'A campaign of canards': Republic’s statement on the forensic audit of the TRP scam

This is Republic Media Network’s full statement to Newslaundry on the interim forensic audit of the TRP scam produced by the Mumbai police in the Bombay High Court.

'A campaign of canards': Republic’s statement on the forensic audit of the TRP scam
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A series of falsities and fabrications have been uttered against Republic Media Network and its Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in what has become a campaign of canards against India’s youngest and leading news media organisation. ​As part of this plot, which is undoubtedly guided by deep corporate-political malice, the Mumbai Police has been working overtime to “plant” a certain “forensic report”, which apart from being ridden in conspiracy theories is replete with imaginary evidence. ​Because the said “forensic report” does not establish a single shred of wrongdoing/criminality by Republic Media Network/Mr. Arnab Goswami or the Network’s employees and affiliates, the Mumbai Police is hopelessly trying to find an audience in pliable media to publish spin-doctoring of facts and headlines.

At the outset, the purported report apparently being called an ‘interim forensic audit’ report is a concoction of the Mumbai Police. It is clear that the entire report has been commissioned by, curated for and paid for by the Mumbai Police. In fact, point 2 titled “​Limitations​” of the report itself, overtly reads​, “we have relied on the information provided by the Mumbai Crime Branch assisted in analysis of the data and the financial irregularities. The information provided to us by DCB, CID Mumbai was used in further analysis of the records/documents made available to us from time to time.​This reaffirms the biased, fabricated and malicious nature of the said report, which was – at best – a tailor-made document for the Mumbai Police in its quest to desperately try and reverse engineer a case against one media entity and one journalist.

The purported report is flawed and loaded with glaring anomalies which raises serious doubts about the basic understanding by the author on elementary accounting matters and facts pertaining to this case.

All transactions referred to in this ‘report’ have been undertaken in accordance with the law and due process. ​In fact, all the transactions being referred to by the Mumbai Police in their crafted report are part of the official books of accounts and have been undertaken with full sanction of our auditors and other specialist advisors​. ​All records relating to these legitimate transactions have been filed with the statutory authorities and are part of all records. Additionally, we have provided the Mumbai Police all our financial accounts, ledger, bank statements and books since incorporation and not one irregular transaction has been pointed out​. In the interest of transparency, our investors have also provided all their financial data, contracts to the Mumbai Police with regard to this malicious investigation. There is not a shred of any evidence in this forensic report to establish any wrongdoing or criminality.

On the specifics

1. It is natural for valuation to go up when the top line goes up

Some of the ‘sensational findings’ obviously intended to be lapped up by the pliant media adverse to us relates to initial valuation and the increased valuation in 2018 and attempts to spin a theory of the appreciation in the valuation being “suspicious”. Nothing is farther from the truth. When a company’s top line goes up, when a news organisation grows from one channel into a network with two channels and a digital business, it is but natural that the valuation will go up correspondingly.

The company top line has gone up because previously Republic Media Network didn’t have Hindi and digital arms at the inception​. The company revenue went from about Rs. 140 - Rs 150 crore to about Rs. 288 crore in the 2nd year and was projected to grow to Rs. 330 crore in the 3rd year. Given that valuation is based on present top-line and present profit, the expansion of the Network and its success naturally translated to higher valuation. ​The first valuation was done in 2016 before the launch of Republic TV, which was the most anticipated channel launch at the time. The business was valued at ₹246 crore pre-money and ₹154 crores was to come as money (cash invested). The valuation report of the company was ₹246 cr pre-money. This was before investment, whereby ₹104 crore was by Asianet. and ₹50 crore was by SARG Pvt Ltd. The second valuation was done before the launch of Republic Bharat and Republic’s digital arm​. Republic got a much higher valuation because of a proposed expansion of the Network into the much larger Hindi genre.

This is not unusual by any stretch. The exact issue price is also being quoted, which any professional knows, is a matter of arithmetic based on the number of shares into which the agreed value had been agreed to be split.

