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TRP Manipulation Scam

The Broadcast Audience Research Council has accused a few channels of manipulating the Television Rating Points. This is now being called “the TRP Scam”. The TRP (Television Rating Point) scandal was unearthed by the Mumbai police.

By: Prachi Kulkarni, 2nd Year, LLB, Government Law College, Mumbai.

Introduction

The Mumbai Police recently caught a scandal going on in the television industry which related to manipulating the Television Rating Points. So far three channels are accused namely, Republic TV, Box Cinema, and Fakt Marathi. Four persons – the owners of the Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema channels, and two former employees of the market research agency that collects the TRP data – have been arrested. They will be produced before a court on Friday.

What is TRP?

TRP is a Television Rating Point. It is the tool that tells us which channel and the program are viewed most or it indicates the popularity of a TV channel or a program. It shows how many times people are watching a channel or a particular program. TRP is a very instrumental tool used by advertisers and investors to decide which channel they should invest in.

How is TRP calculated?

1. People meters device is installed in some places or set in selected homes to calculate the TRP. In this way, some thousand viewers are surveyed in the form of justice and sampling. These gadgets record data about the channel or program watched by the family members or selected people. Through this meter, the information on a TV channel or program for one minute is carried out by the INTAM a monitoring team i.e. Indian Television Audience Measurement. After analyzing the information, the team decides what is the TRP of the channel or program. Or we can say that this data is later analyzed by the agency to create a national TRP data of various TV channels and TV programs.

2. Second method is known as picture matching where the people meter records a small portion of the picture that is being watched on the TV. This data is collected from a set of homes in the form of pictures and later on is analyzed to calculate the TRPs.

What is the TRP Scandal?

The fake TRP racket came to light when rating agency Broadcast Audience Research Council filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group, alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers. Hansa Research is one of BARC’s vendors on engagement with panel homes, or “people’s meters.”

The agency currently has 44,000-panel households measuring viewership across the country, according to The Wire.

The data collected from these meters were supposed to be kept under wraps. One of the witnesses in the scam on Friday told NDTV that he was bribed by a television channel to watch a certain program every day.

The channels bribed the people to play their channel for a certain time so that their TRP would increase. Reports also stated that some channels also provided different televisions to those houses which were used to track the ratings and told them to keep their channel playing on the TV where the ratings were tracked and whatever they want on the other one.

When was the complaint filed and by whom?

The FIR was registered at Kandivali police station in Mumbai on 6 October 2020.

The complainant is Nitin Kashinath Deokar, a deputy general manager at Hansa Research Group Private Limited, a research company that installs and maintains the ‘BAR-O-Meters’ used by BARC to measure television audience engagement in India.

What sections of the IPC is the FIR under?

The FIR has been registered under Sections 409, 420, 120B, and 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Sections 120B and 34 deal with conspiracy and common intention, and have been included because the case involves more than one person.

  1. Section 420 is of course the offense of cheating under the IPC. This has been invoked here since the accused were interfering with the collection of data in a way that would cause financial losses to channels and advertisers. The manipulated ratings were essentially dishonestly inducing advertisers – including the government – to pay money to particular channels. This can lead to losses of hundreds of crores of rupees, according to the police’s press note.
  2. Section 409 deals with criminal breach of trust. Here, employees of Hansa Research Group were visiting panel homes and interfering with the company’s business. Crucially, they were also revealing information about the impaneled households that were supposed to be kept confidential, according to non-disclosure agreements signed between them and the company.

Actions Taken

Republic TV, one of those charged had put out an official statement refuting all claims and in turn, accused Mumbai Police of malice being the reason for the allegation. 

(You can see their official statement here-https://www.republicworld.com/india-news/general-news/full-news-release-from-republic-media-network.html)

The FIR names Vishal Ved Bhandari as an accused, and notes there are several other unnamed accused based on information from him and the complainant.

No employees/representatives of Republic or India Today have been listed as accused persons in the FIR itself.

The Mumbai Police have arrested four persons till now, including Vishal Ved Bhandari. They have been remanded to the custody of the Mumbai Police’s Crime Branch till 9 October.

The police claim that witnesses have come forward saying they were “induced by the arrested accused persons and their accomplices for a monthly monetary consideration.” People from the impaneled households have allegedly told the police that they would keep their TV sets on with a particular channel running even if they weren’t watching.

Republic CFO S Sundaram has been summoned for questioning.

References:

1.https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/what-is-trp-and-how-is-it-calculated-1524137013-1.

2.https://scroll.in/latest/975494/trp-scam-republic-tv-ceo-vikas-khanchandani-appears-before-mumbai-police-for-questioning.

3.https://www.thequint.com/news/india/details-of-mumbai-police-fir-on-trp-manipulation-racket-india-today-not-republic-vishal-bhandari-hansa-barc.

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