Responding to the Bombay high court’s query on why Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami and ARG Outlier Media were not named as accused in the television ratings points (TRP) manipulation case, the state on Thursday said it was not in a position to answer the question immediately, but it had the right to investigate a case for long as needed.
The court thereafter observed that there was a need for investigation agencies to have a reasonable approach as faith of the public in them depended on it. After the state assured the court that the interim relief against coercive action to Goswami and other employees of ARG Outlier would continue for two weeks, the court posted the hearing for Monday.
A division bench of justice SS Shinde and justice Manish Pitale, while hearing the petition by ARG Outlier and Goswami seeking quashing of the FIR and chargesheet in the TRP manipulation case, was informed by chief public prosecutor Deepak Thakare submitted that as there were no statutory restriction, investigation would go on as long as needed.
The court while accepting the submission however said that rather than keeping the petitioners on tenterhooks, the police could call on them as per clause 12 of the charge sheet which mentions chalak and malak (operator and owner) by issuing them notice. The court gave the example of the Dabholkar and Pansare case and said that it was not asking the state to give a time limit for completion of the investigations.
Senior counsel Ashok Mundargi for the petitioners drew the attention of the bench to the fact that the alleged crime that the channel was involved in was influencing cable operators to place the channel at the top of the bouquet which they offered to subscribers. The action, Mundargi said, even if constituted an offence, could be dealt with by TRAI. He added that the company and Goswami were willing to cooperate with the investigation provided they were told what their alleged offences were. As the police was being evasive by keeping the investigations open ended, their apprehension of being arrested was not out of place, he said. He also referred to the two charge sheets filed till now in the case and said the claims that the TRP ratings throughout the country were manipulated by rigging a few barometers in Mumbai was not possible.
After hearing the submissions the bench observed, “In a democratic set up, there has to be reasonability and objectiveness. Hence what we want to know when will you complete the investigation…There is a concept of welfare state. The state and the investigating officer should stop at one stage. It cannot continue for years together.”
The fake TRP scam came to light in October when ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group, alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers. Hansa is one of BARC’s vendors on engagement with panel homes or people’s meters. TRP, measured by recording viewership data at sample households, is crucial for attracting advertisers. As per the police, some of these households were being bribed to tune into Republic TV and a few other channels. Republic TV has denied wrongdoing.