Former head of the Broadcast Audience Research Council Partho Dasgupta on Monday told the Bombay High Court that the purported WhatsApp exchanges between him and Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami were mere “loose talks” and that he should not be kept in detention on the basis of the chats, reported Bar and Bench.
Dasgupta made the submission before a bench of Justice PD Naik, which was hearing the former media executive’s bail plea. The Mumbai Police had arrested Dasgupta in connection with its investigation into the Television Ratings Point scam on December 24. The police have alleged that Goswami bribed Dasgupta with “lakhs of rupees” to ramp up Republic TV’s viewership.
During the hearing, Special Public Prosecutor Shishir Hiray told the court that Dasgupta was directly involved in manipulating TRPs with the help of other accused persons, reported PTI. “They tried to manipulate the entire system of TRPs,” Hiray said.
The TRP scam, the advocate said, happened at three levels. “The barometers for measurement were installed by BARC and Hansa,” he added. “The viewers were paid monthly for watching their channels. The inevitable conclusion is that the information was leaked from BARC.”
Justice Naik then asked if Dasgupta was the one who had leaked the information, to which Hiray said that seemed to be “the inevitable conclusion”. “There is a full involvement [of Dasgupta],” the advocate added. “For a few crores he allowed the TRPs to be manipulated.”
Hiray added that the WhatsApp chats between Dasgupta and a “certain owner and anchor of a TV channel”, which were accessed by the crime branch of the Mumbai police, show the two also discussed matters concerning national security.
But Aabad Ponda, appearing for Dasgupta, contended that the chats in question are not admissible as evidence. “Regarding WhatsApp chats, I will only say it is loose talks,” the advocate said. “Those are not admissible and need corroborative evidence. No one should be detained because of loose talks.”
Ponda also submitted that the alleged conversations between Dasgupta and Goswami took place at a time when Republic TV was not even in existence and Goswami was with the Times Now news channel.
The advocate added that Dasgupta’s co-accused in the case were out on bail and that the Maharashtra government had made a statement before the High Court earlier this month saying it will not take any coercive action against Goswami or any other employees of ARG Outlier media, which runs Republic TV channels. “I am not saying to arrest them,” the advocate continued. “But then the whole group under Republic TV is protected and I am behind bars.”
Further, Dasgupta’s counsel argued that the chargesheet had already been filed in the case and Dasgupta’s custodial interrogation was not required any more. Ponda emphasised that Mumbai police had every opportunity to interrogate Dasgupta while he was in police custody for six days, and that “there was no need for his detention now”.
He also refuted the charges that Dasgupta had accepted watches and silver jewellery from Goswami in return of manipulating TRP for his channels. “He [Dasgupta] is not a public servant to be bribed,” Ponda said.
While concluding his submissions, Ponda submitted that it could not be ignored that Dasgupta suffers from severe medical conditions which would cause him difficulty while in judicial custody.
Former BARC employees says she was aware of Dasgupta’s role
During Monday’s hearing, Special Public Prosecutor Hiray also submitted that a former employee of the BARC has allegedly told a magistrate that the organisation received several complaints against Republic TV about how the channel used dubious methods to ramp up its viewership, Live Law reported. However, neither Dasgupta nor BARC’s Chief Operating Officer Romil Ramgarhia paid any heed to this, the witness said.
The employee, Perkham Basu, said that during her time as deputy general manager of BARC, she noticed that Dasgupta was actually involved in TRP manipulation “so that a channel can make profits through advertisements”.
The public prosecutor cited the statement of the witness recorded by a magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Hiray read out the statement in court after Dasgupta’s lawyers objected that they were not provided a copy.