BARC India has again been hit by whistleblower activism as fresh accusations have been made against key managerial personnel of the viewership measurement body, including Chief Financial Officer Rahul Dongre and Legal Head Rajinikandh.
In a series of emails sent to the BARC India board and other stakeholders of the broadcasting industry, a whistleblower has claimed he is in possession of documents that prove that Dongre and Rajinikandh were parties to a series of decisions that caused massive loss of reputation to not only BARC India but also the TV news industry.
The allegations have been made on six different counts. Documented proofs (as claimed by the whistleblower) have been provided in emails shared with the stakeholders, which BestmediaInfo.com has seen.
These claims have not been independently verified by this news platform and the whistleblower's claims are being reported as it is.
The allegations revolve around TRP manipulations, arbitrary commercial decisions, harassment of female colleagues, approving payment worth Rs 30 lakh to a police officer, the way a FIR was filed in the TRP manipulation issue to defame a selected channel, undertaking unfair practices to monitor ad volumes of news channels post the filing of FIR in the TRP manipulation matter and ignoring Hansa's complaints.
The whistleblower has requested the BARC Board to get all these allegations probed by an independent auditor to restore the credibility of the institution.
Explaining the nature of financial misappropriation, the whistleblower claimed, "During June 2019, Rajinikandh routed an illegal payment through a lawyer, which spoils the moral fabric of the organisation. A simple scrutiny of legal expenses during that period will reveal the complete details of these illegal payments. After this instance, several other such payments have been executed by Rajinikandh for his own personal gains and monetary benefits, not to mention the ones in the previous year, which are now public knowledge."
“Please note that a similar instance of such illegal payments in an MNC American e-commerce giant led to the dismissal of their legal representative as a part of their zero tolerance policy towards corruption,” the whistleblower added.
The whistleblower claims both these executives supported Sunil Lulla, former BARC CEO, in appointing vendors who were close to the latter.
"This kind of blatant favouritism has cost BARC crores of stakeholders’ money in the past years. This also shows how the CEO has trampled the internal voices, which were questioning the propriety of such huge spends. There are more such examples of other vendors who were provided similar preferential treatment. It should be noted that the commercial team reports to the CFO," the whistleblower claimed.
He claimed that several female employees were also being harassed by top BARC officials.
"Keeping in mind the sensitivity of the issue and the privacy of the victims, evidences of harassment of female colleagues are not attached with this mail. However, there is enough and strong evidence, which confirms the malafide intentions of Sunil Lulla, Rajinikandh and Rahul Dongre. There are mails dated 2nd week of October 2020 and last week of August 2020 relating to harassment," the whistleblower has claimed in his emails.
Talking about the handling of the TRP manipulation case, the whistleblower claimed, "The board will also be shocked to know that the FIR on the TRP scam, which was the starting point of the entire controversy, causing severe damage to the industry reputation, was done only on the insistence and continuous hounding by Sunil with the malafide intention of ruining the reputation of certain news channels. This entire episode was orchestrated by Sunil along with his legal head, Rajinikandh, who had hired expensive lawyers and had also heavily influenced these malafide decisions for their own personal and monetary benefits. Further, this had also had the complete concurrence, support and involvement of CFO Rahul Dongre, who made these unethical activities possible by allocating necessary additional unapproved budgets for these malafide activities."
A few news channels were named in the FIR filed in the TRP scam by Mumbai Police last year.
"As can be seen from the evidence, the difference between raw data and processed data for the specific news channel was more than 80%. This was solely based on the so-called Business Decisions by the CEO. The board members can understand the impact that this huge manipulation can have on the ratings and the ad-revenues for the said channel," the whistleblower said.
"After the FIR was filed, the sales team was directed by Sunil to send a daily MIS on the ad volumes in the top English and Hindi news channels so as to confirm that their ad volumes are negatively impacted by the said FIR. This selective monitoring confirms the malafide intentions of the CEO," he said in the email to the BARC India Board members.
The whistleblower has accused the legal head of spending crores on legal expenses without any due diligence on the appointment of lawyers or their rates. "Majority of the legal expenditure were to protect CEO’s personal interest rather than the company’s or stakeholders’ interest," he has claimed.
Talking about how illegal payments were made, especially the case of an alleged bribe paid to a police officer, the whistleblower claimed, "As per press articles, Enforcement Directorate (ED) had unearthed a Rs 30L payment made by BARC to a police officer. The execution of payment was layered through multiple shell companies, which was transferred to a Hawala operator who in turn paid the cash to BARC. These are dubious transactions and destroys the principles of corporate governance and financial due diligence. The documentary evidence of these transactions being approved by CEO and CFO is available with the investigating agencies. The Board will be shocked to know that this is not the first such transaction, which was processed under Sunil’s regime. A similar transaction of around Rs.70 lakh was approved by the CEO and CFO towards the end of year 2019. Scrutiny of financial records of the period will further reveal the unethical and corrupt practices."
The whistleblower also accused the CFO and the legal head for not taking complaints made by Hansa Research seriously.
"Hansa Research had written to BARC concerning the TRP manipulation case, clarifying that the FIR filed by Hansa was on the explicit instructions and decision of BARC management. There was also confusion as the channel name mentioned in the original complaint by Hansa was different from the channel name which finally appeared in the FIR," the whistleblower claimed.
The whistleblower questioned several decisions taken by Lulla during his time as CEO and why the key managerial personals supported him.
Lulla resigned as BARC CEO in August this year. His handling of the TRP manipulation case was questioned by many in the industry.
Earlier this year also, another whistleblower had made allegations against Lulla, who was the BARC India CEO at that time.