The Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police on Friday summoned Republic TV Chief Financial Officer Shiva Subramaniyam Sundaram in connection with the fake Television Rating Points scam, Live Law reported. Sundaram has been asked to be present before Additional Commissioner of Police Shashank Sandbhor at 11 am on Saturday.

The police have also summoned Madison World founder, Chairperson and Managing Director Sam Balsara and operational head of advertising marketing communications company MullenLowe Lintas Shishir Sinha to record their statements on Saturday, the Hindustan Times reported. “They have been called to record their statement under Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code,” said Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe.

Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code empowers a police officer to seek attendance of witnesses who are acquainted with a case.

Witness claims he was bribed to watch TV channel

One of the witnesses in the scam said that he was bribed by a television channel to watch a certain programme every day, NDTV reported on Friday. The man’s home had a “people meter” to check viewership. Such meters have been in about 2,000 homes across Mumbai.

Television Rating Point, or TRP, is a tool provided to judge which programmes are viewed the most. It gives an index of the choice of the people and also the popularity of a particular channel. Republic TV, Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi have been accused of TRP manipulation, and the Mumbai Police has begun an investigation.

“The executive from Bar-o-meter told me to watch Box Cinema,” the above accused told NDTV. “He said I should watch the channel from 2 pm to 4 pm and I would be paid Rs 500.” The man, whose identity has not been revealed, said he did it for two to three years, never suspecting that it could be linked to manipulating TRPs.

The man stopped watching when he had to visit his village, and told Box Cinema that he would not be able to watch the channel any longer.

Ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council had employed private agency Hansa to install “people meters” in houses. The data collected from these meters was supposed to be kept under wraps.

Mumbai Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh told NDTV that Hansa had complained about the rigging of TV ratings. Data collected from the people’s meters was shared with TV channels, who then allegedly bribed households to keep their channels on even when they were not watching them. Evidence has been shared in this regard, Singh added.

“The complaint was lodged by independent agency Hansa, not us. Suspicious trends were noticed by them, not us. They noticed suspicious trends of ratings or certain channels. They shared details of discrepancies. We have called three witnesses who were paid money to watch a particular channel.”

— Mumbai Commissioner of Police Param Bir Singh told NDTV

The Mumbai Police have arrested four people so far, including the owners of Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi, Shirish Shetty and Narayan Sharma. They were produced before a local court on Friday, which remanded them in police custody till October 13.

Singh had said on Thursday that the bank accounts of the channels would be investigated along with the funds they receive from advertisers to ascertain “whether they are from proceeds of crimes”. “If any crime was revealed, the accounts would be seized and more action would be taken,” he said.

‘No evidence against India Today’

Singh also responded to criticism that the initial FIR did not name Republic TV but another news channel, India Today. He said that there was no evidence against India Today.

Singh said Hansa Research Private Limited conducted an internal inquiry, after they received a complaint against arrested accused Vishal Bhandari that he had been paying several households to watch certain TV channels.

“India Today’s name came [up] during their internal enquiry based on which an FIR was filed at Kandivali police station on October 6,” Singh added. “We took Bhandari’s custody and have recorded the statements of witnesses and we have not found any evidence to substantiate the claim that India Today was involved in manipulating TRP.”

Republic TV has vehemently denied that it manipulated its TRPs. Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami said on Thursday that there is “not a single BARC report that mentioned Republic TV”, NDTV reported.

Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar had said earlier this month that the present system of TRP-oriented programmes needed a rethink. He said that it was evident that the “avoidable TRP rating has to be stopped or improved”.