Mumbai: In the ongoing investigation into the alleged manipulation of television rating points (TRP), the Mumbai police has submitted damning messages that were allegedly exchanged between Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta, the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) discussing ways to “manipulate” the ratings.
The WhatsApp chats – running over 1000 pages – suggest complicity between the two and are part of the 3400-page supplementary chargesheet that the Mumbai police filed earlier this week. The messages also show Goswami’s proximity to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the information and broadcast ministry, also suggesting that he misused this access.
Even while the chargesheet focusses on the conversations between Dasgupta and Goswami, the Mumbai police have curiously not mentioned Goswami among those accused in the case. Dasgupta, on the other hand, is named as a prime accused in the scam and is already in custody, the 15th – and latest yet – to be arrested in the case.
At the time Dasgupta was arrested in late December 2020, the police claimed that he had been bribed to the tune of lakhs to manipulate Republic TV’s TRPs. “Dasgupta misused his official position and manipulated TRP of specific news channels broadcast by ARG Outlier Media Pvt Ltd such as Republic Bharat Hindi and Republic TV English,” the remand notice said.
The messages also suggest that Goswami was in the know about key decisions that the Central government took, even those that were closely guarded. He seems to be aware of the Balakot airstrike and the revocation of Article 370 in advance, highlighting his close connections with the upper echelons of government.
The Wire has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the messages that the Mumbai police have annexed.
The TRP scam came to light in October last year, when BARC – the primary body that publishes TRPs in India – filed a police complaint through its associate Hansa Research Group, claiming that several news channels – including Republic TV – were involved in a TRP ‘rigging’ scam. Eventually, employees from both BARC and Republic TV were named in the FIR. The Mumbai police is also probing the role of other channels like Fakt Marathi, Box Cinema, News Nation, Mahamovies, and Wow music channel for allegedly tampering and inflating their viewership numbers.
According to the WhatsApp chats, Goswami and Dasgupta, who were colleagues at the Times Group, discussed rival channels and expressed disappointment over those channels outperforming Republic TV. While Dasgupta reassures Goswami, the latter continued to express his displeasure to the then BARC chief.
The discussion, which started in early 2017, continue on a regular interval until October 10, 2020, even after Dasgupta’s departure as CEO of BARC in October 2019. In many conversations, the duo discusses how Republic TV can become the channel with the highest TRP.
‘Get me a media advisor kind of position’
The messages also show that Dasgupta was aware of the influence Goswami had over the PM’s office and in one instance, asks Goswami to ‘speak to his contacts” and get him placed as an “advisor” at the PMO. “If you can please get me a media advisor kind of position with PMO,” Dasgupta wrote to Goswami on October 16, 2019. A day earlier, Goswami mentions meeting one ‘AS’. While it is not clear who is this AS that Goswami was talking about, the initials keep reappearing in the conversations very often.
The messages annexed by the Mumbai police span over three years and show exchanges between the accused and Goswami over significant news breaks. From the messages, Goswami appears to be a keen follower of other news channels and their performances on a daily basis.
From the Pulwama terror attack to the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, everything is discussed at length in these chats. Soon after the Pulwama attack on February 14, 2019, in which 40 soldiers were killed, Goswami writes to Dasgupta acknowledging how the attack has helped his channel. “This attack we have won like crazy,” he allegedly wrote to Dasgupta the same evening at 5:43 pm.
A similar conversation continued over the following weeks, where Goswami was seemingly aware of military operations well in advance. The Balakot airstrike, which was carried out by Indian warplanes early on February 26, was purportedly discussed on February 23 – three days before the top secret mission.
When Goswami says that “something big” is soon going to happen, Dasgupta asks if it is “Dawood”. Goswami replies, “No sir Pakistan. Something major will be done this time…. Bigger than a normal strike. And also on the same time something major on Kashmir. On Pakistan the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated. Exact words used (sic).”
A day after the Balakot attack, Dasgupta appears to have inquired if that is what Goswami was talking about. To this, Goswami says, “More to come.”
Although Dasgupta freely discusses a range of topics with Goswami, he also seems concerned about both his position at BARC and later, about being implicated in a criminal case. In one instance, Dasgupta shares his anxiety over the possibility of his passport being impounded.
The chats annexed in the chargesheet also indicate that as soon as the Mumbai police’s inquiry into the scam began in October last year, their conversations came to a halt.
Malayalam channel and RSS funding
In another WhatsApp chat, Dasgupta and another accused, Ramgaria, discuss Malayalam channel Janam TV. Ramgaria mentions about the phenomenal “100 percent growth” in the channel’s viewership in the week when the controversy over the Supreme Court’s decision to allow women to enter the Sabarimala temple was at its peak in November 2018.
In the chat with Dasgupta, Ramgaria says that the Kerala-based Janam TV did well in all 14 districts of the state, more so in those closer to the temple. This, apparently was noticed by the PMO, Dasgupta claims in the chat, to which Ramgaria claims that the channel has “RSS funding”.
Besides the annexed WhatsApp chats, the police have recorded statements of 59 witnesses, including 15 experts. The police have said that the investigation is still on and that another supplementary chargesheet will follow in the case.