Republic TV on Sunday said it will not succumb to any efforts to curtail editorial freedom, after its CEO and COO were questioned by Mumbai police in connection with a TRP manipulation investigation. The two senior Republic officials appeared before the Mumbai police on Sunday for questioning in the Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation racket, an official said.
"If there is an attempt to use state machinery to scrutinise the sources of an independent media network and bring back an Emergency-style editorial control into the media, we will stand strongly against it," Republic TV said. Police had issued summons to Republic TV's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Vikas Khanchandani and two Chief Operating Officers (COO) for questioning in the case.
Khanchandani and COO Harsh Bhandari, who appeared before the police on Sunday, were questioned for nine and five hours respectively, police said. Police also recorded the statement of Ghanshyam Singh, a senior member of Republic TV's distribution team.
In a statement, Republic Media Network said it won't"give in to any endeavours" to curtail editorial freedom. "Today our CEO, COO and a senior member of ourDistribution team were questioned by the Mumbai Police for 20hours in all. We are shocked to learn that in the course ofquestioning the Republic Media Networks CEO Vikas Khanchandani, Mumbai Police made multiple attempts to probe indetail as to how the Network accessed the Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd. (Hansa) complaint.
"Specific, repeated and detailed questioning went on about how Republic accessed the Hansa complaint report which blew the lid off the lies peddled against Republic Media Network," the statement said. "As everyone is aware, the Hansa complaint report made multiple mentions of India Today without a single reference toRepublic TV, Republic Bharat or any affiliate of the Republic Media Network. The report which was bereft of any mention of Republic was the very basis of the FIR, and was put into the public domain by Republic on 10 October, 2020," it said.
"We believe that the very fact that the Mumbai Police was continually probing for Republic Media Networks editorial sources stands in complete breach of the freedom of the press in India. We believe that it is inappropriate to probe any media organisation for its sources. Republic TV claimed that Mumbai police repeatedlyasked the CEO how, when and from where the Network accessed the Hansa complaint report and that he informed police that it is an editorial matter.
"Republic stands against any strong arm tactics to try and access the sources of an independent media. We consider the attempt to probe for Republics sources a serious infringement and utter violation of the right to report in a country with a free media," the statement said. "Republic Media Network reiterates that, at any cost, we will not disclose our sources to the Mumbai Police, or anyone, and will protect our democratic right as journalists.
Republic will go through endless hours of questioning, but will not reveal its sources in order to uphold our journalistic rights. "If the Mumbai Police is uncomfortable with the fact that the Hansa complaint report is now in the public domain and, with it, crumbles the false narrative that was built against Republic, that does not give them the right to infringe upon the freedom of the press. We will protect our sources based on principle and editorial integrity, no matter what," it said.
"What is happening in Maharashtra and in Mumbai specifically today is a shocking case, before the world, of the state trying to muzzle a free press. It is in complete contravention of the Constitutional right of a free press under Article 19 (1)(a) and serves as a terrible blot on the tenets of our great democracy. Republic alleged that Mumbai police seem to be turning the freedom of the press "in this great democracy upside down and we stand firmly against any such attempts." "The Republic Media Network will not give in to any endeavours to curtail editorial freedom, no matter who and how hard the attempt is on the other side," the statement said.
Four persons, including owners of two Marathi channels, have been arrested in connection with the case so far, police said. Republic TV's Chief Finance Officer Shiva Subramaniyam Sundaram and Singh earlier chose not to appear before police, saying the TV channel has approached Supreme Court for relief.
Two employees of Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi channels were also summoned by the crime branch of Mumbai police. Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh had claimed that Republic TV and the two Marathi channels had manipulated TRPs.
The TRP racket was unearthed after a police complaint by Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd, the agency contracted by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) to place audience meters to monitor TV channels watched by households.