said, “I strongly wish for your success. Meanwhile, I am being pissaoed (crushed) in between government and big broadcasters.”
In another message, Goswami allegedly told Dasgupta, “Reminder of the stuff you have to give me on BARC? Meeting mid next week.” To this, Dasgupta responded, “Check gmail. Use your own language”
Goswami said, “Yes I shall tweak add and expand on what I had done.”
In July 2019, Arnab allegedly complained to Dasgupta that he was badly hit as the TRPs were not up to the mark. Dasgupta then allegedly suggested that he take a look at the “confidential break strategy”. He added that he had asked Romil Ramgarhia, another BARC official, to show him how the News 18 strategy works.
According to the documents, Goswami said, “I will review the break strategy”
Dasgupta replied, “I have asked Romil to show you what kind of cuts happens (sic) in News 18.”
“Have a look. Confidential of course,” he purportedly said.
Goswami allegedly responded, “I appreciate. Will also take inputs on break strategy.”