Mumbai Police busts ‘fake TRPs’ racket; Republic TV among three channels under scanner
The police said that households were allegedly paid Rs 400 to Rs 500 per month to keep channels switched on the entire day
The Mumbai Police on Thursday said that it has busted a 'false television rating points (TRP) racket', where media channels have been found manipulating TRP numbers.
According to the police, households were paid a monthly fee to keep channels switched on the entire day to boost television ratings.
Three channels including Arnab Goswami's Republic TV are being investigated for ratings or TRP manipulation, Mumbai Police Commissioner Paramvir Singh said during a media presser.
"Two persons have been arrested," he said.
The owners of Marathi channels Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema have been arrested, under Section 409 (criminal breach of trust) and Section 420 (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) of the Indian Penal Code.
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As per NDTV, officials of Republic TV are expected to summoned later today or tomorrow (Friday).
The TRP contracts were given to a company named Hansa, the police said.
During the investigation, the police found some ex-employees of Hansa company, who were working with rating agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), were sharing TRP data with some channels, the city police chief said.
The BARC, which measures TRPs, has installed over 2,000 barometers in Mumbai for measuring the data. The locations where these barometers are installed are confidential.
BARC has submitted that Republic TV is a suspect in TRP manipulation, the Mumbai Police Commissioner said. Police received the data of these households from the rating agency.
"The accused would ask some households to keep some channels on even if they were not at home. The TRP is calculated on the basis of TV channel viewership in a set of households," said Singh.
He alleged that the accused would bribe some households and ask them to run some channels at their home. The households were offered monthly payments of Rs 400 to 500 in return.
Households were told to keep a certain channel switched on all the time. "Illiterate homes were asked to keep English channels on," Singh said.
"TV advertising industry is worth Rs 30,000-40,000 crore. The rates are decided on the basis of TRP. Even if minor changes are made in TRP, it affects advertising," he noted.
The Mumbai Police has seized Rs 20 lakh from one of the accused while Rs 8.5 lakh have been found in a bank locker, the police commissioner said.
According to the Mumbai Police, the investigation is part of a larger analysis of the manipulation of news trends and how a "false narrative" was spread. The information has also been shared with the Centre, it said.
Singh said that the bank accounts of the channels would be investigated, besides the funds they receive from advertisers and "whether they are from proceeds of crimes".
More channels could also be examined, he added.
"Anyone involved in the channel, no matter how top management, how senior, will be questioned, and if involved they will be investigated," he added.
The police further said that advertisements earned by channels using these spiked TRPs will be considered as proceeds of crime.
Reacting to the Mumbai Police presser, 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."
Meanwhile, Republic TV issued a statement on Twitter, saying it will file criminal defamation case against the Mumbai Police Commissioner.
“Republic will fight back, Republic will continue its investigation into the Sushant Singh Rajput case, the Palghar case and any other case,” the statement read.
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TRP scam case: Republic TV CEO, COO questioned by Mumbai Police; breach of freedom of press, says channel
In a statement, Republic Media Network claimed the two were asked about how the Network accessed the Hansa complaint report and said it won't "give in to any endeavours" to curb editorial freedom.
The summons to Sundaram said there are reasonable grounds to believe that he is "acquainted with certain facts and circumstances of the matter and the same are required to be ascertained"
The BARC statement came after Republic TV disclosed what it said was an email conversation between the agency's CEO Sunil Lulla and Republic Media Network CEO Vikas Khanchandan