The Editors Guild of India on Monday backed journalists working with Republic TV after the Mumbai Police registered a First Information Report against them. But it also urged the channel to behave responsibly and not compromise “the safety of its journalists”. Republic TV is being investigated for alleged manipulation of Television Rating Points.

In a statement, the guild said that while it did not wish to influence the police investigation, “victimisation of journalists” should immediately stop. “The use of arbitrary state power is not and has never been in the interests of working journalists,” the guild said in its statement.

The police have arrested nine persons in connection with the TRP scam so far. The owners of Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi, Shirish Shetty and Narayan Sharma, have also been taken into custody.

The Editors Guild of India, however, said the channel must behave responsibly and “not compromise the safety of its journalists as well as hurt the collective credibility of media”. It added that the police must ensure that the investigation does not become a tool to suppress media rights.

It pointed out that right to free speech did not mean a licence to promote hate speech. “Besides the unsavory details pertaining to the manipulation of TRPs, the Republic TV’s high-strung conduct during the unfortunate demise of film actor, Sushant Singh Rajput also raises issues about media credibility and the limits to reporting,” it added. “The Mumbai High Court has pertinently asked the channel’s lawyer about harangue directed at actress Rhea Chakraborty.”

“The High Court asked a question that must be addressed by all: ‘Is this part of investigative journalism? Asking the public about their opinion on who should be arrested?’ Also, the bench wondered whether the channel in the name of investigative journalism was encroaching into the domain of police. Similar reservations about its conduct have been expressed even by News Broadcasters Association (NBA) that disagrees with its reporting.”

— The Editors Guild of India

The TRP scam

A fake TRP racket was uncovered earlier in October when the Broadcast Audience Research Council filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group, alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers. The channels were accused of rigging their TRPs by bribing some households to watch it, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh had said at a press conference on October 8.

BARC uses BAR-O-Meters, or “people’s metres” that have been installed in over 45,000 households for tracking TRPs. The empanelled households are classified into 12 categories, covering over 80 crore people. The members of these households are given separate viewer IDs, which they are required to put on while watching television. This helps BARC to monitor which channels they watch and the duration for the same.

Hansa is a firm contracted by BARC to install these audience measurement meters.

On October 14, Republic TV’s Executive Editor Niranjan Narayanaswamy and Senior Executive Editor Abhishek Kapoor appeared before the crime branch of the Mumbai Police to record their statements in the case.

Republic TV Chief Executive Officer Vikas Khanchandani had appeared before the Mumbai police for questioning in case on October 11. The TV channel’s Chief Financial Officer Shiva Subramaniam Sundaram was supposed to appear before the police on the previous day, but he asked for a reschedule citing “personal commitments”.

Republic TV has repeatedly claimed that the summons to its top editors in the TRP scam were part of a “desperate witch hunt” . They have also accused the police of pursuing an agenda against free press.

The channel moved the Supreme Court against the city police’s summons to its top editors and executives, in connection with their investigation. The top court, however, on October 15 had refused to entertain the plea.

On October 19, the channel said that it will sue Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh for Rs 200 crore for allegedly damaging its reputation.

The Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday filed a case to investigate allegations of manipulation of Television Rating Points scam by Republic TV, Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi.