Friday, June 18, 2021

Republic TV in the dock: Accused of manipulating TRP for more ad revenue

Republic TV is among the three channels being investigated for allegedly gaming ratings and using them to spread fake narratives and gain ad revenues, the Mumbai police said in a press conferece on Thursday. Two TV channel owners have been arrested and the directors and promoters of Republic TV are being investigated for ratings fraud.

A Mumbai Police FIR named news channel India Today also among others, but Commissioner Param Bir Singh clarified to NDTV, “In the FIR, India Today was named by one of the witnesses. But as the probe progressed neither BARC, nor witnesses, nor accused named India Today. All named Republic TV, Marathi channels. As of now no evidence against India Today has been found. We are proceeding against Republic TV, Marathi channels.”

The ratings scam emerged during a larger analysis of the manipulation of news trends and how a “false narrative” was being spread, especially in connection with the probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, Mr Singh said. The information had been shared with the central government, he added.

“The biggest name to emerge is Republic TV,” said the police chief. The channels whose owners have been arrested are Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema.

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.”

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He explained that the scam was based on household data being revealed to channels, which used it 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,” he said.

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. Hansa’s data is used by BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council), which releases weekly rating points for channels across the country.

In its ongoing probe in a Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation racket, the Mumbai Police has accessed proof against Republic TV in the diary of one of the accused.

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The Mumbai Police had on Friday arrested Vishal Ved Bhandari after he, as per a report, “revealed that he induced household members where BARC barometers are installed to watch Republic TV for a specific time every day for monetary consideration to increase the viewership of the said channel which resulted into TRP manipulation…”

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When these households were interrogated by the Mumbai Police, they said that the accused Vishal had been paying them money on a monthly basis to watch Republic TV, sources said. The Mumbai Police has also recovered messages exchanged between these households regarding payments, sources said.

A witness in the TRP scam story has claimed that she was approached by a person in January 2019 who told her that he would be placing a barometer in her house to calculate TRP.

“He told me we will also give Rs 483 per month for placing the barometer,” the witness claimed. “In January 2020, one Dinesh Vishwakarma along with Vishal Bhandari came to my house for maintenance and TRP reading. They asked me if I watched Republic news channel. I told them no because I don’t like it.”

“They told me to watch Republic news channel every day for two hours and told me I will be paid an additional Rs 400 to watch Republic news channel. When I said yes, they paid me Rs 400 in cash. I never used to watch Republic channel, but they offered money on a monthly basis for keeping Republic channel on and I agreed,” the witness said.

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