Mumbai Police Arrest Vikas Khanchandani of Republic TV
Police in Mumbai on Sunday arrested the executive director of a right-wing television news broadcaster on suspicion of tampering with rating numbers, leading to a clash that has disrupted India’s volatile but increasingly partisan media scene.
Police said they had arrested Vikas Khanchandani, managing director of ARG Outlier Media, from his home in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. ARG owns Republic TV, a news network broadcast in English and Hindi, which has risen in ratings for its acceptance of populist concerns and sympathy for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his nationalist Hindu politics.
Authorities, who had previously questioned Mr. Khanchandani twice, said there was sufficient evidence that he was directly aware of the manipulation of the rating numbers. He was not officially charged, but investigators said they arrested him after he refused to cooperate with him.
ARG could not be reached for comment, but Republic TV jumped in its defense. Arnab Goswami, the network’s co-founder and combative talk show host, said the police botched the investigation and the arrests of Mr. Khanchandani and others on Republic TV were in retaliation for the network’s harsh coverage of the Mumbai Kraft network.
“It is an illegal arrest: no papers were delivered,” Goswami said on a broadcast on Sunday. “I urge all people across the country to speak out against these methods used by the Mumbai police.”
Mr. Khanchandani is arrested as the Indian news media is sliding deeper into an increasingly polarized atmosphere.
Republic TV is one of several branches that have taken an increasingly conservative turn under the government of Mr. Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or the Indian BJP news outlets, especially the television networks. Programs in these networks regularly condemn critics of the government’s record on human rights, income inequality, unemployment or the coronavirus pandemic as non-patriots or separatist sympathizers.
In recent years, Republic TV has made a name for itself by advocating for right-wing causes and aggressively supporting Mr. Modi’s government. High-ranking officials routinely appear in the republic, interviews they seldom give to other news outlets considered more critical of the government.
However, the network’s relationship with local government in Mumbai is more difficult. The state government is led by a coalition of parties that oppose the BJP’s accession efforts.
Since then, rivalry between Mr. Modi’s government and the regional government in Maharashtra, the state of which Mumbai is a part, has intensified. Both have used public facilities, including investigative agencies, to approach each other.
Allegations of rating manipulation have brought these tensions to the fore. Police said Republic TV increased its audience ratings by paying people the equivalent of a few dollars a month to tune in and keep their TVs on. The alleged practice has been around for about two years, according to a 1,400-page indictment sheet filed by Mumbai police.
The allegations have led to a closer examination of the compilation of assessment data. The data gathered from an industry group can mean the difference between a strong and a weak year in terms of advertising revenue.
Faiz Ullah, a media professor at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences in Mumbai, said initial research appeared to suggest that the rating system was manipulable.
“People got a free television, paid their electricity bills, and got some money to watch certain news channels,” said Professor Ullah of the practice of artificially boosting the numbers. “There is no transparency. The system has to change. “
The industry group behind the ratings data, the Broadcast Audience Research Council, has announced that it will suspend viewing audience figures while a review is in progress.
So far, authorities have arrested 13 people on suspicion of fraud, forgery or criminal conspiracy related to allegations of rating manipulation.
Mumbai police circled Republic TV for other reasons as well. They arrested Mr. Goswami, the face of Republic TV, earlier last month on suspicion of facilitating suicide. He was later released on bail.
Citing bias from officials in Mumbai, Republic TV has requested that the rating investigation be removed from local authorities and forwarded to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is under the control of Mr. Modi.
Last week the Indian Supreme Court rejected a plea on Republican television to seek protection from the arrest of its employees.