An İstanbul prosecutor on Friday referred three out of seven people who were detained earlier this week as part of a probe into allegations that some TV producers bribed viewers to manipulate TV rating after rating agency AGB Nielsen leaked a confidential list, including details about families given devices to measure ratings, to court, demanding their arrest.
A major ratings fraud probe was launched following suspicions of manipulation of the ratings of a number of popular Turkish series. Seven people were detained on Wednesday when the İstanbul Police Department's Organized Crime Bureau raided the offices of several production and ratings-measurement companies, including AGB Nielsen, www.uçankuş.com, Ay Yapım (Productions), Med Yapım and Tims Yapım, and detained six individuals in İstanbul and Ankara over claims alleging that lists with the names of families whose homes have so-called “people meters” -- boxes hooked up to TVs to measure ratings -- were leaked to several television producers.
The detainees include AGB Production Director Hilmi Berköz, former AGB employee Cemal Orçun Köktuna, who is now the financial affairs director of TNS; another rating measurement company; Uğur Akkuş, the owner of an IT company called Bilişim İnovasyon; Selçuk Aklaş, an employee of the IT company Uyumsoft and Producer Selçuk Çobanoğlu.
Two of the suspects were released following their questioning at the police station on Thursday night. The prosecutor released two others on Friday, but referred the remaining three, Çobanoğlu, Berköz and Köktuna to a court demanding their arrest.
Five of the suspects were taken to the Üsküdar Courthouse on Friday morning to testify to Prosecutor Akif Özgün, who is conducting the investigation into the probe. The suspects were later arrested under orders from a judge.
TV critics, politicians and even ministers have voiced their support for the probe. Television journalist Uğur Dündar also commented on the allegations on Friday, saying he supports the operations into alleged rating riggers. “This has been hovering above the sector like a dark cloud.” He also congratulated the police force for the raids. “This was important to make sure that the sector is cleaned, and also that rating measurements can be taken correctly after this.”
Investigators suspect that a highly confidential list of the 2,500 families given people-meters -- devices for tracking how long and how often a program is viewed -- was leaked to the TV producers. Producers gave expensive gifts and paid TL 200 a month to each of these families in order to manipulate the TV-program ratings in their favor, investigators claim.
Television Audience Research Committee (TİAK) President Hidayet Karaca late on Wednesday testified at the İstanbul Police Office as a witness in the ratings probe.
Another person who testified in the probe was Can Tanrıyar, head of the entertainment news website www.uçankuş.com. After talking to the prosecutors on Wednesday, he clarified to journalists outside the courtroom that he wasn't summoned as a suspect, but the investigators called him to testify to provide information. Tanrıyar said a surefire method to see whether the rating measurements of a particular show were being manipulated was to see the rating shares for the show during commercial breaks. “When the commercials start, a program loses most of its rating shares. For example, a share of 10 falls to four during the commercial break. But if the share for a particular show rises to 15 during a commercial break, this makes it clear as day that there is some sort of manipulation involved.
Tanrıyar said he was assisting the police with the investigation, adding that there was a network behind the rating fraud scheme. Investigators have a large quantity of evidence pointing to the relationship between the trial families and producers, mostly acquired during the technical monitoring, such as wiretapping, of the suspects.
TV critic and journalist Bekir Hazar said the ratings-fraud probe is a belated but welcome move, adding that prosecutors should have taken action about fraud allegations in ratings long ago. He said the lists of the families with people meters were circulating by email and even singer İbrahim Tatlıses once said he had these lists.
Allegations of ratings fraud were frequently raised by the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), beginning in 2008.
Last year, the corporation announced that its channels will no longer be included in audience measurements provided by AGB. TRT last year noted that while ratings for TRT 1, the corporation's most-watched channel, rose from the beginning of 2008 through March 2009, they began to fall systematically in April 2009 for no apparent reason. TRT criticized the audience measurement system managed by AGB.
The recent investigation is the culmination of a six-month probe silently carried out by police. Sources said the investigation was likely to expand, noting more detentions could follow.