Mumbai police arrest TV chief as media dispute in India intensifies

In a photo from Oct 20, 2020, a woman watches Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on TV screens inside a showroom in Ahmedabad.
In a photo from Oct 20, 2020, a woman watches Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on TV screens inside a showroom in Ahmedabad.PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI (NYTIMES) - Police in Mumbai on Sunday (Dec 13) arrested the chief executive of a right-wing television news broadcaster on suspicion of manipulating ratings figures, escalating a clash that has roiled India's voluble but increasingly partisan media scene.

Police said they had arrested Vikas Khanchandani, chief executive of ARG Outlier Media, at his home in Mumbai, India's financial capital.

ARG owns Republic TV, a news network that broadcasts in English and Hindi and has jumped in the ratings with its embrace of populist causes and its sympathy toward Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his nationalist Hindu policies.

The authorities, who had questioned Khanchandani twice, said there was enough evidence to suggest that he had direct knowledge about manipulating the ratings figures.

He has not been formally charged, but investigators said they arrested him after he refused to cooperate.

Republic TV leapt to his defence. Arnab Goswami, co-founder of the network and a pugnacious talk show host with the broadcaster, said police had botched the investigation, and the arrests of Khanchandani and of others at Republic TV were retaliation for the network's tough coverage of the Mumbai force.

"It is an illegal arrest: No papers were served," Goswami said in a broadcast on Sunday.

"I am requesting all the people across the country to raise their voice against these methods of the Mumbai police."

Goswami is out on bail after being charged with abetting a suicide.

The arrest of Khanchandani comes as the Indian news media slides into an increasingly polarised atmosphere.

Republic TV is one of a number of outlets that have prospered under the government of Mr Modi and his governing Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

Indian news outlets have taken an increasingly conservative turn. Programmes on those networks regularly denounce critics of the government.

In recent years, Republic TV has made a name for itself by backing Mr Modi's administration.

But the network's relationship with the local administration in Mumbai is more fraught.

The state government is run by a coalition of parties that resisted the BJP's effort to join.

Since then, the rivalry between Mr Modi's administration and the regional government in Maharashtra, the state that includes Mumbai, has intensified.

Both have used public institutions to target each other.

Accusations of ratings manipulation have brought those tensions to the fore.

Police have said that Republic TV inflated its audience ratings by paying people the equivalent of a few dollars a month to tune in to the station and leave their televisions on.