In a business-political war involving two big media houses and a police force, television anchor and Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV and Republic Bharat Arnab Goswami on 8 October said he would take legal action against Mumbai Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh who named his channel among three others for rigging Television Rating Points (TRP).
The top cop of Mumbai — disgraced due to his act of hobnobbing with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray whose son Aaditya many suspect has something to do with the mysterious death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput — claimed to have busted a racket that involved private television channels manipulating their TRPs. Republic TV and two other local Mumbai channels, the local police claim, have been found guilty of manipulating the crucial data, the police commissioner said. He identified three channels, namely Fakt Marathi, Box Cinema and Republic TV and said they are involved in distorting the apparatus used to rate television channels.
While India Today reported this ‘finding’ of Commissioner Singh, Goswami showed a sheet of paper on his channel, which he read out to say the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) had accused India Today and not his channel of manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRP) data.
“There is not a single BARC report that mentions Republic TV. The people of India know the truth. Mr Param Bir Singh’s investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput case is under a cloud and this is a desperate measure because of Republic TV’s reportage on Palghar, the Sushant Singh Rajput case or any other case. This kind of targeting only strengthens the resolve of everyone at Republic TV to push for the truth even harder.”
“Param Bir Singh stands completely exposed today since BARC has not mentioned Republic In any single complaint. He should issue an official apology and get ready to face us in court,” the statement read.
According to the Mumbai Police, its probe found that a 30,000 audience measurement metres were purchased by a private firm, out of which 2,000 were installed in Mumbai.
Readers may recall that whenever such data is released, nearly all top television channels claim their channel has been adjudged the best. They do so by cherry-picking from the data, wherein a finding such as ‘most popular show on prime time’ is passed off as ‘most popular of all channels across 24 hours’. But this time, the allegation is more serious. The fuss is over some of these channels allegedly bribing the section of audience that participates in these surveys for better ratings. India Today and Republic TV have been accusing each other of this act of corruption.
At a press conference, Mumbai Police chief said their probe found that a set of households, where the rating metres were installed, were paid money to tune to a particular channel. In one case, Singh said, investigators found that a household comprising people who were not literate always had an English news channel switched on.
These particular households were paid about Rs 400-500 every month for viewing an English news channel.
The Mumbai police commissioner has said that Republic TV is next on their radar and officials of the news channels will be summoned soon.
“No one involved will be spared,” the senior police officer said. Singh said that they earlier believed that some news channels carried out propaganda stories to boost their TRP and “now it appears they manipulate audience data too”.
Threatening criminal defamation, Goswami issued a statement saying, “Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh has made false allegations against Republic TV because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case investigation. Republic TV will file a criminal defamation case against Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh.”
The statement read further that the probe by Mumbai Police was a “desperate measure” because the police commissioner-led investigation in Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death “remains under a cloud”.
Republic TV/Bharat and Arnab Goswami ― with some help from actress Kangana Ranaut ― have been, since 14 June when Rajput’s body was discovered in his apartment, accusing Bollywood of nepotism, then shifting the narrative to murder as the CBI took over the case and finally going ga-ga over the NCB findings as to who all do drugs in the film industry.
But before that, Goswami had had a run-in with Mumbai Police that had detained him for nearly the whole of a day in what looked like their effort to be in the good books of the Shiv Sena-NCP-INC government that the popular television journalist is critical about.
On the other hand, India Today is seen as an apologist of the ancien regime, mostly critical of the Narendra Modi government and endorser of the “intolerance” narrative to defame the current dispensation that Republic TV generally supports.