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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Mumbai Police continues witch-hunt against Republic TV, arrests CEO Vikas Khanchandani in TRP manipulation case

In news just in, Mumbai Police has arrested Republic TV CEO Vikas Khanchandani in the TRP manipulation case. He has arrested by the Mumbai police on Sunday after an early morning raid, just a day ahead of the anticipatory bail hearing.

The ‘TRP manipulation’ case came to light on 8th October when in a dramatic press conference controversial Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh claimed that  Republic TV and Arnab Goswami had illegally paid some households to keep some channels on even if they were not at home to boost their TRP. The complaint had been filed by ratings agency BARC through Hansa Research Group, Singh mentioned. However, by the end of the day it became clear that the FIR filed by Hansa Research did not mention Republic TV even once, but mentioned rival channel India Today several times. Later, a witness in the case alleged that they were being pressurised by Mumbai Police to implicate Republic TV in the case.

Ghanshyam Singh, assistant vice president of Distribution at Republic TV, was arrested in November in the same case and released on bail on the 6th of December after remaining in custody of the Mumbai Police for 26 days. He has alleged that he was physically tortured in custody and beaten with a belt. 

The News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) has condemned this torture meted out to Ghanshyam Singh during his custodial interrogation.

Witch-hunt

Parambir Singh has also made a wild allegation that Arnab Goswami is the ‘biggest hawala operator’ in Mumbai.

Top editors and all 1000 employees of the network have been booked by the Mumbai Police for a serious non-bailable offence for ‘incitement to disaffection among members of the Police Force and defaming Mumbai Police’ – under sections 500 and 34 of IPC.

The genesis of the witch-hunt against Republic TV by the Maharashtra government goes back to searching questions asked by Arnab Goswami of the Congress top brass in the shocking Palghar Sadhu lynching. Multiple cases, including by state minister Nitin Raut, were lodged against Arnab in response to his news programs on the Palghar case.

An old abetment to suicide case of interior designer Anvay Naik was reopened to target Goswami. Just like Vikas Khanchandani, Arnab Goswami too was arrested in an early morning raid by a large AK-47 toting police team. Arnab was man-handled and dragged away from his house, his family members pushed aside. He was kept in custody for 6 days before being granted interim bail on 11 November by a SC bench which questioned how an abetment of suicide offence could be made out in a commercial dispute and commented,”This is not a case of terrorism….Would it not be a travesty of justice if someone is denied bail for this?” SC granted Arnab protection from arrest for four weeks even if the high court did not quash the FIR against him.

On 28 November, the SC slammed Mumbai High Court for ‘abdicating its duty as a protector of liberty’ and said it was the sacred duty of courts to ensure the state did not use criminal laws as a weapon to selectively harass citizens – these observations were made during a hearing on the abetment to suicide case.

However, the Supreme Court’s words appear to have had no impact on the Maharashtra Government as Republic TV CEO Vikas Khanchandani’s arrest shows.

Even the Supreme Court has failed to realise the Maharashtra government’s resolve to ride roughshod over constitutional niceties in pursuit of this naked power play. On 7 December, an SC bench led by Justice Chandrachud refused to entertain a plea filed by Republic Media Network seeking protection from arrest for all its employees in all cases registered by the Maharashtra Police and transfer of those cases to CBI, to prevent the police from hounding the employees of the company.

On 21 October Maharashtra government had withdrawn the “general consent” to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to carry out probe into cases in the state. The move implies that the CBI will have to get the state government’s permission to probe any matter in Maharashtra.

The ball is now firmly in the Supreme Court and Union Government’s half. Will they restore people’s faith in rule of law by enforcing their will on a rogue Maharashtra government, in order to stop this farce of jailing TV network executives over a TRP manipulation case which did not even name the said network to begin with?


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