Republic TV Chief Financial Officer Shiva Subramaniyam Sundaram, who was summoned by the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police in connection with the fake Television Rating Points scam, has requested for a reschedule, NDTV reported. Sundaram, who was supposed to appear for interrogation on Saturday, cited “personal commitments”.

The Republic TV executive said he was scheduled to travel outside Mumbai for the next few days and would “only be available in Mumbai by October 14 or October 15”. Sundaram is the first official from the television channel to have been called in for questioning.

In a statement, Sundaram expressed his “commitment to cooperate”, but added that Republic TV has also moved the Supreme Court challenging the Mumbai Police’s summons to the channel. The petition is “likely to be listed soon” and Mumbai Police is therefore “requested not to proceed with any further investigation in so far as Republic TV and its employees are concerned” the statement added.

Television Rating Point, or TRP, is a metric 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.

The fake TRP racket came to light when ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group, alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers. Hansa Research is one of BARC’s vendors on engagement with panel homes, or “peoples meters”.

The agency currently has 44,000 panel households measuring viewership across the country, according to The Wire. The data collected from these meters was supposed to be kept under wraps. One of the witnesses in the scam on Friday told NDTV that he was bribed by a television channel to watch a certain programme everyday.

Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh had said that an analysis of manipulation of news trends showed a “false narrative” was being spread, especially regarding the investigation into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.

Besides Republic TV, Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi have been accused of TRP manipulation during the preliminary investigation. 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.

Republic TV refutes allegations

Meanwhile, Republic TV has refuted the allegations and accused Mumbai Police of a vendetta because the channel had questioned the city police’s investigation into Rajput’s death, as well as the channel’s reportage on the Palghar lynching case.

“Acting in malice and conspiracy, the Mumbai Police and the Maharashtra government on Thursday afternoon launched a fake case against us, without even doing a preliminary investigation,” Republic TV said in a statement. “Their fake case against Republic was led by a bizarre press conference of the Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.”

Republic TV also raked up its allegations against India Today and said the Mumbai Police gave the news channel a clean chit even though the FIR in the case names it six times. Besides this, it claimed that the key witness in the case has gone on-record making allegations against India Today. “Channels like India Today which are receiving the protection of the Mumbai Police and the Maharashtra government today, should know that the coin may flip if they start doing independent journalism and questioning them tomorrow,” the statement read.

However, on Friday Singh had clarified there said was no evidence against India Today. “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 have not found any evidence to substantiate the claim that India Today was involved in manipulating TRP.”

Republic TV accused the police chief of “working overtime to arrange an escape route for India today”.

“The country now knows that the entire focus is on India Today and its alleged malpractices. The Republic Media Network also places on record that the Maharashtra Government Minister Anil Parab and top Shiv Sena leader Sunil Raut have been openly threatening the Republic Media Network.”

— Republic TV

The channel alleged that the Mumbai Police’s actions were part of a “continuing chapter in the witch-hunt of the Maharashtra government and Shiv Sena which on 10 September, 2020, issued a warning to all cable distributors not to carry channels of the Republic Media Network or else face consequences”.

Republic TV said it “will fight this tooth and nail and win this— both in the courts of law and in the courts of public opinion”. “We have served notices of our legal action to the Maharashtra government as well,” it added.