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SCAM 2020: The TRP Manipulation Case



Introduction


It is often said- what is shown to us is not what it actually is. The world runs for glamour and money. People can opt for unethical ways and shortcuts to earn money even if it breaks the trust of society. We as consumers are cheated many times, but when these frauds are caught by the system, the truth blows our minds. Such a scam was witnessed recently, a couple of months back, where a leading TV news channel which had claimed itself country’s number-1 channel (this mean the channel having the most viewership and the trust of maximum people of the country) for a long period, seen involved in one of the biggest scams of the country known as the TRP SCAM. The Channel is called Republic TV Channels. Apart from this, complaint against three other channels namely, Fakt Marathi, Box Cinema and Maha Movies channels have also been registered initially. It is affirmative to say that they have not just broken people's trust but also challenged the technology. All the TRP meters were illegally manipulated and defected by them and every single rule was flouted just to outshine other news channels and mislead the public.


TRP and TRP Barometer

TRP or Television Rating Point is the viewership rating for the television channels. These indicate the ranking of the channel based on the views they receive from the audience. These are the genuine views based on their content, the likings of the people, the trust and reliability of the channel and sometimes the duration of advertisements. No individual will like to watch advertisements for hours so the channels with a fewer number of ads will be liked and watched more. Similarly, the quality of content matters, where the audience finds authentic and accurate news, they tend to watch those shows more. The factor of bias is also significant as many channels are politically biased in their content. The question arises, why are the channels taking so much risk for high TRP ratings? TRP scores of the channels are examined by different companies for selecting them to run their advertisements. The more the TRP of the channel is, the more the viewership and the more the companies will approach that channel. The channel with better TRP figures charges more for the advertisement because then the ad will reach a larger audience. The more the ads, the more the profit to the broadcasting channel and hence better salary to the journalists and other staff members. TRP is not only important for the advertisement and earning but it also tells the channel its quality of content, improvement areas and the faults. Based on the same, primetime shows are decided and shows of less viewership are improved or nullified. Some of the loopholes of the TRP are mentioned below-

  • It is very easy to find and bribe certain households with TRP barometers for running specific channels.

  • Even if we know the area where the barometers are installed, the cable operators can be approached and asked to shut down the competition channels at prime time.

  • Some years back, Republic TV was accused of using two LCN. Each channel is assigned to a single and unique LCN but this channel was using two LCNs to gain more viewership impressions.

  • Sometimes, channels after bribing the operators, ask them to put them as the default opening channel, this also helps them gain more TRP.


A TRP Barometer is a device which calculates and tells the TRP of the television channels based on the duration of their watch-time. It is done by attaching barometers to the television of different households who watch television for a long duration and the device maintains the record of the channels by calculating the time they are being watched. This meter is also known as the ‘People’s Meter’. The readings are taken from the Barometer on weekly basis and BARC announces the TRP scores and the most viewed channels at the end of the week.


Facts of the Story

BARC which stands for ‘Broadcast Audience Research Council of India’ installs the TRP meters in different socio-economic households to calculate the TRP of news channels. The sample size for the same is around 45000 households as it is very difficult to put meters in every household. The task of installing these meters was given to a company called ‘HANSA RESEARCH GROUP’. The allegations of TRP manipulations have been popping up for years. Unusual trends were seen in the TRP figures and a complaint was initially filed against India Today by BARC through Hansa Research. Mumbai Police lodged an FIR against the channel but due to lack of evidence, it was cancelled. After further investigation, it was found that Republic TV along with Fakt Marathi, Box Cinema and Maha Movies channels, were manipulating the TRPs for around one year. People blamed that the Maharashtra government was pushing revenge against this channel for how the channel questioned and defamed the government in the Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide case. The name of Republic TV channel got involved after the raid in one of the TRP barometer houses where it was found that the people were watching the Republic TV, an English news channel for day and night irrespective of the fact that they hardly knew a single word of the language. The ex-employees of Hansa Research Group leaked the information to the news channels about the places where the barometers were installed. In an interview of a person, among one of those households to whom these companies approached, says, “A person named Vishal Bhandari called me and asked me to meet. When I met him he asked me to run the channel called Republic Bharat and offered an incentive of Rs. 500 per day for the task. But I refused him for the same.”


