The Times Group has sent a legal notice to the Broadcast Audience Research Council, accusing it of reducing Times Now to the second spot in terms of television ratings by “fraudulently and illegally” manipulating the numbers to favour another channel. The reference was apparently to Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV.
The network cited BARC’s internal forensic report to show that the numbers had been fudged. “BARC had conducted a forensic audit in the month of July 2020 which revealed that the TRPs of various channels were manipulated, rigged, tampered and at times pre-decided by the erstwhile upper echelon of BARC,” the group said in the legal notice, which was viewed by Scroll.in.
It added: “The TRPs of Times Now, a leading English News Genre channel ranked as the number one channel till, May 2017 in its genre, had been, suspiciously, reduced to the second position in a fraudulent/illegal manner with a view to make another newly-launched English News Channel as the number one channel.”
The notice cited data that BARC had submitted to the Mumbai Police for investigation into the TRP scam. “As per BARC’s own viewership data spanning 44 weeks (from week 24 of 2017 till week 11 of 2018) submitted to the Mumbai Police, Times Now was clearly number one and its viewership was manipulated, fudged, reduced by you, for giving undue benefit to a newly launched undeserving competitor channel in 2017,” it said. “The purported Outlier Policy has been blatantly abused by BARC to deliberately and fraudulently reduce the weekly viewership impressions of Times Now week after week with the sole intent bringing its numbers below.”
The notice also spoke about the Mumbai Police’s press briefings on the TRP scam. “The Press conference makes it evidently clear that activities resulting in viewership malpractices and TRP manipulation were undertaken by BARC with a malafide intention to biasedly cause wrongful losses to some of its subscribers,” it said.
Times Now accused BARC officials of not acting against the illegal manipulation of TRP data. The news channel demanded a sum of Rs 431 crore as damages from BARC.
Times Now also asked BARC to release a statement saying that as per data and records, it was clearly the top-most English news channel from 2017 to 2019.
This legal notice came nearly a month after Republic TV filed a defamation case against Times Now anchor Navika Kumar for her statements about Goswami’s WhatsApp chats with former BARC Chief Executive Officer Partho Dasgupta. The chats in question were part of the supplementary chargesheet filed by the Mumbai Police in the TRP scam case. They showed that Goswami had prior knowledge of the Balakot airstrike, which he passed on to Dasgupta.
The TRP scam
The racket was uncovered in October last year when BARC filed a complaint about the manipulation through Hansa Research Group – one of its 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.