Arnab Goswami Versus Mumbai Police: A Dangerous Erosion Of Trust
Mumbai Police's desperation to nail the Republic TV boss, despite not obtaining judicially acceptable evidence, is causing erosion of trust of the common man in the state due to its use of brute power.
That it has taken another government agency — the Enforcement Directorate — to expose the chinks in its investigative methods makes for even poorer optics.
Ever since Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami raised the Palghar sadhu lynching issue in his vociferous style, he has been a target of the current coalition government in Maharashtra and the Mumbai Police.
What has not helped his cause is that the criminal laws of our country, largely inherited from the British era, are so framed that, regardless of the eventual outcome in a court of law, the process one is subjected to itself becomes the punishment.
The in the hastily reopened abetment-to- suicide case provided a glaring example of blatant abuse of basic rights of liberty and due process, as the Supreme Court scathingly earlier this month while granting him bail.
Another salvo fired at him and his channel since the past two months, in what seems to increasingly look like shooting arrows in the dark, is the TRP scam case.
In a classic case of incessant shifting of goalposts, the allegations have swiveled from allegedly bribing television watchers to watch a particular channel — Republic TV, in this case — to suspicious money trails, to allegations of hawala transactions, to then placing Republic TV on more than one Logical Channel Number (i.e., not just in the News genre, but also other genres so as to feature Republic TV in more than one list, increasing its chances of viewership).
In early October, the Mumbai Police Commissioner held a press conference, levelling charges at Republic TV, in that it manipulated television viewership data by paying money to several households to keep Republic TV on their television screens, thereby increasing its TRPs.
This, the Commissioner alleged, was done by ex-employees of a company named Hansa Research, sending out shockwaves.
Hansa Research is contracted by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to install barometers in households. These barometers record viewership data, which is then used to determine TRPs.
BARC is an industry body representing broadcasters, advertisers and media agencies which, among other things, measures viewership of TV channels and publishes TRPs on a periodic basis.
While the rest of the media went into a frenzy following this press conference, it soon emerged that the First Information Report (FIR), which was actually filed with Mumbai Police, did not mention Republic TV, but had, in fact, named a rival news channel, India Today, in regard to financial inducements made to watch the channel.
The FIR was filed by Hansa Research against one of its employees, who reportedly confessed to have received money to pay households to watch India Today. Annexed to the FIR was a complaint by BARC, which had named India Today and “other channels”, but not Republic TV.
Moreover, BARC stated in multiple emails to Republic TV that there were no disciplinary proceedings against Republic Network for viewership malpractices.
Therefore, on what basis the Commissioner named Republic TV in his press conference remains perplexing. Neither Hansa Research, the original complainant, nor BARC, whose report is enclosed with the FIR, had named Republic TV.
As investigation proceeded in the matter, the Mumbai Police informed the media that they were in possession of 'witness statements' recorded before a magistrate pursuant to Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
While Mumbai Police relied on that to imply finality to the witness statements, the Supreme Court has held time and again that such evidence is “always suspect” and “cannot be accepted as universally true” without any reservation.
Courts routinely assure themselves whether the witness was free from threat, duress or inducement at the time the statements were made.
And that is precisely what would soon surface as an issue, with the claims of the Mumbai Police. Audio tapes that witnesses were apparently pressured and intimidated to incriminate Republic TV.
Moreover, additional happenings indicate a persistent plot to somehow entangle Republic TV.
Nawab Malik, currently a minister in the Maharashtra government, was caught in a stating that Goswami was “stuck in the TRP case” and that he “will get trapped”.
He went on to 'prophesise' that the path Goswami had taken could lead him to commit suicide.
Raghvendra Shukla, a Congress party spokesperson, a 'strategy' wherein Goswami would have to be locked up, and thus nobody could save him from being banned, and more issues similar to the TRP scam would come out.
Additionally, about a month after the FIR was filed, Hansa Research, in a petition filed before the Bombay High Court seeking transfer of the probe from Mumbai Police to the CBI, stated that Mumbai Police was harassing and forcing it to make false statements against the Republic Media Network.
Employees of Hansa Research, it stated, are held at the Crime Branch for several hours, questioned without written notice, threatened with arrest and repeatedly pressured to make false statements.
Bizarrely, the original complainant which brought these malpractices to the Mumbai Police’s attention has now become the harassed victim because, as per its petition, it isn’t incriminating Republic Network.
In the meanwhile, Republic Network’s Assistant Vice-President, Ghanshyam Singh, is in judicial custody on a charge that he paid certain third-party individuals large sums of hard cash to distribute to households in order to influence and boost the TRPs.
The allegation is that the money was routed through ‘hawala’ and money laundering charges were also thrown in. After all, Mumbai Police claimed, the money had to originate from somewhere and be routed in some way.
Mumbai Police has further stated that advertising revenues generated through this alleged manipulation would be treated as ‘proceeds of crime’ and advertisers, too, will be interrogated.
This resulted in the Enforcement Directorate stepping in and filing an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR). Surprisingly, and very bizarrely, , the Enforcement Directorate learnt that Mumbai Police had not summoned any raw data from BARC, i.e., details of the barometers installed in households which would give channels vital information on who to bribe.
So, effectively, Mumbai Police, which claimed it has 'witness' statements admitting to receiving bribes to keep Republic TV on, never asked BARC for this data which could help it corroborate those statements.
Could it be that, upon analysing the data, its claims may not hold water or that it may take the investigation in a different direction?
After all, the initial complaint which started this investigation specifically mentioned how persons were paid bribes to watch India Today and other channels for two hours.
The Mumbai Police then tried its luck in an area which is within the remit of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). TRAI periodically receives complaints that news channels, including Republic TV, place their channel on different genres (Dual Logical Channel Number) to increase visibility when a customer scans through the list on his/her television.
The TRAI Act itself makes it clear that no court can take cognizance of an offence which is punishable under that law or rules or regulations made thereunder.
Therefore, if at all there is a violation, the law gives TRAI a procedure to follow to ensure compliance.
The conduct of the Mumbai Police in this case so far leads to a dangerous erosion of trust within the common man in the State and its agencies. It betrays an attempt to somehow throw darts in the dark and hope that one of them sticks as long as possible so as to inflict pain on a channel and its editor-in-chief who is seen as inconvenient by them as well as the ruling government in the State of Maharashtra.
If nothing else, the scathing words of the Supreme Court in the abetment to suicide case should serve as a warning to the authorities that, with the power they have, comes responsible exercise of that power.
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