NEW DELHI: The provisional attachment order of the enforcement directorate (ED) in the long drawn TRP scam investigation includes no evidence against Republic TV's alleged involvement in rigging of Broadcast Audience Research Council's (BARC's) viewership ratings. The 60-page order under s. 5 of the Provisions of Money Laundering Act, 2002 carried the details of the months-long probe conducted by the central agency.
In its provisional order, the ED has divulged details of various past and present relationship managers at Hansa Research Group who were allegedly involved in the manipulation. The order also identifies a financial trail between November 2019 to September 2020 with regard to manipulation of television rating points by three TV channels – Fakt Marathi, Box Cinema and Maha Movie.
However, there are no details of any alleged involvement of Republic TV, which has been made a suspect in the case by the Mumbai police ever since the scam broke out in October last year. In a rejoinder affidavit filed in the high court in February, ARG Outlier Media had submitted that the law keepers in Mumbai had "falsely implicated" it and the entire case against its channels and employees arose out of an “unparalleled political vendetta” and a “deeply malicious witch hunt.”
Senior officials of Republic TV told indiantelevision.com that the ED order reflects what it has stated all along: that it was innocent; that it had no role to play in tampering of any TRPs.
"There were vested interest groups in the industry and in the political firmament and the Mumbai police who twisted facts and bundled the Republic name with the perpetrators of the crime to gain undue advantage," says a senior executive. "And they used all their clout to try and bring us to our knees. But, truth has prevailed and will prevail."
Earlier this week, the Bombay high court too had asked the Mumbai police if it intends to proceed with the investigation against Republic TV and its editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, considering that the channel remains a ‘suspect’ on police records, even after filing of two charge-sheets in connection with the case. In response, the Mumbai police maintained that they have adequate evidence in the case and are still collecting additional evidence. The police also submitted that they had the right to investigate a case for as long as required in the absence of any statutory regulation.
The scam had come to light in October last year when BARC lodged a complaint with the Mumbai police through Hansa Research Group, alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers by bribing households where BARC bar-o-meters were installed to tune into a particular channel throughout the day.
Last Thursday, the ED provisionally attached assets worth Rs 32 crore belonging to the three TV channels. “Fakt Marathi, Box Cinema, and Maha Movie entered into a criminal conspiracy to cheat, and committed the offence of criminal breach of trust, forgery in order to gain wrongfully by manipulating TRPs of these television channels," the ED stated. “It is absolutely clear that the entire revenue generated by these three channels from May 2019 to May 2020 was generated by increasing TRPs.”
As many as 15 arrests have been made in the case, the most prominent being former BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta, who recently got bail after furnishing a bond of Rs 2 lakh. The arrested people were charged with cheating, criminal conspiracy, and destruction of evidence.