Mumbai police on Monday agreed to first issue summons to Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV, if he is arraigned as accused in the television rating point (TRP) scam unearthed by the crime branch.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who represented the Mumbai police, agreed to the suggestion of the bench comprising justices SS Shinde and Makarand Karnik that the police should first summon Goswami—as has been the case for eight Republic TV employees—if the officer investigating the TRP scam decides to name him as an accused in the case.
The court was hearing a petition filed by ARG Outlier Media Private Limited, which owns the Republic TV and R Bharat news channels, for quashing of the first information report (FIR) registered at Kandivali police station in connection with TRP scam, and also seeking a transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
A first information report was registered with Kandivali police on October 7, 2020, after the crime branch busted a racket involving the fraudulent increase of TRPs of certain channels, by payment to households where barometers were placed for the purpose of measuring TRPs.
In a press conference held the next day, Mumbai Police commissioner (CP) Param Bir Singh informed the media that one of the arrested accused had revealed that he was working for Republic TV and was paying households to fraudulently increase TRPs of the English news channel.
ARG Outlier Media has, however, claimed that the “Mumbai Police, including Param Bir Singh, harbour malice and ill-will against the petitioners as Republic TV and R Bharat have lately been at the forefront in questioning the tardy investigation by Mumbai Police in the Sushant Singh Rajput case and the Palghar lynching incident.”
“As a counterblast, a plethora of false and frivolous legal proceedings have been initiated against the petitioners at the behest of the political dispensation in the state of Maharashtra,” the petition read , adding that the TRP scam case was a part of the design to harass the news channel and its editor.
The petitioner firm has sought a transfer of the case to the central bureau of investigation (CBI) contending that the investigation will have a pan-India effect on various stakeholders, including cable TV operators, broadcasters, media agencies and advertisers. It said criminal culpability of this magnitude required a pan-India investigation by a reputed agency like the CBI to unearth the real conspiracy and alleged malpractices of any stakeholder.
Its counsel, senior advocate Harish Salve, submitted the entire investigation was “a disguise and excuse to target ARG and Republic TV. He said the FIR was liable to be quashed as the police were being entirely and completely biased, after the news channel had questioned their investigation in the Sushant Singh Rajput case and the Palghar lynching case, and urged the Bombay high court to restrain the police from taking any coercive steps against Goswami.
Sibal responded to the petition saying the investigation into TRP scam had nothing to with the Palghar case. “What we are investigating is the aspect of money paid to rig television ratings, the practice of paying money to increase TRP for commercial profit,” said the senior advocate.
Sibal added that the probe is on and investigation is at a nascent stage, and the FIR cannot be quashed at Goswami’s instance, as the FIR does not even mention his name.
Responding to Goswami’s apprehension of arrest, he said that eight Republic TV employees have been summoned by the police in connection with the investigation and none of them has been arrested.
The judges opined that there was no need to pass any interim order, as prayed by Salve, for extending protection from coercive steps, as Goswami’s name was not even included in the FIR. But, they suggested that the police should issue summons, as in case of eight Republic TV employees, in case the investigating officer decides to add Goswami’s name as an accused in the case.
Sibal agreed to the suggestion. Salve said Goswami would “honour the summons, if any, issued by the Mumbai police crime branch… and cooperate with the investigation”.
The Bombay high court has now posted the ARG Outlier Media’s petition for further hearing on November 5, with a direction to the crime branch to submit the TRP scam case papers in a sealed cover for perusal of the court. “We will like to go through the case papers and see what progress has been made in the investigation,” said the court.
During the hearing, the high court expressed displeasure over police disclosures to the media. “We don’t think that it is the correct method or procedure to give interviews to media… not just in this case but in many sensitive matters,” said the bench. “Police officers are not supposed to reveal incriminating material to the media, when investigation is going on.”
“Media is the fourth pillar of democracy… they also need to behave responsibly,” the bench said after Sibal pointed out that the petitioner’s channels, Republic TV and R Bharat had been holding a media trial and vilifying the police.