Arnab Goswami's Republic TV had reportedly gained 'unlawful' access to additional 22 million users of a Prasar Bharati's direct-to-home (DTH) service, DD FreeDish, without paying the government for it,
According to The Times of India report, in 2017, both Republic TV and the Zee Media Network's channels circumvented the auction system of Prasar Bharati to gain viewership on DD Free Dish.
The auction process needed the channels to pay ₹8-12 crores annually as a carriage fees for a slot. Arnab's English news channel was reportedly broadcast for two years in an unencrypted form on a bandwidth accessible to all users of the FreeDish service.
Various issues like a loss to the exchequer and an unfair advantage taken by the Republic was brought to the notice of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting by competitors. The complaint was later forwarded to Prasar Bharati.
This practice, however, continued till 2019, when the Republic TV with a private DTH service, Dish TV had a deal for transmission and began to encrypt the channel.
"The loss to the exchequer may not be too big - under ₹25 crore - but the access helped the channel get extra viewership," said a media buyer.
Prasar Bharati reacted to complaints and accused Republic TV and Dish TV of "defeating the due process of auctioning" and "diluting competition" DD Free Dish slots.
Later, MIB wrote a letter to Dish TV enquiring about the "unauthorised usage" of FreeDish by Republic TV. Dish TV replied that all channels and services "have been encrypted" as per the government's direction and it was in compliance with all requirements.
But the government did not take any action against the Arnab's channel for using FreeDish service for more than two years without paying carriage fees.
The case has come in light after the Mumbai police began probing the alleged TRP manipulation scam and filed a supplementary chargesheet where the purported WhatsApp and email conversations between former Broadcast Audience Research Council CEO Partho Dasgupta and Goswami are attached.
In one of the alleged texts between them, on July 7, 2017, a couple of weeks after Doordarshan wrote to the ministry of information and broadcasting about Republic TV's involvement in the Free Dish case, "Apparently there is some complaint about Republic in ministry – it's yet to be referred to us – one JS [Joint Secretary] told – but I think it will never come," Dasgupta told Arnab in chat.
"About the dish fta [free-to-air] thing? Rathore told me and said he's keeping it aside," Goswami said.
Rathore refers to Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who was the then Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting. Some of the separate discussions between Dasgupta and Goswami on the ministry and minister Smriti Irani reveal Arnab referred to the minister as "Rathore", reported Newslaundry.