In a court hearing today connected to the TRP scam, Republic TV’s lawyer told the court that the channel’s editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and former BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta were “close friends” and that the purported WhatsApp chats between the two had nothing to do with the TRP scam.
“There is not one message or chat showing that the TRP manipulation was discussed,” advocate Ashok Mundargi told a bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale. “It only shows they are two very close friends chatting on subjects that friends ordinarily chat about.”
The scam in question was brought up by the Mumbai police last year, which alleged that a few media houses bribed some families in whose homes meters to measure television ratings had been installed to tune into a particular channel. Among the channels named was Republic TV.
The police subsequently made public WhatsApp chats between Dasgupta and others, including Goswami, that purportedly show them colluding over the scam. An FIR was and two chargesheets have also been filed.
Goswami and Republic challenged the Mumbai police’s investigation into the case in the high court and sought the quashing of the FIR and chargesheet. The hearing in the matter continued today, with Mundargi appearing for Arnab Goswami and ARG Outlier Media, Republic’s holding company.
Last week, the court had asked the Mumbai police how they had no evidence against Republic TV after three months of investigation in the case, and why the channel . Mundargi brought this up in court today, pointing out that the purported WhatsApp chats were the “highest evidence” the police had.
He also said the chats, on the basis of which Dasgupta’s , were taken “out of context” and presented by the police in a “misleading” manner.
When the court asked whether Dasgupta had helped to manipulate Republic’s TRPs. Mundargi responded that while that was the police’s case, it was not “established” in the chargesheet.
Justice Pitale asked, “How can a chat be retrieved...If a deleted chat can be procured despite end-to-end encryption, what was the whole halla [noise] about privacy?” Chief public prosecutor Deepak Thakare told the court that the chats were procured by the forensic science laboratory.
The court then reiterated that Goswami was only a suspect in the case. “He is not an accused,” the bench said. “This is a waste of time...How many chargesheets [do] they want to file? How many months and years do they want to investigate?” Thakare said he would provide a response by March 24, the date of the next hearing.
Justice Shinde then said: “A citizen should know for how long he will be under investigation...Everything is available here for you to investigate. We can understand if there was material from other states required to be procured, or absconding accused, but everything is right here for you.”
On how an investigation needs a time limit, the judge added: “The law does not provide for it but a citizen should know. Substantial material has been made available for the investigating officer. We are not saying to conclude within four or six weeks but what is the rough calculation?” The prosecution responded that it would provide its time frame on March 24.
On being asked whether Goswami had been summoned for questioning by the police after he had filed a plea in the high court, Mundargi said he hadn’t been, but that 150 summons had been issued to other employees of Republic. Yet, he said, only five people were named as suspects.
The matter was then adjourned to March 24.