Legalities

The police arrested many people including the former BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta, former BARC COO Romil Ramgarhia, a former relationship manager of Hansa Research- Vishal Bhandari and many more. The Whatsapp chats between Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic Media Network and Mr Gupta were discovered by the police. The accused have been charged under:

Arnab Goswami’s arrest

The confusion emanated regarding the arrest of the famous Republic TV anchor and Editor, Arnab Goswami. People related this arrest with the TRP scam but there was an other way around. Arnab was arrested for committing the offence of ‘Abetment to Suicide’. The deceased, an interior designer- Avnay Naik had to be paid by the accused Arnab for the interior work of his studio. The deceased also had some more payments pending from Firoz Shaikh and Neetish Sarda. These overdue payments were of huge amounts such as Goswami having Rs. 83 lakh, Feroz Shaikh having Rs. 4 crores and Neetish Sarda having Rs. 55 lakh. The deceased and his mother committed suicide because of these overdue unpaid payments. A suicide note was discovered where theses such unpaid amounts were mentioned as the reason for their suicide. The case was immediately registered against Arnab Goswami under Section-306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860(Abetment to Suicide). The case is called Arnab Goswami vs. State of Maharashtra’. The judge in this case said that Arnab can’t be blamed to abet the deceased for committing suicide as there is a lack of mens rea. The accused had no direct role or connection in the suicide committed. So, the arrest of Arnab was nowhere related to the TRP scam.


CBI entry in the Scam

It was a new twist in the TRP Scam when a case was registered on the complaint of Kamal Sharma, CEO of a Delhi based advertisement firm called Golden Rabbit. The FIR was lodged in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh but the UP government suggested it be investigated by CBI. As the Centre clears nod to CBI inquiry, the agency began investigating and an FIR was being registered. The fishiest thing right from the beginning of this scam was that this FIR was registered against more than one unidentified and unnamed people. Some people were saying that the registered FIR was just a political vendetta of the Uttar Pradesh government against the Maharashtra government. This FIR was lodged under the given sections for manipulating the TRP using fraudulent means:


  • 120(B) (Punishment of criminal conspiracy)

  • 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention)

  • 406 (Punishment for criminal breach of trust)

  • 408 (Punishment for criminal breach of trust by the clerk)

  • 409 (criminal breach of trust in respect of that property)

  • 420 (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property)

  • 463 (Forgery)

  • 465 (Punishment for forgery)

  • 486 (Selling goods marked with a counterfeit property mark)


According to the complainant (as mentioned in the FIR), an individual cannot tweak the TRP and initiate this scam alone. This is a conspiracy leading to the criminal breach of trust. There must be some other people involved, who helped the main accused to accomplish this act. There is a high possibility of the involvement of BARC in the scam.


Republic TV reaches SC first then HC

After continuous summons of the Mumbai Police to the Republic TV journalists as well as the other staff members, the channel filed a petition in the Supreme Court and Mr Harish Salve represented them. Interestingly, Justice DY Chandrachud suggested they go to the Bombay High Court first and nothing came out of that petition. The matter finally reached the Bombay High Court and bench of Justices S S Shinde and Manish Pitale began hearing the plea virtually.

Conclusion

In December 2020, it came out that the scam started in 2016 and was going on for around 3 three years. The BARC also suspended this TRP rating system for 12 weeks. The question arises, what improvements do we require to curb and avoid such scams? The companies have to opt for other ways to select the television channels for running their advertisements. The TRP rating system is highly obsolete and it should be either totally scrapped off or brought to certain changes such as barometers should be kept under CCTV surveillance. There should be a unified system of agencies dealing with TRP ratings in the country. The companies should compare the television channels based on app download, website-visit impressions and YouTube channel subscribers as well as the watch-time of the channel.


References

  • https://www.theshoutingknowledge.com/how-barometer-measures-trp/#:~:text=Barometer is connected to the TV sets of,and for how long were the shows watched. (last visited 2021).

  • https://www.advocatekhoj.com/library/bareacts/indianpenalcode/index.php?Title=Indian Penal Code, 1860 (last visited 2021).


  • https://www.iralr.in/post/offence-of-abetment-of-suicide-in-financial-transactions (last visited 2021).


  • https://www.opindia.com/2020/10/cbi-takes-over-probe-files-fir-in-trp-fraud-case-uttar-pradesh-lucknow/ (last visited 2021).


  • https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/cbi-registers-case-to-investigate-fake-ratings-case-based-on-complaint-filed-in-uttar-pradesh-2313116 (last visited 2021).


  • https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/trp-scam-republic-tv-bombay-high-court-case-live-updates (last visited 2021).


By Vishrut Gupta

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