Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp chats with former BARC official reveal conflict of interest and murky closeness to power centres, besides raising questions on journalistic ethics

Published : January 16, 2021 18:38 IST

Arnab Goswami. Photo by Sujit Jaiswal/AFP

As part of its investigation into the TRP scam that unravelled in October 2020, the Mumbai Police has submitted (as part of a supplementary charge sheet) approximately 1000 pages of what are explosive WhatsApp messages between Republic TV Editor Arnab Goswami and former CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Partho Dasgupta. A document recording the purported chats was leaked on social media and went viral.

The chats document some shocking information, which reveal the proximity and access Goswami enjoys with the present regime at the Centre. From ‘knowing’ about the Balakot surgical strike three days before it happened, to offering to mediate on behalf of Dasgupta for matters with Cabinet Ministers, the documents record over three years of damning conversations between Goswami, Dasgupta and senior BARC executives Romil Ramgarhia and Vikas Khanchandani. There is even a request by Dasgupta asking Goswami to get him a Media Advisor position with the present Government, which Goswami acknowledges and says he will see what he can do. There are several references to “AS”, who is speculated to be a power centre.

The most critical revelation in the chats is the absolute conflict of interest between an Editor and a ratings agency executive, which goes against the ethics of the news industry. It is not clear how the pages made it to the public domain. Police sources said the chat was part of a 3,400-page supplementary charge sheet filed in the TRP scam on January 11, 2020.

Goswami and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition have been at war for some time now. From all accounts, the State is determined to keep the case alive. Goswami was arrested by the Maharashtra Police in connection with a case of abetment of suicide. He was released after the Supreme Court granted him bail.

Frontline has access to 500-pages of the document, which records the days, timestamps and threads of the conversation, which include Goswami and Dasgupta speaking about the need to protect BARC, discussing tactics to boost Republic TV’s ratings, intervening on TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) matters, making malicious comments about people in the television sector, and also of Goswami going directly to the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) to ‘clear issues’.

A sample of one chat goes:

Dasgupta: “Rajat is going after me”

Dasgupta: “You (Goswami) need to help me thru PMO. Have aligned Punit”

Goswami: “Noted and will happen.”

Dasgupta: “Read the letter when you can”

Goswami: “Rajat has no entry.”

The TRP scam involves, among other things, the rigging of TRP boxes placed in homes that act as samples to monitor the viewership of channels. In October 2020, a complaint filed by BARC via associate firm Hansa Research Group, alleged that Republic TV and two others were paying vast sums of money to people to watch their channels. Thirteen people, including Dasgupta, Ramgarhia and Khanchandani, have been arrested in connection with the scam.

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