TRP scam: ‘Does the police have an obligation to interact with press?’ asks Bombay HC
At the hearing, Republic TV’s counsel referred to suspended Mumbai Police officer Sachin Vaze, who was investigating the case, as a ‘controversial figure’.
The Bombay High Court on Tuesday asked if the Mumbai Police was obligated to hold a press conference announcing the alleged Television Rating Points scam, PTI reported.
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 October 8, 2020, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh organised a press conference, where he revealed the names of three channels, which he said were allegedly rigging TRPs. Republic TV was one of them.
Since the beginning, the channel has denied any wrongdoing on their part, with its executives filing a flurry of lawsuits challenging the cases against them. They alleged that the whole case was malafide and they had been targeted for Republic TV’s reportage about the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the Palghar lynching case.
“Does the police have an obligation to interact with the press?” a Bombay High court bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale asked during the proceedings on Tuesday. “Why did the commissioner [of police] have to speak to the press?”
The court was hearing pleas filed by ARG Outlier Media, the company that owns Republic TV channels, and by journalist Arnab Goswami, seeking the transfer of Mumbai Police’s investigation into the alleged scam to the Central Bureau of Investigation or any other independent agency.
Advocate Ashok Mundargi, appearing for ARG Outlier, once again told the High Court that the police had “malafide intentions” behind holding the press conference in October. “The police were feeding the press that a particular scam took place,” he added. “This points out that there was not sufficient material to say whatever was being said.”
The advocate alleged that the police had no evidence against Republic TV and Goswami, but were trying to name them “by hook or by crook”.
The police had arrested some employees of the ARG Outlier Media and named them as accused persons in their remand applications, Mundargi said. But in the charge sheet, the police named the channel and ARG Outlier Media’s employees merely as suspects, he contended.
Mundargi also referred to Mumbai Police’s former Crime Branch officer Sachin Waze, who had been handling the investigation into the alleged scam, and who has now been suspended over his alleged involvement in another case.
Vaze is facing an inquiry for his alleged role in the explosive-laden car found outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence last month. He was suspended a day after being sent to the National Investigation Agency’s custody, which is investigating the case.
“The officer [Waze] is also very controversial,” Mundargi told the court. “This is the chain of events.”
The High Court will continue hearing the final arguments in the case on Wednesday.