BROADCAST Audience Research Council (BARC), the industry body that measures Television Rating Points (TRPs), has suspended the publication of weekly individual ratings of news channels for “eight to12 weeks”, days after Mumbai Police began investigating a “racket” of fraudulent manipulation of TRPs.
Five persons, including two former employees of Hansa, the agency that calculates the ratings for BARC, have been arrested. At least three channels — Arnab Goswami’s Republic, Box Cinemas, and Fakt Marathi — are allegedly involved in the racket, according to police.
In a statement, BARC said that “[i]n the light of the recent developments, BARC Board has proposed that its Technical Committee (Tech Comm) review and augment the current standards of measuring and reporting the data of niche genres, to improve their statistical robustness and to significantly hamper the potential attempts of infiltrating the panel homes”.
This exercise, BARC said, would cover “all Hindi, Regional, English News and Business News channels with immediate effect” – and that it would “cease publishing the weekly individual ratings for all news channels during the exercise”. The process is “expected to take around 8-12 weeks including validation and testing under the supervision of BARC’s Tech Comm”, the statement said.
TRPs are a measure of TV-watching behaviour, and one of the main things advertisers look at while choosing channels. News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA), the representative body of private news channels, welcomed the BARC announcement, and said it should use the period to “completely overhaul its systems and restore the credibility of the information it collects about What India Watches”.
The BARC statement quoted its board chairman Punit Goenka as saying: “Given the most recent developments, the BARC Board was of the opinion that a pause was necessitated to enable the industry and BARC to work closely to review its already stringent protocols and further augment them to enable the industry to focus on collaborating for growth and well-natured competitiveness”.
BARC CEO Sunil Lulla said that “besides augmenting current protocols and benchmarking them with global standards, BARC is actively exploring several options to discourage unlawful inducement of its panel home viewers and further strengthening its Code of Conduct to address viewership malpractice”.
The NBA statement said it “believes that the suspension (of publication of the ratings) is an important step in the right direction”.
It quoted NBA president Rajat Sharma as saying that “recent revelations have brought disrepute to the measurement agency and by extension the broadcast news media”. The “corrupted, compromised, irrationally fluctuating data is creating a false narrative” about what Indians watch on TV, “and has been putting pressure on our members to take editorial calls that run counter to the journalistic values and ideals of journalism”, Sharma said.
“The current atmosphere of toxicity, abuse and fake news is no longer tenable and NBA as the custodian and guardian of Indian broadcast media believes a bold step of putting ratings of news genre on hold will help in improving the content,” he said.
On Thursday, top government officials are learnt to have told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology that the TRP system needed reform – it was not very scientific, and could be manipulated.
The Committee, which is headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, heard from representatives of NBA, Press Council of India (PCI), and Prasar Bharati on the ‘Ethical Standards in Media Coverage’. The TRP issue is learnt to have come up for discussion.
I&B Secretary Amit Khare and PCI Chairman Justice C K Prasad were among the top officials who briefed the panel. It is learnt that the officials and the MPs agreed that the present TRP system was outdated and needed reform.
Some members suggested the use of artificial intelligence to assess TV viewing patterns; some others said issues of privacy should not be lost sight of.
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