TV channels paid, TAM officials accepted bribes: NDTV’s whistleblower

Mumbai: Some television channels pay bribes to have their viewership ratings falsely boosted. Those who help the television channels in subverting the ratings system are the ones who are supposed to be the flag bearers of the television ratings agency’s noble duties.

These are the allegations made by broadcaster New Delhi Television Ltd (NDTV) in its lawsuit in New York against Nielsen, Kantar, their Indian joint venture TAM and their senior officials.

The basis of the allegations is revelations by a consultant, who provided on ground services to TAM. NDTV claims the revelations were made at a meeting of NDTV, Nielsen and Kantar officials on 20 January 2012. Robert Messemer, chief security officer at The Nielsen Company, was also present at the meeting.

NDTV has referred to the unidentified consultant as the whistleblower. A whistleblower is a person who reports illegal activities going on in an organisation. But the consultant is, in fact, an approver having admitted to accepting bribes himself. The consultant said he accepted bribes from TV channels and in turn paid bribes to TAM officials and to some of the people who have allowed TAM to install peoplemeters at their homes.

According to the lawsuit, the whistleblower consultant told the officials present that he was even successful in bribing TAM officials to have a peoplemeter installed at his home. The norms disqualify the consultant from having a peoplemeter deployed as the consultant belonged to the television industry.

NDTV said the 20 January meeting was also attended by Piyush Mathur, president, India region, The Nielsen Company.

NDTV subsequently said that at a meeting on 11 April 2012, the representatives of Nielsen and Kantar had “unequivocally admitted” that the information provided by whistleblower consultant was highly credible.

NDTV has supported its claim of television channels paying a bribe through the admissions of an unnamed employee of a broadcaster that indulged in illegal gratification. It said on 24 February 2012, (the employee of) a broadcaster, whom it did not identify, met NDTV officials Rahul Sood and Kirandev Hiremath.

The broadcaster employee told the NDTV officials that “his channel was involved in corrupt practices to fix ratings.” He even named a cable operator from Hassan in Karnataka, who acted as a consultant for fixing ratings for his channel.

To support its allegation that TAM officials were prone to manipulation, it has referred to a meeting its representatives -- Rahul Sood, Sidharth Barhate and Anand Mohan Jha – had with two field staff members of TAM on 3 April 2012 at Ramada Plaza Hotel at Juhu in Mumbai. NDTV has not named the two employees in its lawsuit.

NDTV claimed the TAM employees told its officials that they were willing to manipulate TAM ratings in Mumbai. The two employees claimed to have manipulated ratings for other channels in the past and were willing provide the same “services” for “any” channel that was ready to pay the demanded consideration (bribe).

They were confident that they could triple channel ratings of NDTV in Mumbai over a period of two to three weeks in the required target group. They said by paying a bribe of $250 to $500 per household per month, the TAM households could be made to watch only those channels which they insisted upon.

NDTV said the Ramada Plaza meeting was viewed by an external surveillance agency, which took photographs of the employees. Those photographs were shown to Bob Messemer in New Delhi on 27 April 2012.

On 11 and 12 April, NDTV said its representatives were provided information by Nielsen and Kantar officials that there were cases of several field employees who had refused promotions for last few years simply because at their current positions their alternate source of income was higher than what their salary would be on being promoted.

Nielsen’s security chief had admitted that proper security practices were not being followed by TAM and that theft and leakage of data was rampant. He had also admitted that in India, the entire system was corrupt from top to bottom, NDTV claimed.

Subsequent to the meetings held in New Delhi in April 2012, Puliyel, a director on the Board of TAM and a Kantar official, wrote an “evasive” email on 19 April to NDTV, with copy to Piyush Mathur of The Nielsen Company, merely mentioning that there had been a board meeting of TAM and they were doing some additional analysis on reporting samples by channels to examine the threshold for reporting and frequency of reporting, etc.

NDTV said there was no mention in the email whether the TAM board had even considered stopping the release of “what had now been confirmed” as corrupt television viewership data, as was agreed at the meetings held on 11 and 12 April.

These instances, if proved to be true, would mean TAM did little to weed out corruption despite years of efforts of NDTV. TAM would have also violated the Nielsen Code written in 1931. Impartiality, thoroughness, accuracy, integrity, economy, price, delivery and service are the hallmarks of the code.

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