Arrested ex-CEO of BARC was `mastermind' of fake TRP racket: police

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(Eds: adds details of forensic audit report) Mumbai, Dec 25 (PTI) Mumbai police claimed on Friday that former CEO of the Broadcast Research Audience Council (BARC) Parth Dasgupta played the main role in the manipulation of TRP of certain TV channels including Republic TV.

Republic Media Network, which owns Republic TV, in a statement earlier in the day said the police's allegations were laughable. The sole objective of the probe was to target Republic TV, it said.

Citing a forensic audit report, a senior police official said that manipulation was going on at least between 2016 and 2019 when Dasgupta was the BARC CEO.

The crime branch of Mumbai Police on Thursday nabbed 55-year-old Dasgupta in Pune district when he was heading for Pune from Goa. On Friday he was produced before a Mumbai court which sent him in police custody till December 28.

A police release on Friday described him as 'mastermind' of the racket.

Interrogation of Romil Ramgarhia, a former chief operating officer of BARC who was arrested earlier, revealed that he was involved in rigging of Television Rating Points (TRP) with Dasgupta's connivance, police said.

Dasgupta, who was BARC CEO between June 2013 to November 2019, misused his position and was instrumental in manipulation of TRP of certain TV channels including Republic Bharatand Republic TV, the release alleged.

Republic Media Network, which has already denied wrongdoing, said the police's allegations in the whole case were laughable. The investigation was a farce and its sole objective was to target Republic TV, it claimed.

BARC, which had complained to the police about alleged rigging, had said in emails in October and November that Republic TV was not involved, the media group said.

Dasgupta is the fifteenth person to be arrested in the case. Most of the accused in the case are now out on bail.

Citing a forensic audit report of the BARC, a senior police official said that manipulation of viewership data was going on at least between 2016 to 2019, and in some cases the ratings appeared to have been predetermined.

The audit report was based on analysis of 44 weeks' data from June 2017 onwards, especially in the English and Telugu news segments where manipulation was greater, said Milind Bharambe, Joint Commissioner of Police(Crime).

The report showed how one prominent English news channel which was in number one position was relegated to number two because of this rigging, he said.

While Dasgupta was CEO of the BARC, there were many complaints about dubious viewership data, but these complaints were suppressed, the police officer claimed.

After Dasgupta left the organization, the BARC commissioned a third-party forensic audit, and its report came out in July 2020, he said.

Mumbai police began the probe after the BARC, a rating agency, filed a complaint about rigging of TRP by some channels.

TRP, measured by recording viewership data at sample households, is crucial as it helps TV channels attract advertisers. It was alleged that some of these households were being bribed to tune into certain channels to ramp up their ratings. PTI DC AVI KRK KRK