In a revelation that is likely to have major repercussions in the TV media industry, the Mumbai police on Thursday announced that they are investigating a ‘false TRP racket’ being carried out by three channels in Mumbai. Mumbai police commissioner Parambir Singh told the media that they have found that three channels, including Arnab Goswami-led Republic TV, have been manipulating data and paying households to show higher television rating points (TRPs). The channels named by the police commissioner were two Marathi channels, named Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema, and English news channel, Republic TV. The owners of the two Marathi channels have been arrested. Police said that those connected with Republic TV, ‘who had anything to do with the illegal proceeds’ will be questioned soon.
"The TRP system is being manipulated and households are being paid to keep channels on. Three channels have been involved, two of them are Marathi channels and the third is Republic TV,” Mumbai police commissioner said at the press briefing, adding that some people who were on record “listed as uneducated” were found to be watching the English channel.
TRP or television rating points is a metric used to measure the impressions and the audience of a particular news channel. In India, Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) is the agency that measures TRPs of channels in India. The Commissioner said that advertisers pay on the basis of ratings and therefore faking ratings to earn more advertising revenue will be looked at as ‘proceeds of crime’.
TRPs are measured with a device called barometres. The top cop explained that there are around 30,000 barometres, used to calculate television rating points, which have been installed across the country and 2,000 barometres are located in the Mumbai region. The location of these barometres is usually kept confidential. Parambir Singh explained that installation and the maintenance of these barometres is done by an agency named Hansa. During investigation, it was found that some former employees of Hansa were compromising data and were sharing it with television channels and the households where the barometres were installed were being paid.
"Per month, Rs 400-500 were being paid to households by these channels to keep watching them. We have household data from BARC," Mumbai top cop Parambir Singh said.
Two people, including one former Hansa employee, have been questioned in the case, the top cop said. A case has been registered under Sections 409 (Criminal breach of trust) and Section 420 (Cheating) of the Indian Penal Code.
The Police Commissioner said that analytical data submitted by BARC raised suspicions about Republic TV and during questioning, some people have admitted that they were paid for keeping Republic TV on and their statements have been taken. Further investigation is underway, he said, and they are investigating if the promoters and advertisers of this channel were also involved. They will be questioned in the coming days, he added.
The Mumbai Police Commissioner also said that the bank accounts of these three channels will be investigated and may be frozen if any wrongdoing is found.
Meanwhile, Republic TV has refuted all allegations and asked the Mumbai Police Commissioner to apologise. “Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh has made false allegations against Republic TV because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case 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. Mr. Param Bir Singh’s investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput case is under a cloud and this is a desperate measure because of Republic TV’s reportage on Palghar, the Sushant Singh Rajput case or any other case. This kind of targeting only strengthens the resolve of everyone at Republic TV to push for the truth even harder. Param Bir Singh stands completely exposed today, since BARC has not mentioned Republic in any single complaint. He should issue an official apology and get ready to face us in court,” Arnab Goswami said.
The TRP wars between Indian news channels are not new but this is perhaps the first time that a police investigation has taken place into it. Republic TV has been declaring that it has been the most watched channel for the past few months based on BARC data for viewers of all ages. BARC’s data for week 39 of 2020, which was released on Thursday, shows that Republic TV has the most number of impressions, at 5,515.
Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami has been at loggerheads with the Mumbai police over its investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. Arnab has been on the offensive ever since he was booked by the Mumbai police over his programme on the gathering of migrants during the lockdown at Bandra railway station in Mumbai. Arnab was summoned by the police and has been questioned for the same.