A sessions court in Greater Mumbai has observed that former media executive Partho Dasgupta is the “mastermind” of the Television Rating Points scam, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday. The court, in its order rejecting Dasgupta’s bail plea, noted that if he were to be released on bail at this stage, then there is “every possibility” that he may tamper with evidence and prosecution witnesses,
The Mumbai Police had arrested Dasgupta, the former chief executive officer of ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council, on December 24. The police told the court that Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami had allegedly bribed Dasgupta with “lakhs of rupees” to ramp up the news channel’s viewership.
In his January 20 order, which was made available on Tuesday, Additional Sessions Judge MA Bhosale said a thorough investigation was required into the WhatsApp chats recovered from Dasgupta’s phone. This is not a case of simple manipulation of TRP, the judge added.
Based on the facts and circumstances of the case and the WhatsApp chat exchange between Goswami and Dasgupta, the court observed that “there is some discussion on television TRP rating and the accused being CEO of BARC is proper person to explain the communication properly to the Investigating Officer”.
During the bail hearing, Dasgupta’s lawyers had argued that other persons arrested in the case had been granted bail and he, too, should be released. Advocate Shardul Singh also told the court that his client’s health condition was weak, and that it would further deteriorate leading to a diabetic coma, if he remained in jail.
Judge Bhosale rejected the argument. “It was true that 14 accused were released on jail,” he said, “but the case paper in the present crime reflect that the accused is the mastermind of the entire crime and he was acting as a capacity of CEO to manipulate the television rating through mechanical device”.
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The judge added, “In view of material available on record, face to face interrogation of accused is required.”
Following this order, Dasgupta, who is lodged in the Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai, moved the Bombay High Court. On Tuesday, the High Court adjourned his bail plea hearing to February 9.
The TRP scam
A fake TRP racket was uncovered in October when the Broadcast Audience Research Council filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group – one of BARC’s vendors on engagement with panel homes, or “people’s meters”. Channels were accused of rigging their TRPs by bribing some households to watch it.
On December 25, Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe had said that a forensic audit report of the rating agency’s data had revealed that numbers were being manipulated at least since 2016. Bharambe said that the manipulations which were done to a greater extent for English and Telugu news channels, resulted in showing Republic TV as the top ranked channel, in terms of ratings.
Several Republic TV officials have already been questioned in the case. Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi were the other channels named during the preliminary investigation.