The Mumbai Police told the Bombay High Court on Wednesday that it will not take any coercive action till January 6 next year against ARG Outlier Media’s officials and employees, who are named in its charge sheet in the alleged TRP (Television Rating Points) rigging case. A bench of Justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik accepted the statement and extended its order protecting such employees till January 6, the next date of hearing in the matter.
The ARG Outlier Media operates Republic TV. It has approached the HC, seeking, among other things, that the police be restrained from taking coercive action against its employees.
Public Prosecutor Deepak Thakare, who appeared for the Mumbai Police, had made a statement on Tuesday before the bench on instructions that no coercive action would be taken against ARG media’s employees till December 16. On Wednesday, the Maharashtra government’s counsel, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, submitted that the police will not take coercive action till January 6.
Sibal also said the police will file a reply to the petition before the next date of hearing. On Tuesday, advocate Abad Ponda, who appeared for the ARG Outlier Media, read out from the charge sheet to point out that the police had mentioned owners, managers and related persons of Republic TV as suspects in the case.
The charge sheet read, “Republic Channel, maalak, chaalak ani sambandhit vyakti" (Republic channel, owner, managers and related persons). Advocate Ponda had said this could mean the police could arrest anyone related to the channel and that the same constituted “gross illegality".
This had prompted the bench to remark that the words maalak, chalak were so “broad that they may include anyone, even reporters on the field". The bench had then asked advocate Thakare to take instructions from the police on no coercive action against the employees till further hearing on December 16.
On Wednesday, as all parties sought additional time for further arguments, Sibal submitted that while the police will continue with its investigation into the case, it will not take any coercive action till the next date. The ARG Outlier Media has filed several pleas and interim applications in the Bombay HC, urging the court to transfer the probe into the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or any other independent agency.
The pleas also urge the court to stay, in the meanwhile, any further investigation into the case, and to restrain the police from taking any coercive action against the petitioners, their employees or investors. The police began a probe in the alleged TRP scam after ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) filed a complaint through Hansa Research Agency about rigging of TRP by some channels.
TRP, measured by recording viewership data at sample households, is crucial for attracting advertisers. The BARC engaged Hansa to install and maintain barometers which record TV viewership data at sample households.
It was alleged that some of these families were being bribed to tune into certain channels to ramp up their TRP. In a charge sheet filed recently, the police alleged that an official of Hansa paid money to sample households to tune into Box Cinema, Fakt Marathi, Maha Movie and Republic TV.
The Republic TV has denied any wrongdoing. The police have so far arrested 13 people in the case.