Additionally, the purported report obtained by the Mumbai Police comments and effectively takes objection to the increase in valuation in 2018/19 but conveniently makes no reference to Republic’s foray into the Hindi news segment, a much bigger market and disregards the industry growth for both segments. It is no rocket science that with Republic Media Network growing from one channel to two, the valuation automatically went up – a simple economic phenomena which the Mumbai Police commissioned report is trying to portray as suspicious. Notably, the capital raised in [2018] was Rs 32.5 Cr and not Rs 27.5 Cr as being stated in the forensics report. The Rs 32.5 Cr increased the capital base by 30% or thereabouts and the resultant increase to per share price was a pure denominator effect in basic arithmetic and nothing more.

2. Bizzare ‘round tripping’ of money charge despite legitimacy, honest transactions and repayment of loans being in books

The purported ‘report’ also goes on to bizarrely allege ‘round tripping’ of money- an utter falsity and misrepresentation of facts, done with the intent to besmirch the reputation of Mr Goswami and spin doctor the material which is part of official record. This falsification of facts is being done to paint a narrative best suited to the political script being orchestrated by the Mumbai Police.

The true facts that the Mumbai Police are concealing in their desperation to spin a dubious “round-tripping” allegation:

  • Mr. Goswami did not roundtrip money. He took a loan from his company to meet his short-term financial commitments. It was legitimate. ​He paid back the said loan to his company in full with the corresponding interest within a span of 12 months. The loan given was on 18 March 2019 and repaid in two parts: 55% by 13 September 2019 and 45% was paid on 24 March 2020.

  • Arnab Goswami was on the Board of Director’s of Asianet and was entitled to monetary compensation as per terms and conditions of the same. Despite being entitled to remuneration in FY 2017-18 itself, Arnab Goswami availed the amount only on 23/03/2020 solely for squaring the remaining Loan taken on 19/03/2019 from the company. The relevant Asianet Shareholders Agreement and details of Arnab Goswami’s remuneration have already been placed on record before the High Court of Bombay.

  • To call income received as a professional, “round-tripping” is completely bizarre.

3. Laughably, the Mumbai police has taken objection to non-media investment in a media company and tried to brand it as criminality

The hogwash report of the Mumbai Police reads, “​During the analysis Of these transactions Of the investments in CCPPS Of ARG by 5 different entities​, it was observed that these transactions are with no economic rationale in their banking transactions or with no apparent relation to their normal business activity or high ticket transactions inconsistent with the business of the company”​ . Whether investors invested in Republic as part of a “​normal business activity or high ticket transactions​” is not a matter that has anything to do with the TRP scam, and the allegation in itself is shallow, hollow and bereft of any concrete truth. What the Mumbai Police is laughably claiming in this report is that non-media entities cannot be investors into media organisation and if they are it will be looked upon suspiciously and not as a metric of merit of the said media organisation.

Almost all media organisations have some proportion of debt or equity which is investment from outsiders of the industry, calling this a crime is calling all media houses in India criminal.

Is it now a crime, especially in the corporate capital of the country, to create value for shareholder or for a corporate entity to invest in non-core areas? Would the police now question the unicorns who get billion dollar valuations despite consistently being loss making? Would the Mumbai police see the valuations of some of the traded prices of quite a few loss-making media companies (including those under ‘investigation’)? And moreover, in the context of this response, are all investors in Newslaundry from the media? The answers are as rhetorical as the Mumbai Police’s malice is clear​.

4. The absurdities of the ‘forensic report’

Investment from outside media industry

What the ‘forensic’ report says about it

During the analysis Of these transactions Of the investments in CCPPS Of ARG by 5 different entities, it was observed that these transactions are with no economic rationale in their banking transactions or with no apparent relation to their normal business activity or high ticket transactions inconsistent with the business of the company​.”

Fact

Are all the investors in Newslaundry directly in the media business? When is having investors from outside the news industry for a news media organisation indicative of criminality?

High advertising rates

What the ‘forensic’ report says about it

Therefore, we have compared the rates in prime time charged by Republic Media networks and others to the customer R K Swamy BBDO Private Limited As can be seen from the above table, the rate charged by Republic TV is drastically higher than the rates charged by other channels. Such rate decides on the basis of TRP of a particular channel and therefore, charging Of such a higher rate by Republic Media network and the fluctuation in the viewership of Republic TV as compared to

Fact

Republic TV charged higher advertising rates in its evening Prime Time was used to claim “suspicion” of TRP manipulation, but the fact that Arnab Goswami anchors a show during Prime Times was disregarded.

