New Delhi: Arnab Goswami owned news channel Republic TV, since its launch in May 2017, had reportedly gained illegal access to an additional 22 million users of Prasar Bharati-owned direct-to-home (DTH) service, DD FreeDish, without paying the government for it.
Goswami’s Republic TV allegedly dodged an auction process which requires channels to shell out Rs 8-12 crore yearly as carriage fees for a slot. His news channel was broadcast for over two years in an unencrypted form on a bandwidth accessible to all users of the FreeDish service.
This alleged illegal access has caused a loss to exchequer and provided Goswami with an unfair advantage enjoyed by Republic. It was brought to the notice of the Information & Broadcasting ministry (MIB) by competitors, and the complaint was forwarded to Prasar Bharati.
The practice, however, continued till September 2019, when a private DTH service, Dish TV, with which Republic had a deal for broadcast began to encrypt the channel. Republic TV had carriage deals with a few private DTH players, including Dish TV, which owns bandwidth on the GSAT15 satellite for retransmission of TV channels. Because the satellite is also used by DD FreeDish, Dish TV’s bandwidth is co-located with DD Free-Dish’s. This resulted in Dish TV users getting all free-to-air (FTA) channels available on FreeDish without any extra cost.
The inverse was not true. DD FreeDish subscribers could not downlink Dish TV channels for free because pay channels are uplinked in an encrypted format. However, Republic TV was uplinking the channel in an unencrypted format.
A media buyer said that while the loss to the exchequer was not too big, under 25 crore rupees, the access allowed the channel to gain extra viewership.
Prasar Bharati had accused both Republic TV and Dish TV of thinning the competition and defeating the entire process of auctioning DD Free Dish slots.
On receiving MIB’s letter with enquiries about the unauthorised usage of Free Dish by Republic TV, Dish TV replied in September of 2019 that they were in fulfillment of all government requirements and complying with the government’s direction, all channels and services had been encrypted.
The government, however, did not initiate any action against Republic TV for gaining extra viewership through Free Dish Service without paying carriage fees for more than two years.
With Mumbai Police’s probe into the alleged TRP manipulation scam, the matter has come into focus once again and a supplementary charge-sheet was filed, with an attachment of WhatsApp and email conversations between Goswami, former Broadcast Audience Research Council CEO Partho Dasgupta and others.
According to the chats, Dasgupta informed Goswami of Prasar Bharati’s reply to MIB. Dasgupta sent a text to Goswami saying, “Apparently there is some complaint about Republic in ministry — it’s yet to be referred to us — one JS told – but I think it will never come,” insinuating that he received the information from a joint secretary.
Goswami replied with a text saying, “About the Dish FTA thing. Rathore told me and said he’s keeping it aside.” Rathore, most likely, refers to the then minister of state for the I&B ministry Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. (AGENCIES)