TRP scam: Households are paid Rs 500 to watch particular channels
Cops say TRPs being manipulated by paying people to watch particular channels; news channel's name surfaces in probe
The Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) of the Mumbai police on Thursday claimed to have busted a mega Television Rating Points (TRP) scam and arrested four people, including two people who own local TV channels. It has been alleged that households were paid by certain TV channels to watch their channels to increase ratings and advertisements.
Mumbai's Commissioner of Police (CP) Param Bir Singh said details pertaining to Republic TV channel also surfaced, pointing to the channel and its editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami's involvement, which is being investigated. The arrested accused are Vishal Bhandari, 20, a former relationship manager of Hansa Research Group that tracks TRPs, Sanju Rao, 45, Shirish Shetty, 44, the owner of Fakt Marathi TV channel and Narayan Sharma, 47, owner of Box Cinema.
According to API Sachin Vaze of CIU, Bhandari was questioned about paying households to watch particular channels based on a tip-off.
"He said he worked for a company called Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd which is part of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), as a relationship manager," an officer privy to the investigation said. Bhandari had resigned from Hansa Research Group in June over such allegations. The company has now filed an FIR under sections related to cheating, breach of trust and criminal conspiracy. BARC, on the other hand, submitted suspicious data analysis of certain channels, including Republic TV's. BARC also told police that an internal enquiry of theirs found Republic TV's trends suspicious.
The modus operandi
BARC had contracted Hansa Research Group to place around 2,000 barometers in Mumbai and Bhandari had access to this information. After leaving Hansa Research Group, he started working for Rao. "Rao was in touch with TV channels and had information of around 100 households with barometers. He would be paid by channels and Bhandari would pay the households to watch them," the officer said. "The barometers of 100 households were verified and at least 10 were suspicious," the officer added.
Households are paid Rs 500 to watch particular channels. "There is strong evidence against Republic TV, suggesting that they too use such tactics to manipulate TV ratings. We will summon concerned individuals of Republic World to record statements," said CP Singh.
Mumbai police have also recorded statements of people paid to watch channels. "We were approached by Bhandari and another person asking us to watch Republic TV, promising to pay R500 every month," one statement read.
"There are people who don't even know English but were watching Republic's English news channel for money," Singh said. "Manipulated TRP ratings result in losses of hundreds of crores. Money earned through such tactics will be treated as proceeds of crime," he added.
Mumbai police have found WhatsApp chats, some electronic evidence and a rate card with Bhandari, who named the channel in his statement. The police have written to the vigilance officer of BARC asking for specific details related to Republic TV and to a private bank seeking the details of the channel and its associated companies' bank accounts.
In a statement, BARC said, "BARC India appreciates the efforts of the Mumbai Police and will provide the support asked of it." Praveen Nijhara, CEO, Hansa Research, said in a statement, "Hansa Research and BARC conducted an investigation into the matter over the last few weeks, the conclusion of which resulted in Hansa Research filing an FIR against an ex-employee who was engaged in some wrongdoing."
Goswami, on the other hand, said in a statement, "Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh has made false allegations against Republic TV because we questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput investigation. Republic TV will file a criminal defamation case against Singh."
What is BARC?
BARC functions under the governance of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). It has installed approximately 30,000 barometers in various parts of India which monitor various programmes, based on the statistical metrics of which, it awards ratings to TV channels. Advertising revenue is decided based on these ratings.
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