Arnab Goswami commanded high advertising rates even when he was in Times Now, due to his high viewership. By this logic, will the others creates suspicion that it is involved in manipulating TRPs. Mumbai Police say that there was TRP Manipulation in Times Now too?

A part of the advertisers were finalised prior to launch based upon the anticipation around then-Arnab Goswami’s upcoming news channel and prestige that he commands as a reputed professional.

Advertising from month of launch

What the ‘forensic’ report says about it

During the period 2017, Republic was just started and the viewership was very high from the very first month of the launch of the channel, when compared to other channels. The rates are also higher compared to other channels​.

Fact

It is clear that the higher rates at the slot are a function of popularity of Arnab Goswami who is the most watched and respected Indian news anchor.

He had high advertising rates even in Times Now - because of popularity and prestige of the anchor - does this mean Times Now was manipulating ratings too?

Legitimate advertising deals declared as ‘suspicious’

What the ‘forensic’ report says about it

HRGPL had violated above eligibility clause by providing the advertising agency services to ARG Outlier Media private Limited, through its group entity viz. Hansa Vision India private Limited. The payment of Rs 1.08 cr was received from Hansa Vision India Private Limited by M/S ARG Outlier Media Private Limited in its HDFC bank account number 50200021233534.

Fact

Republic had a business relation with Hansa Vision the advertising agency as it released advertising for one of its reputed clients ISUZU Motors. Hansa Vision via a press release dated 30 October, 2020 clarified “Hansa Vision India Pvt Ltd as a buyer of Television advertising time has done business with 55 channels including Republic TV in the past. However, no business has been done by Hansa Vision with Republic TV in 2019 or 2020.”

Growing revenue ‘suspicious’

What the ‘forensic’ report says about it

The year on year growth of revenues are considered at 29% for ARG, however, the industry growth is considered in this valuation report is only 13.10%. Which means projections of revenue is expected to grow more than double as the media industry is growing year over year.

Fact

Because Republic was expanding into multiple mediums and languages, the growth has to be proportionate. Republic went from launching one English channel to a Hindi channel and a big digital operation, so it is natural that growth is corresponding to it.

The forensic report commissioned by the Mumbai Police relies on fanciful and arbitrary conjecture to perpetuate a falsehood that Republic manipulated ratings. The year on year projections and valuations have been placed on record before the Bombay High Court.

5. Forensic report has been signed off by individual who was part of interrogation team: ​The individual who signed off on the “Forensic Audit-Interim Report of TRP Scam” was part of the team involved in the interrogation of Republic Media Network.

If today a journalist, a news media entrepreneur works hard for decades, builds value, generates employment and increases shareholder value, if he ensures his company has commercial success and success before its audience, it is seen with outright suspicion. When a news media-entrepreneur has taken a loan and returned it with full interest paid within a 12 month period, it shows integrity and credibility of the individual and entity, beyond question. It is a shocking state of affairs if an honest news organisation built on hard work, integrity and professionalism is hounded and harassed by the insatiable vendetta and vindictiveness of a state government.

The Mumbai Police has used routine legitimate and accounted-for corporate transactions to make a public spectacle, harass us and our affiliates and spin-doctor allegations that are hollow and bereft of any truth. ​The truth will meet the conspirators on the other side, and when it does, it shall be unstoppable.

Republic Media Network is built, brick by brick, with integrity and ethics. As large employers of the country’s youngest journalists and media professionals, we pride on our professionalism and spotless principles. We will not bow down to high handed tactics meant to manipulate facts and misrepresent the reality.

Notwithstanding all the questions being raised on financial dealings of Mr. Goswami, he has nothing to hide and has written to the appropriate authorities seeking to disclose his and family’s bank statements and other financial records for public scrutiny.

As a responsible media organisation, we hope that you will not eclipse the true facts, slice and dice the contents of this statement to reach oblique and mischievous insinuations but will publish our response in its entirety.

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