On October 8, 2020, the Mumbai Police held a press conference in which it claimed that a TRP (Television Rating Point) scam involving Republic TV and 2 other local TV channels (Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema) was busted. Republic TV has accused the Mumbai Police of unfairly targeting them.
In its statement read out by Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh, the Mumbai Police noted that rates for advertising for TV channels are determined based on their TRPs. Any manipulation in the TRPs could impact advertising revenues for these channels by hundreds of crores.
The police said that Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) which releases the TRPs had engaged a firm called Hansa Research to install barometers in consumer households to record their viewing habits. It claimed that some employees of Hansa Research had leaked confidential data to some TV channels and manipulated the TRPs by asking consumers to switch on their TV sets even when they were not watching. The police also said that the data showed poor uneducated households were only watching English TV channels.
The analytical report submitted by BARC, the police claimed, showed that there were some suspicious trends seen for Republic TV. Some of the customers in whose households these barometers had been installed had allegedly admitted that they were given money to watch the channels during the investigation by the Mumbai police.
After the press statement by the Mumbai police, several mainstream news channels came together in condemning the TRP manipulation by Republic TV and others. BARC issued a press statement appreciating the efforts of Mumbai Police and 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’.”
Republic TV’s Defence:
Right after the press statement by the Mumbai Police, Republic TV issued a statement through its Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami. The statement accused Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh of having made false allegations against Republic TV, due to its reportage of questioning of the Sushant Singh Rajput case and the Palghar lynching case. It also noted that BARC had not mentioned Republic TV in any of its complaints.
Republic TV alleged that it was not named in the First Information Report (FIR) filed by the Mumbai Police on October 6, 2020. It also noted that the FIR had named another news channel (presumably India Today, which is its arch rival in news category), which seemingly exposed the alleged witch-hunt by the Mumbai Police against Republic TV.
The channel had approached the Supreme Court against the summons issued by Mumbai Police. The Court asked Republic TV to approach the High Court first, while observing that they were concerned with the tendency of Police Commissioners giving interviews.
Quoting an email exchange between Republic Media Network’s CEO Vikas Khanchandani and BARC, the channel claimed that BARC did not allege any malpractice by ARG Outlier Media Private Ltd (owner of Republic TV). In the email, BARC had allegedly said, “if there was any disciplinary action initiated against ARG Outlier Media Private Ltd, then BARC India would have communicated the same to you along with necessary documents for your response.”
P.S. Read The Indian Express explainer on how TRPs work and how they can be manipulated here.
The latest twist in the case came when the UP government roped in the CBI to investigate the TRP scam. And the Maharashtra government responded by withdrawing general consent to CBI to probe cases in Maharashtra. Read about it here.