Republic TV is among three channels being investigated for gaming ratings and using it to spread fake narratives and gain ad revenues, the Mumbai police said today. Two persons have been arrested. One of them is a former employee of an agency that installed “people metres” in homes to assess ratings.
Officials of Republic TV – which claims the highest TRPs or Television Rating Points among news channels – will be summoned today or tomorrow, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said, dropping a bombshell in the middle of his row with some channels over the Sushant Singh Rajput case.
The ratings scam was revealed in a larger analysis on manipulation of news trends and how a “false narrative” was spread, especially in connection with the probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, Mr Singh said. The information has been shared with the central government, he added.
“The biggest name to emerge is Republic TV. The directors and promoters of Republic TV are being investigated for ratings fraud,” said Mr Singh.
The bank accounts of the channels will be investigated, Mr Singh told reporters, besides the funds they receive from advertisers and “whether they are from proceeds of crimes”. More channels could also be examined, he said. Asked whether the inquiry would include Arnab Goswami, the Editor-in-Chief of Republic, the police chief said: “Anyone involved in the channel, no matter how much in the top, how senior, will be questioned, and if involved they will be investigated. No one, no matter how senior, will escape.”
If any crime was revealed, the accounts of the channels would be seized and more action would be taken, Mr Singh said.
He explained that the scam was based on household data being revealed to channels and being used to manipulate ratings. “Based on these ratings they received illegal advertising funds. This will be considered proceeds of cheating,” said the police chief.
“There was false TRP spreading. TRP ratings were being bought. The manipulation was mainly for advertising revenues.”
Mr Singh said former employees of Hansa, an agency that placed ratings metres in select households, shared confidential data with the three channels being investigated.
The media organisations allegedly bribed the households to keep their channel switched on all the time. “If you see the data, poor uneducated households that don’t speak English were watching only English TV channels,” Mr Singh said. He claimed that the families were offered a monthly payment of Rs 400-500 for their role in pushing up ratings.
Arnab Goswami, the Editor-in-Chief of Republic, said he would sue the Mumbai Police commissioner and accused him of making false allegations “because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case investigation”. He added in a statement: “He should issue a public apology or get ready to face us in court.”
Ratings manipulation has been a familiar charge in the television industry. Central ministers have commented on it and even the Supreme Court recently criticized the race for TRPs. In the case on Sudarshan TV’s “UPSC Jihad” show, the Supreme Court had commented on the power of the electronic media to target a community, damage reputations or tarnish someone’s image. “The problem with the electronic media is all about TRPs, leading to more and more sensationalism that damages the reputation of people,” a judge remarked.
Yesterday, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar had said that it was all about “TRP journalism” now.
Read full statement by Republic TV here
“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.”