ARG Outlier Media Pvt., the parent company of news channel Republic TV, told the Bombay High Court that the charge sheets filed by Mumbai Police do not disclose a shred of evidence to support the charges levelled against Republic TV and its employees including the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV channel, Arnab Goswami in relation to the alleged Television Rating Points scam (TRP scam).
In a rejoinder affidavit filed before the Bombay High Court, ARG Outlier claimed that they have been targeted and falsely implicated in the alleged TRP scam due to the fearless news reporting done by Republic TV on the Maharashtra police’s investigation into the Sushant Singh Rajput case and Palghar lynching incident.
“The chargesheet though voluminous in weight is negligible in evidence against petitioners…the law-and-order officers have failed to establish a single shred of evidence against the company in their chargesheet,” the rejoinder affidavit said.
The affidavit was filed in response to the reply filed by the Mumbai Police to ARG’s plea challenging the criminal proceedings initiated against their channel and the employees in the TRP Scam case.
Some of the submissions from the affidavit are as follows:
Malicious nature and contents in the chargesheet
ARG has claimed the political vendetta and malicious witch hunt of the Mumbai Police continues unabated as the FIR registered has materialised into a chargesheet and supplementary chargesheet.
The chargesheet is a desperate attempt by the Crime Branch (of Mumbai Police) to delay and defeat the hearing of the captioned writ petition, the rejoinder affidavit states.
The Crime Branch of Mumbai Police could not find anything incriminating against Republic TV channels of ARG Outlier, and yet they added the owners and operators of the channel as accused persons not chargesheeted (suspects) in the chargesheet, it has been contended.
“This nomenclature of ‘suspect’ in a chargesheet is both unprecedented and illegal and exposes the fact that the investigating agencies are functioning with a preconceived notion and pre-scripted outcomes vis-a-vis the investigation even as the law-and-order officers have failed to establish a single shred of evidence against the company in their chargesheet,” ARG Outlier has submitted.
The chargesheet added the top echelon of the company as suspects/ wanted accused without any evidence to substantiate why they were added, it has been alleged.
It is Republic TV’s case that there is not a single shred of evidence of wrongdoing in the chargesheets and a combined reading of the chargesheets do not disclose the commission of offences by the petitioners.
“It is reiterated that while a series of canards have been uttered and spread regarding the Petitioners and its affiliates, there is still not a single shred of wrongdoing or any evidence, at all, that establishes any financial trail of inducement for buying/ manipulation/ doctoring of TRPs by the Petitioners,” the affidavit states.
ARG has further submitted that the chargesheet was filed only to tarnish the reputation of their employees in the industry “especially since the chargesheet though voluminous in weight is negligible in evidence against petitioners.”
The affidavit has also alleged that the Crime Branch falsely implicated the key officials of ARG Outlier in a desperate attempt to pressurise them to implicate both petitioners in the alleged TRP Scam,
The Chief Executive Officer Vikas Khanchandani and Assistant Vice President Ghanshyam Singh were both charge sheeted as accused despite them having complied with each summons, it said.
“It is a matter of public record that Mr. Singh was physically and mentally tortured in custody to falsely self-incriminate and falsely implicate his organisation.” the affidavit states.
ARG has further claimed that the Mumbai Police filed the chargesheets in a hurried manner even though they had a statutory period of 90 days to complete the investigation.
The affidavit states that “no explanation had been given in the chargesheet as to why it was required to be filed when further investigation was to be conducted in relation to the same set of facts and circumstances which existed before the filing of chargesheet.”
Referring to the reliance placed on forensic reports in the chargesheets, ARG has stated that the first report was prepared on the Broadcast Audience Research Council’s request based on the complaints of alleged malpractices about the weekly ratings and internal processes.
However, the second report, it has alleged, is a self-serving and specially prepared report based on the information and documents made available to Sarath Associates, a CA firm having no subject-matter expertise.
Purported WhatsApp chats between Goswami and former BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta
In this regard, it has been contended that the purported WhatsApp chats were selectively leaked, twisted and doctored to create prejudice and discredit the petitioners despite the fact that the chats have nothing to do with the TRP case and establishes no wrongdoing on the part of the petitioners.
“The Respondent no. 3 (Crime Branch) has purposefully filed voluminous purported WhatsApp chats to prejudice the investigation and in a clear attempt to divert attention from the real issues involved in the matter,” the affidavit states.
ARG has also alleged that the police may have purposefully deleted some chats in an attempt to mislead the court.
The affidavit has also relied upon emails from BARC to argue that as per the BARC there were no pending proceedings against Republic TV channels and no disciplinary action had been taken against the Republic Media Network in the context of TRP Manipulation.
Investigation in a matter being wholly in TRAI Jurisdiction
Another contention in the affidavit of ARG is that the aspect of placement of channels on the dual Logical Channel Number (LCN) / promotional LCN is strictly within the domain of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
The Crime Branch has supposedly admitted that the purported TRP scam arises out of issues in relation to Multi-system operators (MSOs) for placement of channels, placement of a channel on landing page and broadcasting of channels on dual / promotional frequencies.
The Mumbai Police, having failed to implicate the petitioners in the alleged TRP scam, is now probing matters which are totally unconnected with this case in an attempt to fasten criminal culpability on them for other false and frivolous issues, the rejoinder affidavit alleges.
Investigation by the ED and taking on record of its status report
ARG had filed an interim application for impleading the Enforcement Directorate as a party to the present petition for the Court to examine if the findings of investigative bodies are divergent or convergent.
ED admittedly has registered a Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) in relation to the financial transactions in relation to the TRP Scam. ARG’s affidavit states that the opposition by the Mumbai Police to take on record, the report submitted by ED only raises further suspicion as to the nature of investigation being carried out by the police.
No complaints from any advertisers or third parties
The affidavit also points out that to make out the offence of cheating and breach of trust against the accused persons in the TRP Scam, the person cheated must necessarily be the complainant.
However, as per ARG, the actual stakeholders who are supposed to be affected by the alleged fake TRP scam are the advertisers and media houses, who are not the complainants in this case.
The affidavit has also reiterated incidents of harassment to their employees under the garb of investigation and interrogation in the TRP scam.
To substantiate their arguments, ARG has also relied upon a report of an independent online news portal, OpIndia which had allegedly carried a recording a conversation between two people – one allegedly being coerced by Mumbai Police to false implicate Republic Bharat channel.