TRP Scam: ED implicates owners of 3 channels under Money Laundering Act
The Enforcement Directorate has released its Provisional Attachment Order under Section 5 of the Provisions of Money Laundering Act, 2002. The 64-page order names the channels responsible for rigging of TRPs and inflating them for monetary benefit. The findings of the report vindicate the channel Republic TV.
Adgully has been unable to access the original document, but a report published by OpIndia states that the channels - Box Cinema, Fakt Marathi, Maha Movie, News Nation and India Today - have been mentioned. It also claims that India Today has been mentioned 50 times with respect to TRP manipulation. The ED order mentions that the main complainant in the TRP case, Nitin Deokar, Deputy General Manager of Hansa Research Group, testified in his statement that one Vishal Bhandari had admitted to being approached telephonically by a person named Vinay to convince 5 panel homes in Mumbai to watch India Today channel for two hours. Deokar claims that Bhandari was paid Rs 5,000 as a commission and Rs 200 per household was distributed to each panel household for watching the said channel. This was carried out from November 2019 to May 2020.
The order also highlights that Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India’s vigilance head Dharamveer Machecha was informed by the market analytics team of BARC of an abnormal viewership growth of India Today on 25/02/2020 and a field investigation was undertaken. The channel was reinvestigated after 13 weeks and the top 25 household panel were selected, wherein the higher viewership of India Today was observed. Abhijit Mehendale, AVP, BARC, investigated the spike in India Today’s TRPs and found the presence of an extra meter in a panel house that belonged to Vishal Bhandari.
The ED order carries the testimony of former Hansa Research relationship manager, Umesh Chandrakant Mishra, who confessed that he was approached by Vinay Rajendra Tripathi, also a former relationship manager at Hansa, who offered him to convince panel households where Bar-O-Meters were installed to watch the channel India Today for half-an-hour to one hour daily. For this, he was paid Rs 15,000 per month in his bank account.
The ED order also carries testimonies of household owners who have confessed to being paid to watch certain channels. Pulak Banerjee, Vice President, BARC India, in his statement to ED has confirmed abnormalities in viewership of India Today, News Nation, Fakt Marathi, Box Cinema and Maha Movie.
The ED found that payments to households were routed through many intermediaries to obliterate the trail of money. However, financial trail of three channels - Fakt Marathi, Maha Movie and Box TV - have been uncovered from November 2019 to September 2020 with respect to manipulation of ratings.
It states, “It is absolutely clear that the entire revenue generated by the aforesaid four channels, during the tabulated period, were generated by increasing TRP, consequently attracted more clients for advertisement, which in turn increased the revenue for the respective channels. Hence, by committing scheduled offences, the revenue of the four channels was increased during the period.”
The advertising revenue generated during the period of manipulation of TRPs of the channels is termed by ED as ‘proceeds of crime’ under of Section 2 (1)(u) of PMLA, 2002.
In accordance with Section 3 of the PMLA, 2002, the channel owners, namely Narayan Nandkishore Sharma (Owner of Box Cinema), Shirish Pattanshetty (50 per cent owner of Fakt Marathi), Manish Singhal (50 per cent owner of Fakt Marathi), Darshan Singh (Director of the company that runs Maha Movie) and Vishwajeet (Director of the company that runs Maha Movie) are accused of having committed the offence of Money Laundering.
Additionally, the relationship managers, namely, Umesh Mishra, Vishal Ved Bhandari, Dinesh Vishwakarma, Vikas Burungale, Mahesh Bompalli, Ashwin Motiwale and Rajesh Vishwakarma, are also held equally responsible for their assistance in the entire act of money laundering in terms of section 3 of PMLA, 2002.
Truth has the uncanny habit of coming out: Arnab Goswami
Meanwhile, the Enforcement Directorate’s provisional attachment order found mention in Republic TV’s prime time show, Arnab Goswami on The Debate @10, on March 19, 2021. In his introductory address, Goswami said, “203 days back I had told you about the connivance of some officers of the Mumbai Police and Lutyens Media and I had told you that they were in touch with each other. Their CDRs should be checked, they had made elaborate plans to file fake cases against Republic to fix the Republic Media Network. But we have fought and we have fought together with you and we always believe that truth has the uncanny habit of coming out. And today it is beginning to come out and how!”
Continuing further, Goswami said, “The Enforcement Directorate’s provisional attachment order does not name Republic, but – and this is an important but viewers – the news channel that was originally named in the FIR is named in the ED provisional attachment order, not once, not twice, but 50 times. And the Republic Media Network has been vindicated. We’ve come out completely clean. All the charges against us in the TRP case were fabricated and false.”