Police in the Indian city of Mumbai have announced a major probe against a leading 24-hour English news channel for allegedly manipulating television rating points or TRP, a case that has reignited the debate on unfair means being adopted by a few media houses in this country for gaining advertisement revenues.
Dropping the bombshell at a media meet on Thursday, Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh named Republic TV as the main perpetrator of the crime. "The biggest name to emerge in the alleged scam is Republic TV. Two other local channels whose owners have been arrested for their role in the ratings fraud are Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema," he said.
According to the Mumbai Police chief, these three news channels, particularly Republic TV, bribed a number of families in the city and on the outskirts a monthly payment of 500 Indian rupees (7 USD) in lieu of keeping the channels switched on all the time at their homes for pushing up ratings.
"There was false TRP spreading. TRP ratings were being bought. The manipulation was mainly for advertising revenues. Based on these ratings they received illegal advertising funds. This will be considered proceeds of cheating," he said, adding that the central government has been apprised of the fraud.
The ratings scam surfaced during a police probe into how a "false narrative" was being spread by some news outlets, especially in connection with the probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death. "No one, no matter how senior (journalist), will escape," the police chief said in response to a poser.
In Mumbai, 2,000 barometers are installed to monitor ratings. "We suspect that if this was happening in Mumbai then it could be happening in other parts of the country as well," he added.
In a statement, Republic TV's editor-in-chief and promoter Arnab Goswami refuted the allegations and threatened to file a criminal defamation suit against the Mumbai Police commissioner. "He has accused us because we have questioned him in the Sushant Singh Rajput case investigation. He should issue a public apology or get ready to face us in court."
For the past couple of months, Republic TV has been airing daily debates on the "mystery" surrounding the death of Sushant Singh, whose whose body was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his Mumbai flat on June 14.
The channel has been accused by many of launching a witch hunt against the actor's girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty by cooking up "conspiracy theories" surrounding the death, which is currently being probed by a central agency. "Republic TV spreads fake news, it was well known. Now, a police probe will uncover the truth," said a veteran Indian journalist.