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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Ex-CEO Of BARC Arrested In TRP Scam

Accused Of Depressing Ratings Of Other Channels

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Raju Vernekar
Raju Vernekar
I am a mumbai based journalist having worked with many daily newspapers.

INDIA. Mumbai: Mumbai Police arrested Parth Nirmal Dasgupta (55) former CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) accusing him as ‘mastermind’ in the case related to alleged rigging of the Television Rating Points (TRP) by some TV channels and remanded him to police custody till December 28.

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The crime branch of Mumbai Police nabbed Dasgupta in Pune district on Thursday when he was heading for Goa. On Friday he was produced before 37 th Metropolitan Magistrate’s court which sent him in police custody. Dasgupta is 15 th accused in the TRP scam being investigated by Mumbai Police.

Based on the information given by Ramil Ramgarhia, the former chief operating officer (COO) of BARC (arrested earlier in the case), the police were planning to nab him in the case. Acting on the tip off, they maintained a vigil at Khed Shivapur toll plaza in Pune while Dasgupta was proceeding towards Goa in a car (MH-01-DE-8993) at about 11.05 PM, a press release issued by Mumbai Police stated.  Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe confirmed the arrest while addressing a press conference.

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BARC is a joint-industry body founded by stakeholder bodies that represent Broadcasters, Advertisers, and Advertising & Media Agencies. It is also the world’s largest television measurement science industry-body.

The manipulation happening since 2016 

Bharambe said that TRP manipulation had been happening since 2016 where ratings appeared to be pre-decided. The scam took place when Dasgupta was the head of BARC from 2013 to 2019. During that period, many tried to expose the manipulation that was being done but whistleblowers were clinically suppressed.

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“After Dasgupta left the organization, the BARC commissioned a third-party forensic audit, and its report came out in July 2020. As per the report, the manipulations have been going on at least from 2016-2019. The forensic team analyzed data in detail, especially in the genre of English and Telugu news where they found manipulation to a great extent,” Bharambe said.

As per the forensic report, the data of 44 weeks – from mid-2017 – mentions how viewership and TRP data was manipulated by using three of their methodologies, in which two channels are mentioned as per the report – Times Now (which was on No 1 in English at that time) was thrown to No 2 due to manipulation of data and Republic TV was put on No 1 spot.

The report further states that in some of the cases, the ratings appeared to be pre-decided. The report also pointed towards the cartelization of top officials and ex-officials of BARC.

“Of the 3 methods used to screen and analyze the data – Outlier method, Meta method, and Channel Audience Control – the data was selectively chosen, analyzed, and thrown to showcase a particular TRP rating of a particular channel. The report also mentions quite a few emails and chats between the top officials which point towards all these types of manipulations, which are incriminating,” the top cop said.

Commenting on Dasgupta’s indictment, a BARC spokesperson said on December 25: “The development related to ex-employees of BARC India is a part of an ongoing investigation for which BARC management continues to extend its support and cooperation to the law enforcement agencies.”

The spokesperson added: “Every employee of BARC India is expected to conform to a Code of Conduct and Ethics and any infringement invites suitable disciplinary action. We will continue to ensure that what India watches is reported accurately and with the utmost integrity. It is a responsibility we owe all our stakeholders.”

The crime branch is probing the role of “Republic TV”, “Fakt Marathi”, ”Box Cinema”, “News Nation”, “Mahamovies” and “Wow” music channel for inflating viewership figures, a key parameter that media-buying houses consider while placing advertisements.

The 15 accused

Most of those named in the scam is most of the former employees of the Mumbai based Hansa Research Private Limited( appointed by BARC to monitor different channels to measure their viewership). They are Ashish Chaudhary (50), Abhishek Kolavde, Vishal Bhandari(20), Ramji Verma Dinesh Vishwakarma, Vinay Tripathi, Umesh Mishra,…all former employee of Hansa Research Agency), Vikas Khanchandani(Republic TV CEO), Shivam Sundaram (Republic TV Chief Financial officer), Ghanshyam Dilipkumar Singh( 44) (Republic TV Distribution Head), Bompally Mistry alias Sanjiv Rao(44), Shirish Satish Pattanshetty (owner of Fakt Marathi TV channel), Narayan Nandkishor Sharma( owner of Box Cinema), Ramil Ramgarhia,(former chief operating officer (COO) of BARC) and Partho Dasgupta (55) (former CEO, BARC). The accused have been booked under sections 409,(criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating), 120(B), 34, 174, 179, 201, and 204 of Indian Penal. Republic TV Editor in Chief Arnab Goswami, is also among senior figures from the network named in a charge sheet filed by Mumbai Police.

The scam surfaced in October 

The scam came to the fore in October 2020 when Nitin Deokar, deputy general manager of Hansa Research Private Limited, filed the complaint at Kandivli police station in North Mumbai, alleging that Vishal Bhandari, who was working as a relationship manager in his organization from November 2019 to May 2020, was taking money from Vinay Tripathi and used to pay households where barometers were installed and asked them to watch “India Today”. (However Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh clarified that there was no evidence against ‘India Today TV’).

“During the inquiry, Bhandari named others in the scam. When Mumbai Police visited the residence of one of the viewers, a Kandivli resident Tejal Solanki, in whose house a barometer was installed, told police that he was paid money and was asked to watch ‘Republic TV”.

BARC has contracted Hansa Research, to monitor various channels and programs through 30,000 barometers installed across India, based on which the council awards ratings to channels. Of the 30,000, 2,000 barometers are installed in Mumbai, which is handled by 20 relationship managers.

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