WhatsApp Chats Show Ex-BARC COO Helped Channel Alter TRP: Sources
In exchange for sharing info, Ramgarhiya allegedly received kickbacks such as holiday packages and shopping coupons.
Former Chief Operating Officer of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, Romil Ramgarhiya, who was arrested on 17 December, was receiving benefits from a TV channel since 2017, said sources in the Mumbai Police.
Sources added that WhatsApp chats retrieved from the now arrested Ramgarhiya’s phone show that he was leaking internal information about TRP fluctuations to another accused from a TV channel arrested in the same case.
The chats also allegedly indicated that Ramgarhia would not feed the data of other channels for weekly TRPs, which resulted in higher TRP for a particular channel that is being implicated in the fraud. In exchange for sharing insider information, Romil Ramgarhiya allegedly received kickbacks like holiday packages and shopping coupons, said police sources.
According to the police, BARC has its own mechanism which alerts the regulator in case of TRP manipulation but since that department was headed by Ramgarhiya, no action was taken against the channel allegedly committing TRP fraud.
Romil Ramgarhiya, who is the 14th person to be arrested in the case, also allegedly informed the implicated TV news channel about the latest technology used by BARC to prevent manipulation. Mumbai Police sources also said that involvement of other BARC employees is also being examined now.
Forensic Audit Report Points at ‘Financial Irregularities’
An 800-page forensic audit report that will be added to the Crime Branch’s supplementary chargesheet, points to financial irregularities by the accused TV channels, including Republic TV, according to police sources.
Sources say the report concluded that the viewership and TRP of Republic Bharat were inflated from the very first months since it was launched. It stated, "Increased TRP had resulted in giving power to ARG Media Outlier (the company which owns Republic TV and Republic Bharat) to bargain for higher revenue. Further, it has also valued its share at exponentially high premium by projecting high revenues for future years (sic)."
The report further stated, “The CCPS (compulsory convertible preference shares) of face value of Rs 10 each were valued at a premium of Rs 12,990 each in 2016 before the launch of channel, Rs 32,813 each in Nov 2018 and Rs 36,560 each in Dec 2019.”
The report added, “ARG also indulged in artificially increasing its share value and collecting investments and routing some of these funds in purchasing its own shares through its parent company at 300 percent higher value."
The report also states, “Further, certain funds received against the share capital money were routed through its director, namely Arnab Goswami's personal account, which were in turn used in paying off one employee of SARG Media Holding Pvt Ltd, namely Ajay Garg, who subsequently resigned from the directorship (sic)".
So far, Republic Media Network CEO, Vikas Khanchandani, and Republic TV distribution head, Ghanshyam Singh, have both received bail in the TRP fraud case.
The Mumbai Police has said that it has retrieved some WhatsApp chats between Khanchandani and Ghanshyam Singh. The police have further claimed that Republic TV was manipulating TRPs by using the dual-frequency tactic. Dual-frequency is when one channel gets aired on two frequencies.
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