The Mumbai Police on Tuesday assured the Bombay High Court that no coercive action will be taken till December 16 against officials and employees of ARG Outlier Media, which operates Republic TV, who have been named in the chargesheet in the TRP (Television Rating Points) rigging case. The ARG Outlier Media had approached the HC seeking, among other things, that the police be restrained from taking any coercive action against its employees.
Public Prosecutor Deepak Thakare, who appeared for the Mumbai Police, made a statement before a bench of Justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik that no coercive action will be taken against employees of ARG Outlier Media. Earlier in the day, advocate Abad Ponda, who appeared for ARG Outlier Media, had read out from the chargesheet to point out that the police had mentioned the owners, managers, and related persons of Republic TV, as suspects in the case.
The chargesheet read, "Republic Channel, maalak, chaalak ani sambandhit vyakti" (Republic channel, owner, managers and related persons). Advocate Ponda said this could mean that the police could arrest anyone related to the channel and that the same constituted "gross illegality." This prompted the bench to remark that the words 'maalak' and 'chalak' were so "broad that they may include anyone, even reporters on the field".
The bench then asked advocate Thakare to take instructions from the police that no coercive action will be taken against the employees till further hearing on December 16. "Why can't you make a statement that you (police) will not take any coercive action till tomorrow?," the bench asked.
"No one is stopping you from investigating," it said. Following the HC's remarks, advocate Thakare made the statement assuring the court that no arrests will be made and no other coercive action will be taken against the employees referred to in the chargesheet in the case, till Wednesday.
The HC recorded this statement. It will continue to hear the matter on Wednesday. ARG Outlier Media had filed several pleas and interim applications in the HC urging transfer of the probe in the TRP case to the Central Bureau of Investigation or any other independent agency.
The pleas also requested the high court to stay in the meanwhile, any further investigation in 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 persons, including Republic Media Network's CEO Vikas Khanchandani, in the case.