Official sources have said that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed a money laundering complaint under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in the alleged television rating point (TRP) rigging scam being investigated by Mumbai police.
ED has filed the enforcement case information report (ECIR), that is equivalent to a police FIR (first information report), after studying the Mumbai police FIR that was registered on the same matter last month. Officials from news channels named in the police FIR will now be summoned by ED for questioning and investigations.
Republic TV (one of the channels under investigation) has cited sources to claim that the ED will merge all TRP-related cases under the ED in Mumbai. The ED is the second Central agency to come into the matter after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). CBI had earlier registered an FIR over the matter but has been thwarted by the Maharashtra government which has not allowed CBI to proceed. The move by ED will be widely seen as an attempt by the Central government to checkmate the state government in its actions against the Republic TV.
The fake TRP scam came to light when ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group, alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers. Mumbai police alleged that some channels had paid bribes to boost their TRPs fraudulently to increase their advertising revenue.
The advertising revenue of channels depends on TRPs. Some families at whose houses metres were installed for collecting data of viewership admitted to being bribed to tune into a particular channel. On 8th October, Mumbai Police Commissioner had revealed in a press conference that several channels have indulged in malicious practices to increase their TRP ratings and he had said that Republic TV is one of the main accused.
On 28th October, the Maharashtra government had withdrawn the 'general consent' given to the CBI to probe cases in the state. This means that CBI would require the state’s consent for every case it registers in Maharashtra. The state government was wary of the special crimes division of the CBI taking over the probe into the alleged TRP scam being investigated by the Mumbai police. Republic TV is among the five channels under police scanner in the case. Earlier last month, CBI had taken over a similar case of manipulation of TRPs, registered by the Uttar Pradesh police and Maharashtra government had concerns that the Central agency would attempt to take over the TRP case in Maharashtra too.
The state government had withdrawn general consent under the Delhi Police Special Establishment (DPSE) Act which only impacts the CBI. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has jurisdiction across the country and does not need special permission from state governments. ED conducts its probe under the PMLA and Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), and has nothing to do with the Delhi Police Special Establishment (DPSE) Act which gives power to CBI, hence ED can register a case under PMLA.
Editor-in-chief of Republic TV, Arnab Goswami, had earlier approached the Supreme Court to transfer the probe to the CBI. The apex court, however, asked him to approach the Bombay High Court.