Pro-Modi Republic TV faces police probe for ratings fraud: Indian media
NEW YORK – India’s most-contentious television channel, Republic TV, a strong supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and known for its virulent anti-Pakistan campaign, is now under criminal investigation for alleged ratings fraud, according to a media report.
The move by Mumbai police drew a strong denial from Arnab Goswami, it’s lead anchor, saying that he was being targeted because of recent coverage that was critical of the police in Mumbai, India’s financial capital which is run by an alliance of opposition parties, The New York Times reported from New Delhi yesterday.
Since the launching of Republic TV three years ago, the newspaper said Goswami has made a name for himself shouting down opponents, embracing right-wing causes and aggressively backing up Prime Minister Modi and his right-leaning government, as Republic TV’s ratings have soared.
“But this week, police officials in Mumbai accused Republic TV and two smaller channels of rigging the ratings system by paying poor people the equivalent of a few dollars a month to tune into the station and leave their televisions on,” the newspaper said.
“In some cases, police officials said, people being bribed to watch the English-language channel did not speak English and were annoyed to tie up their television sets with programming that they couldn’t even understand.”
Those viewership levels are a major factor in a station’s ad revenue, therefore fueling its continuing ability to shape the public discourse, the report noted.
“Republic TV’s dominance has emerged at a time when many Indian journalists say that their freedoms have been eroded under Modi’s government and that he has tried to manipulate the country’s news media, especially the airwaves, like no other prime minister in decades,” the Times said.
“Come to my house, come to my office, if you have the guts,” Goswami was quoted as taunting the police on Thursday night. “Come and arrest me!” He called Mumbai’s police chief, Param Bir Singh, “a spineless man” and “a pliable tool.”
The Times said that while under Prime Minister Modi, liberal media outlets have been repeatedly targeted by senior government officials, who have berated editors, cut off advertising and ordered tax investigations, the right-leaning media organizations like Republic TV, which some refer to as the Fox News of India, are often given preferential treatment.” (Fox News is a conservative American channel which backs President Donald Trump.)
“So even though Mr. Goswami is a friend to the central government, in Mumbai he plays the role of the opposition, hammering state officials and wearing down interviewees in a barrage of loud invective,” the paper said, noting that he recently unleashed a tirade against the Mumbai police, accusing them of bungling an investigation into the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, a popular actor who died in June, apparently by suicide.
Sevanti Ninan, a media columnist in New Delhi, was cited as saying that if Republic TV did tamper with its ratings, it would indicate that their sensational coverage is less of a draw. “It will show that their so-called success is not a reflection of the success of their journalism,” she said.
“There is also suspicion, especially in the Modi camp, that the police are going after Mr. Goswami because of his political views,” the Times pointed out.
“Targeting of the media by #Congress and its allies is against all principles of democracy and is unacceptable,” Modi’s broadcast minister, Prakash Javadekar, wrote on Twitter.
To determine television viewership in India, certain households are selected to have a meter attached to their television to monitor which channels they watch, the report pointed out. These findings are then aggregated to gauge various channels’ popularity, which can make or break them: The more viewers a channel can draw, the more money it can demand for commercials.
The most recent ratings showed Republic TV as the No. 1 English-language news channel. Its Hindi version attracted an even bigger audience — approximately 40 times as many viewers.
Police officials, according to the Times, said that a former employee of a research company hired by the Broadcast Audience Research Council, India’s ratings agency, admitted to having paid households to keep their sets tuned to Republic TV for a specific period each day.
“We have interrogated such customers who were approached and manipulated,” Singh, Mumbai’s police chief, said in a news conference on Thursday. “They admitted that they were paid money to operate that particular channel.”
Police officials said they were investigating “suspicious trends” from two other smaller channels, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema.
One of the police documents also mentioned another channel, India Today, though the police later said they had no solid evidence against it.
The charges under investigation include breach of trust, cheating and conspiracy. Police officials said they had arrested four people and were preparing to interrogate executives of Republic TV.
Goswami said he was ready to face the police interrogation.
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