The Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Wednesday constituted a four-member committee to review the guidelines on television rating agencies, The Hindu reported. The panel, headed by Prasar Bharati Chief Executive Officer Shashi Shekhar Vempati, was formed after the Mumbai Police’s investigations revealed that a few news channels had rigged their ratings.

Shalabh, Professor of Statistics from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, C-Dot Executive Director Rajkumar Upadhyay, and Professor Pulak Ghosh of Decision Sciences Centre for Public Policy are the other members of the committee.

The ministry said the existing guidelines – that were issued after deliberations by a parliamentary committee and on the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India – needed to be revisited with a “fresh look”.

This needs to be done while keeping in view the recent recommendations of TRAI and other technological advancements, so that the current system is further strengthened and made more credible, the government said.

With this in mind, the government said the committee will carry out an appraisal of the existing system, examine TRAI recommendations notified from time to time along with overall industry scenario, and address the needs of the stakeholders.

News Broadcasters Federation asks PM to set up national body

On the day the Centre announced the committee, News Broadcasters Federation wrote to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking a “national-level independent body” to “deal with misconduct by professional journalists”, The Indian Express reported. Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami is the president of the media body.

The channel is among media organisations being investigated by the Mumbai Police in the alleged Television Ratings Point, or the TRP scam. Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi were the other two channels whose named during preliminary investigation. Later, News Nation and Mahamovie channels were also formally named in the case.

The letter, written by NBF Secretary-General R Jai Krishna, sought Modi’s immediate intervention to stop the “undue pressure and unreasonable interferences by state governments and police departments against news TV channels, journalists and media owners performing their duty”.

The group alleged that “journalists and management personnel of news broadcasters [were] called by local police and held captive for unnecessary long hours at unreasonable time for routine questioning,”, which is hampering them from performing their duties.

The letter goes on to cite instances of police action against journalists that took place in the past week. The group noted that Republic TV and its Hindi channel R Bharat was being allegedly “hounded relentlessly” by the Maharashtra government, while OTV was facing “serious vindictive harassing actions” by Odisha government. Besides the letter mentioned the “police action” against TV5 in Andhra Pradesh, cases against Newslaundry, and a journalist from ABP Majha in Maharashtra.

The NBF urged the government to “put in place a national level neutral agency with a structured and reasonable standard operating plan, to deal with serious complaints against journalists and media organisations”.

“A national-level independent body, on the lines of Bar Council of India, Medical Council of India, Institute of Chartered Accountants, to deal with misconduct by professional journalists, will act as a deterrent against abuse of power by any agency to stifle freedom of press, for protection of journalists and executives of news media organisations.”

— News Broadcasters Federation, The Indian Express

Hansa Research Group moves Bombay HC

Hansa Research Group Private Limited has moved the Bombay High Court alleging that Mumbai Police’s Crime Branch officers probing the case are pressuring its employees to “retract” a report.

Hansa is an agency contracted by the Broadcast Audience Research Council to install audience measurement meters, and on whose complaint the first arrest was made in the TRP case last month.

The petition was filed on Tuesday by Hansa Research, its director Narsimhan K Swamy, chief executive officer Praveen Nijhara and deputy general manager Nitin Deokar. They claimed they were caught in a “crossfire in a battle-like situation between Mumbai Police and certain sections from media for the last few months”.

The plea said that since October 12, several employees of the company have been repeatedly called to the Crime Branch office and were pressured to make a “false statement” disowning a report telecast on Republic TV on October 10, which it referred to as the “Hansa report”. Republic TV had reportedly used it to claim they were not among channels named in the case.

The petition names Assistant Police Inspector (Crime Branch) Sachin Vaze, Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh, chief investigating officer Shashank Sandbhor, the Maharashtra government and the CBI as respondents. The Bombay High Court is likely to be hear the plea later this week.

The officials of the research company contended that even though they were officially summoned only twice, they were made to be present at the Crime Branch for hours every day from October 12 until filing of the petition, and left the Crime Branch premises on some days as late as 11.15 pm.

The only objective of the Crime Branch, the petition alleged, is to “keep them detained and pressurise and frustrate them so that they make a false statement according to the desire of Respondent no 1 (Vaze) for reasons best known to him”.

The plea alleged that on October 26, investigators of the Crime Branch did not allow Hansa’s lawyers to enter the premises when four directors of the company and one vice-president (finance) were being questioned. They were then told that they were being arrested and their phones were seized, the petition stated.

“It is evident that the petitioners are being used by police and certain section from media as means to attack each other and petitioners are suffering from collateral damage in this,” the plea said.