BARC top ex-employees manipulated TRPs to favour Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV, forensic audit confirms
According to the audit report, former CEO Partho Dasgupta was specifically aware of “changes” in TRPs for at least two channels, Times Now and Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV
A forensic audit of the operations of Broadcast Research Audience Council (BARC) has revealed that a group of its former executives – CEO Partho Dasgupta, COO Romil Ramgarhia, head of products for south Venkat Sujit Samrat, vice president for strategy Pekham Basu, west zone head Rushabh Mehta, and chief people officer and HR head Manashi Kumar – “manipulated” TRPs, violated BARC’s code of ethics between 2016 and 2019 and allegedly misused company funds to buy “expensive gifts”.
The audit was done by Acquisory Risk Consulting Pvt Ltd, or ARCPL, a Mumbai-based risk management consultancy after it was approached by the BARC board last March, as per a newsreport carried by News Laundry.
According to the audit report, Dasgupta was specifically aware of “changes” in TRPs for at least two channels, Times Now and Republic TV.
In June 2017, for instance, Ramgarhia and Mehta exchanged emails about the ratings for week 24 in the English news genre. “As required, Times Now numbers were changed, while Republic is kept the same,” Mehta wrote. “Republic is number 1 at all India level.” Mehta wrote that there was a “significant decrease” in Times Now impressions and that Republic TV was “becoming No. 1 in India, India Rural, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore”. Ramgarhia forwarded this email to Dasgupta.
On July 11, 2017, Mehta emailed Dasgupta the data for English news channels for week 27. “Times Now, CNN-News18 will be changed,” he wrote. On July 17, Mehta emailed the updates for week 28, writing, “Times Now will be changed.”
The audit report notes that “impressions of Times Now had been decreased drastically across the universe and 22+ M AB. The impressions of Republic TV remained unchanged.” Here, “22+ M AB” refers to men above 22 years of age, a classification for measuring TRPs as per the News Consumer Classification System.
On August 14 and 16, Mehta emailed Dasgupta, Ramgarhia and Base the ratings in the English news genre. “While comparing the details,” the audit report states, “we found that ratings of Times Now had been decreased drastically across the universe and 22+ M AB. This resulted in Republic TV rating going above that of Times Now.”
This is one of several similar emails that the report concludes show BARC executives pushed the ratings of Republic TV above that of Times Now.
Living the good life
In November 2017, BARC’s senior management went to Barcelona, Nice and Monaco for an offsite trip. Dasgupta was among them. The audit report details a number of communications about the planning of this trip, as reported by News Laundry.
In May that year, Manashi Kumar emailed an employee of Magnanimous Group, a luxury event planner in Mumbai, to make arrangements for the trip. “Partho and his wife would like to stay on the beach (ideally a good property on the beach),” Kumar wrote. “He would like to have a car with him during his stay at Barca (he would like to know the choices although he clearly prefers a convertible).”
The Magnanimous employee wrote back: “Our supplier for the Ferrari will be at the hotel...for the delivery of the Ferrari California.” On arrangements for a minivan to make an excursion, the email added: “The Ferrari of the CEO will go to the excursion too.” The audit report notes, “Other members of the trip were forced to bear the expense for this.”
In May 2018, Ramgarhia purchased a Rolex watch for an undisclosed sum using his credit card. BARC reimbursed him on Dasgupta’s approval, the report says, adding, “Rolex watch was presented to Partho on his birthday.”
Similar expenses flagged in the audit report include an “expensive gift” approved by Kumar for Bollywood director Karan Johar in November 2017. The price of the gift is not mentioned, though the attached emails show it was bought from Gucci, the NL newsreport said.
It may be recalled that Dasgupta was arrested on December 24 last year in connection with the TRP scam and is currently in custody. His bail plea was dismissed by a Mumbai sessions court on January 20. His role in the scam came under further scrutiny last week when the Mumbai police released purported WhatsApp conversations between him and Republic TV chief Arnab Goswami. Republic has been named as being involved in the TRP scam.
Ramgarhia quit as COO last July and was arrested by the Mumbai police in December. He was later released on bail. Kumar, Mehta and Samrat have also left BARC.