In a written statement to the Mumbai Police, Partho Dasgupta, former CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, has said that Arnab Goswami, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the channel, had bribed him with $12,000 and Rs 40 lakhs in cash to ensure the “manipulation of TRP ratings that made Republic TV get number 1 rating”.
According to a report in The Indian Express, Dasgupta’s hand-written statement was submitted to police officials with two witnesses present in the evening on December 27, 2020. The newspaper said the statement forms part of the 3,600 page supplementary charge-sheet, with statements of 59 persons, filed in the TRP manipulation case on January 11. The first charge-sheet in the case was filed in November last year against 12 persons.
The supplementary charge-sheet reportedly includes a BARC audit report which names Republic TV, Aak Tak and Times Now for allegedly “pre-fixing” the ratings (TRP). It names Dasgupta, former BARC COO Romil Ramgarhia and Republic Media Network CEO Vikas Khanchandani.
TRP is the basis on which channels secure funds from advertisers, with the business models of most media houses dependent on such funds to subsidise the ‘news’ for the average consumer.
In his statement, Dasgupta reportedly mentioned prior connections with Goswami, who he worked with at Times Now, saying he knew him since 2004, nine years before he began heading BARC.
“Even before launching Republic TV he would talk to me about plans for the launch and indirectly hint at helping him to get good ratings to his channel. Goswami knew very well that I know how the TRP system works. He also alluded to helping me out in the future,” he wrote.
He also mentioned that Goswami had given him $6000 on two occasions for two holidays in France and Switzerland, adding that the Republic TV chief had given him Rs 20 lakhs in 2017 and Rs 10 lakhs on two occasions in 2018 and 2019.
Dasgupta’s lawyer, however, told the newspaper that the statement may have been taken from him “under duress”.
The BARC audit report from July last year said there was evidence of “favouritism” to some channels with ratings being “pre-decided”. It said that Times Now’s rating were allegedly suppressed to show Republic TV in better light and included a purported conversation between a senior India Today Group official about “pre-fixing” their Hindi channel Aaj Tak’s ratings. A summary of the audit report supposedly mentioned that “manipulation was evidenced in 2017, 18 and 19 across English News Genre and Telugu News Genre”.
While the India Today Group did not respond to the newspaper’s queries, Times Now rubbished any wrongdoing in a statement and Republic insisted the whole thing was a “collusion of corporate and political interests to target” Goswami.
Earlier, WhatsApp chats from the charge-sheet, including those between Goswami and Dasgupta, had been leaked. A chat on February 23, 2019, revealed that the former seemed to have prior knowledge of the Balakot Air Strike three days later.
The transcripts mentioned Goswami telling Dasgupta that “something big” was about to happen. When the latter responded, asking if it was about “Dawood” (gangster Dawood Ibrahim), Goswami said it was about “Pakistan. Something major will be done this time…. Bigger than a normal strike.”
In October last year, the Mumbai police had said it had busted a Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation racket and mentioned that four persons had been arrested in this case. Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh had told reporters that Republic TV was also involved in the supposed racket.