The Enforcement Directorate (ED), on Thursday, 22 September, gave a clean chit to Republic TV and R Bharat, in connection to their alleged involvement in the manipulation of television rating point (TRP) numbers, in a charge sheet filed in the special PMLA court last week, Live Law reported.
The probe agency claimed that it examined Republic’s role and found that the Mumbai police’s probe was “at variance” compared to the ED’s investigation. However, the agency said that it had yet to complete its probe against News Nation and India Today channels.
In 2021, Republic TV Editor-in chief Arnab Goswami and others from ARG Outlier Media, Republic TV’s parent company, were named in the Mumbai police’s charge sheet during the police's investigation into the TRP Scam.
Allegations against Goswami pertain to his alleged chats with Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta and specific techniques used to manipulate Republic TV’s TRP.
Since then, sixteen accused were named in the ED’s charge sheet, which included directors of Box Cinema, Fakt Marathi and Maha Movies channels, and relationship managers who were associated to the Hansa Research Group, which is a contractor for the Broadcast Audience Research Council, a ratings agency.
The ED's Investigation
According to Live Law, the agency said that raw data for households, who were allegedly watching Republic channels according to the police’s charge sheet were sought from BARC.
They said, “An analysis of viewership pattern showed that these households were watching channels other than Republic TV and R Bharat. The ED also calmed that it had not found any financial trail so far, even though the RMs, in their statement, said that they paid the households."
"The agency, negating the Mumbai police investigation, said that they relied on a forensic audit which showed that the TRP calculation method was tampered with and controls were used to favour specific channels. However, the auditor, who examined the police’s allegations, said that the police report was "superficial and based on an analysis of limited aspects," they added.
Mumbai Police’s Evidence Against Arnab Goswami
The police had claimed that they obtained WhatsApp chats, in which Goswami and Dasgupta have talked about tampering with the TRP of rival channels. The police also claimed there is proof of technical manipulation to show better performance by Republic TV.
In a written statement to the Mumbai Police, Partho Dasgupta had allegedly admitted to having received $12,000 and a total of Rs 40 lakh for two foreign trips in three years from Republic Channel editor Arnab Goswami, for tampering with TRPs.
Arnab Goswami had also allegedly offered some expensive gifts and promised an important post in the central government to Dasgupta.
News Nation and India Today
The ED said that during the investigation into News Nation and India Today, it cam across "leads that certain households were watching News Nation and India Today in lieu of cash from RMs. Further investigation is in progress.”
The agency, however, accepted the presence of a TRP manipulation scam and that there was a “wider conspiracy” between viewers, agents and RMs to influence households to watch certain channels for monetary gain.
"The malice seems to be deeper as indicated by several FIRs lodged by BARC in various states," the charge sheet said.
The ED had begun its probe after the Kandivali police registered a case on 6 October, 2020.
The TRP Scam
Earlier in October 2020, the Mumbai Police had claimed to have busted a ‘TRP scam’, whereby TRPs had allegedly been manipulated. The erstwhile Mumbai Police Commissioner, Param Bir Singh, had said that ratings by the BARC, which measures television ratings in India, were being manipulated.
The police named Republic TV and two other Marathi channels that were allegedly involved in the practice.
They had further said that sample houses, where bar-o-meters had been installed to monitor the ratings, were paid to watch certain TV channels to boost the TRP. The amount paid was between Rs 400 and Rs 500 per house per month.
Explaining that TRPs were used by channels to get higher advertising revenue, the police had said that the money made from such "manipulation" will be seen as “proceeds of crime.”
(With inputs from Live Law)