Republic TV is among the three channels being investigated for allegedly gaming ratings.
New Delhi: Republic TV and two other television channels have been accused of tweaking ratings to get high advertising rates, a procedure that amounts to fraud, the Mumbai police announced on Thursday, in the middle of a row over coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput case and sharp criticism of the Mumbai police by a section of channels. The households being monitored for ratings are being bribed to run the channels concerned, the police said, adding that the owners of two television channels have been arrested. Republic TV said they were being targeted for their coverage of the Sushant Rajput case where they questioned the role of the police. The channel also said they will sue the police for defamation.
A case of criminal conspiracy, cheating and criminal breach of trust has been filed. The owners of two TV channels -- Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema -- have been arrested and the directors and promoters of Republic TV are being investigated for ratings fraud, the Mumbai police said.
Officials of Republic TV - which claims the highest TRPs or Television Rating Points among news channels - will be summoned in a day or two, the police said. More channels will be examined and the probe will cover all aspects including the channels' income, bank details and ad revenue.
Republic TV said the Mumbai Police chief has made false allegations "because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case". Calling it a desperate measure, channel head Arnab Goswami said, "He (the Mumbai police chief) should issue a public apology or get ready to face us in court."
The ratings scam emerged during a larger analysis of manipulation of news trends and how a "false narrative" was being spread, especially regarding the investigation into Sushant Singh Rajput's death, said Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh. The information had been shared with the central government, he added.
The Mumbai Police FIR also names India Today, but Commissioner Param Bir Singh told 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. We are proceeding against Republic TV, Marathi channels."
The fraud, the police said involved bribing households that were monitored by agencies that generate and publicise the ratings. In Mumbai, 20,000 homes are monitored. In many homes, the people were given Rs 400 to Rs 500 a month to keep specific channels switched on even if they did not watch it.
The manipulation became clear when it emerged that non-English speaking poor households were watching English news channels. The investigation started a complaint by Hansa, an agency that placed the ratings metres.
Investigations revealed that former employees of Hansa 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.
Republic TV's Arnab Goswami said there is "not a single BARC report that mentioned Republic TV". "The people of India know the truth. BARC has not mentioned republic in any complaint," he added.
Ratings manipulation has been a long-running allegation in the television industry. Central ministers have remarked on it and recently, even the Supreme Court mentioned it in the case linked to Sudarshan TV's "UPSC Jihad" show. "The problem with the electronic media is all about TRPs, leading to more and more sensationalism that damages the reputation of people," a judge had said.