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Thursday Oct 08 2020

India's Republic TV accused of ratings fraud

Republic TV Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami hosting a show on the India-China tensions. Photo: YouTube screenshot

Hyper-nationalist Indian news channel Republic TV has been accused of paying households to manipulate ratings and using that advantage to gain advertisement revenues, Mumbai Police officials said Thursday.

Police arrested two persons over the allegations. According to Indian media outlet NDTV, one of the persons is a former employee of the news channel who used to install "people meters" in homes to assess ratings.

Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said that officials of Republic TV will be summoned to record their version of the events either on Thursday or Friday.

The police commissioner said that the analysis on the manipulation of news trends came into focus after it was revealed how a "false narrative" had spread following the death of Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

"The biggest name to emerge is Republic TV. The directors and promoters of Republic TV are being investigated for ratings fraud," said Singh.

The investigation will include a probe into where the channel received its funds from and whether they were obtained from criminal methods. When asked whether TV anchor and Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, Arnab Goswami will have to face the inquiry, Singh 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."

He said that if any evidence of a crime was proven, the channel's accounts will be seized and more action will be taken.

The police chief said that the nature of the scam focused on household data being revealed to channels and is used to manipulate ratings. "Based on these ratings they received illegal advertising funds. This will be considered proceeds of cheating," said the police chief.

Singh further said that "false TRPs were spreading" and that TRP ratings were being bought. "The manipulation was mainly for advertising revenues," he said.

Singh disclosed that former employees of an advertising agency that placed meters inside homes, Hansa, revealed confidential data to the news channels.

Republic TV and the other channels have been accused of bribing the households to keep their channel switched on all the time. "If you see the data, poor uneducated households that don't speak English were watching only English TV channels," Mr Singh said, adding that a monthly payment of INR400-500 was being doled out to families for their role in spiking the ratings.

'Get ready to face us in court'

Arnab Goswami, the Editor-in-Chief of Republic known for his on-screen rants and hyperbole, warned the Mumbai police commissioner that he would sue him, telling him to "get ready to face us in court".

Goswami said that his channel was being targeted as Republic TV had questioned the Mumbai police commissioner in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

Indian news channels have been accused of manipulating TV ratings in the past as well, with the Indian Supreme Court also commenting on it recently.

"The problem with the electronic media is all about TRPs, leading to more and more sensationalism that damages the reputation of people," a judge of the Supreme Court had remarked about the Sudarshan TV's "UPSC Jihad" show.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar had said on Wednesday that "TRP journalism" was mainstream nowadays.

Republic TV is an Indian news channel which has been notorious for loud, over-the-top commentary on national and international issues. It is seen as an enthusiastic supporter of the BJP's Hindutva agenda and has been criticised for divisive commentary that pits so-called 'Desh Bhakts' (hardcore nationalists) against critics of Narendra Modi's religio-fascist regime.

The channel's Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami is famous for shouting on air at guests who do not agree with him and spewing venom against Pakistan and China.