The Mumbai Police has filed a supplementary charge sheet in the fake TRP scam case that includes extensive purported WhatsApp chats of Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, which have now been leaked on social media and across news outlets.
There are around 500 pages of WhatsApp conversations from former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta’s phone annexed with that chargesheet, including alleged conversations with Goswami. Dasgupta had been arrested in the case back in December 2020, during which time his phone had been seized.
The alleged chats show Goswami complaining about TRP rankings of his competitors, while Dasgupta complains to him about the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and requests him to help him get an advisor post with the Prime Minister’s Office.
It also includes several controversial alleged conversations between Goswami and Dasgupta regarding various news events (and Republic’s coverage of them), including the Pulwama attack and the Balakot air strike in February 2019.
Did Arnab Have Advance Knowledge of the Balakot Air Strike?
On 14 February 2019, a terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy near Pulwama led to the deaths of 40 military personnel. In alleged texts to Dasgupta on the day, Goswami first purportedly mentions that his channel was “20 min ahead on the biggest terrorist attack of the year in Kashmir”.
He then appears to go on to say, with regard to his channel’s coverage: “This attack we have won like crazy”.
The Indian Air Force conducted a retaliatory strike on a reported terrorist camp in Pakistan at Balakot on 26 February 2019.
On 23 February 2019, three days before this happened, Goswami allegedly told Dasgupta that “something big will happen.”
When Dasgupta asked whether he meant something about Dawood, Goswami allegedly replied: “No sir Pakistan. Something major will be done this time.”
Dasgupta replies that this is good, and then goes on to say:
“It’s good for big man in this season”
“He will sweep polls then”
“Strike? Or bigger”
Goswami allegedly responds to this by saying:
"“Bigger than a normal strike. And also on the same time something major on Kashmir. On Pakistan the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated. Exact words used.”"
This appears to indicate not only that Goswami had some advance knowledge that the government was going to retaliate in a big way to the Pulwama attack, days before the Balakot air strike, but that the potential public reaction to this retaliation was part of the information he obtained.
NSA Wanted to Know How Arnab Got Kashmir News
Goswami also appears to have had some advance knowledge of the abrogation of Article 370 and the resultant change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir, which the government pushed through on 5 August 2019.
On 2 August, he was allegedly asked by Dasgupta if it was true that Article 370 would be revoked. Goswami replied saying “SIR I HAVE SET PLATINUM STANDARDS IN BREAKNG AND THIS STORY IS OURS”, before adding that he was meeting the National Security Advisor (Ajit Doval) and the PMO in the next few days.
On 4 August 2019, Goswami allegedly claims his channels broke the information about the situation in J&K. He purportedly messages Dasgupta to say: “Boss- we broke the information at 12:19, Aaj Tak at 12:57. Shared a screen shot, in case it is of any help” . At 12:15 am on 5 August 2019, he allegedly texted Dasgupta to say, ”Only network that is live and broken the biggest story. Republic network breaks the biggest story of the year as 144 is put in motion.”
Goswami talks about the massive buildup of Republic reporters sent to Kashmir in the buildup to those days and the ground reporting they have been able to do. He allegedly explains that the reason there was a mix of Hindi and English coverage even on his English channel was because the first group of reporters who reached Srinagar were from his Hindi channel, Republic Bharat. He allegedly indicates that even NSA Doval wanted to know how he got the news.
"“Last night I had the biggest story first. Today I was called by NSA and asked how I got the news. Everyone in NSA PMO everyone hooked to Bharat and republic. It’s complete madness. Doval met me before taking off for Srinagar. They will push this though.”"
Arnab Claims to Know PM’s Opinion About TV Ratings Issue
There are two technical issues that Goswami and Dasgupta allegedly discussed at great length when it came to the ratings process. These include the way in which landing pages on DTH systems could be used to manipulate ratings for channels and a TRAI proposal to install new technology in set top boxes to assess channel viewership instead of the current BARC system of empanelled households.
On the issue of the landing page issue, in July 2019 Dasgupta complained that Arnab hadn’t taken what needed to be done seriously, and that he was now being accused of siding with Goswami in the BARC board. Goswami allegedly thought that the board would be on the same side as him on the landing issue but was told by Dasgupta that this wasn’t the case. Goswami claimed to know the government’s view about this (including PM Modi’s view) in an interesting exchange.
The alleged conversation between him and Dasgupta went as follows:
AG: The board is firmly against landing
AG: Because they know the government is against it.
AG: Yes they are and will be
AG: Nobody cares fight the govt
AG: The government and you are on the same page. Speak to Shashi and share your views. Don’t give in.
PDG: Wonder why is Govt not helping me then and letting people run with their opinions - who don’t understand implications
PDG: None in Board understands News
AG: Government is 100 percent against landing. It has affected BARC image in a big way
AG: Prime minister himself is against this landing and know about it.
AG: Have no doubt about it
PDG: Yes but only i am facing the music - govt not calling and telling anyone anything
AG: Government will act
Dasgupta was also upset with the TRAI proposal which he claimed would hurt ‘both parties’, and with TRAI’s comments about BARC when the proposal was being mooted, according to The Print. “TRAI spreading misinformation against us that we are not putting on ratings. I helped BJP on that advertiser story too... it’s time they shaft people who are against them,” he reportedly told Goswami in March 2019.
Goswami later allegedly texted him to say that “In two months if BJP comes TRAI won’t have teeth. They have taken on AS who told them to pull back and they didn’t.”
In other chats, Goswami complains about poor ratings for an interview his channel did with Kangana Ranaut in July 2019. In the chats leading up to the J&K coverage which appears to have turned the tide for Republic in comparison to competitors, Goswami lists all of Republic’s coverage of various big issues and complains that ratings for India Today and others are still higher.
There are a number of comments made in the alleged chats about his competitors, with Goswami being particularly cutting about TV 18’s news offerings. He is incredulous that TV 18 was still no. 2 in ratings in July 2019, and asked Dasgupta to “moderate” the influence of the landing page feature that was helping with their ratings.
Proceedings in the Bombay High Court
Information about this supplementary charge sheet is likely to have been part of the status report submitted by the Mumbai Police to the Bombay High Court on Friday, 15 January in a sealed cover, when it sought time to respond to Republic’s plea for quashing of the TRP scam case.
The police assured the court that no coercive action would be taken against Goswami and others implicated in the case till 29 January.
According to PTI, the court also extended the interim relief for employees of the complainant company in the case, Hansa Research Group, till 29 January and directed the police that they are not to be called for inquiry for more than two days a week.
On 6 January, the Mumbai Police had told court that it had found evidence against Goswami in the TRP scam. The alleged scam came to light last year after a complaint was filed by an executive of a BARC-affiliated research agency, alleging that the viewership data was being manipulated by some of these channels through contractors associated with the agency.
The modus operandi saw these contractors and other persons allegedly making fixed monthly payments to the BARC-empanelled families to view only certain channels/programmes. The agency was not aware of this till their internal audits started throwing up irregularities, following which they filed a complaint with the Mumbai Police.
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