India: Top Republic TV executive arrested in ratings fraud probe

Vikas Khanchandani is the chief executive officer at a polarising news channel known for supporting PM Narendra Modi’s BJP party.

Khanchandani reaches police headquarters for questioning in fake TRP racket case, on October 11, 2020 in Mumbai, India [File: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

Indian police have arrested the chief executive officer of a media group that owns a polarising television news channel on charges of rigging the ratings system, a key component in determining what a channel can charge advertisers.

Police arrested Vikas Khanchandani, the chief executive of ARG Outlier Media, on Sunday at his home in Mumbai, according to Republic TV, which is owned by ARG.

Republic TV, which broadcasts in English and Hindi, aggressively supports Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist policies.

“I know he will go in and come out with his head held high,” the news channel’s co-founder, Arnab Goswami, said of Khanchandani on his nightly show.

The arrest is part of a police investigation that began in October into some TV channels in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, over accusations that they rig the rating scores system.

Khanchandani had been questioned by police earlier.

Experts say the arrests are part of a feud between Republic TV and the local administration in Maharashtra, where the coalition of ruling parties resisted efforts by Modi’s party to form a ruling alliance in the state.

India has one of the world’s most vibrant and competitive media environments, with more than 850 news channels broadcasting in multiple languages.

But over the years, the industry has faced a crisis of credibility as television debates between its commentators have become increasingly strident and shrill.

Many powerful television news anchors, known to support Modi and his right-wing administration, often indulge in rancorous and chaotic debates in which shouting, screaming and name-calling have become staples.

Republic TV recently ran exhaustive coverage against the Mumbai police and accused them of mishandling an investigation into the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, a popular actor.

Stories about the actor’s death sidelined other critical issues, such as India’s stalling economy, the government’s coronavirus response, and growing hostilities with China over a border dispute.

The result was a surge in ratings for some TV channels, including Republic TV.

Republic TV has consistently denied the allegations of falsely bolstering its ratings data. However, the alleged ratings fraud has led to some Indian advertisers taking never-before-seen measures.

Automobile giant Bajaj Auto and Parle Products, India’s biggest biscuit maker, recently said they were pulling advertising from news channels that endorsed toxicity and hate-mongering.

The companies did not name the channels, but the move was widely cheered on Indian social media.

Source: AP