On a day the Centre announced a four-member committee, to be headed by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, to look into the Television Rating Points (TRP) system and recommend any changes required to make it more robust and transparent, the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) wrote to the Prime Minister, seeking a “national-level independent body” to “deal with misconduct by professional journalists”.
The NBF is an industry body founded last year by Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami.
Incidentally, Republic TV is among media organisations being probed in a case of alleged ‘TRP scam’. Mumbai Police’s case is that some TV channels were allegedly paying to get their TRPs boosted.
The letter, written by NBF secretary-general R Jai Krishna and titled “Request for urgent intervention to uphold the freedom of the press”, is also marked to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Principal Secretary to PM Pramod Kumar Mishra, and the Home and I&B secretaries.
It sought the government’s “immediate intervention regarding undue pressure and unreasonable interference by state governments and police departments against news TV channels, journalists and media owners for performing their duty”, and cited several cases from the “past few weeks”. In these cases, the NBF wrote, “journalists and management personnel of news broadcasters (were) called by local police and held captive for unnecessary long hours at unreasonable time for routine questioning, which is hampering the responsible duty of public service performed by journalists…”
Among others, it cited cases of Republic TV and its Hindi channel R Bharat being “hounded relentlessly” by Maharashtra government, OTV facing “serious vindictive harassing actions” by Odisha government, “police action” against TV5 in Andhra Pradesh, and cases against Newslaundry and a journalist from ABP Majha in Maharashtra.
Seeking PM Narendra Modi’s “urgent intervention”, the NBF urged the government to “put in place a national level neutral agency with a structured and reasonable standard operating plan, to deal with serious complaints against journalists and media organisations”. The letter stated that a “national-level independent body, on the lines of Bar Council of India, Medical Council of India, Institute of Chartered Accountants, to deal with misconduct by professional journalists, will act as a deterrent against abuse of power by any agency to stifle freedom of press, for protection of journalists and executives of news media organisations…”
Meanwhile, on the issue of TRPs, an I&B Ministry order issued on Wednesday stated that there is a “need to have a fresh look on the (existing) guidelines…” To strengthen procedures for a “credible and transparent rating system, a Committee is hereby constituted to study different aspects of the television rating system in India”, the order stated.
It said the committee will appraise the existing system, examine TRAI recommendations notified from time to time, look at the “overall industry scenario” and address needs of stakeholders and “make recommendations for robust, transparent and accountable rating system through changes, if any, in the existing guidelines”.
Besides Vempati, other members of the committee are Shalabh, professor of statistics, IIT Kanpur; Rajkumar Upadhyay, executive director of the Centre for Development of Telematics -DOT; and Prof Pulak Ghosh of IIM Bangalore.
The new committee has also been tasked with studying past recommendations made by various forums on the subject, recent TRAI recommendations, suggest steps for enhancing competition in the sector, review of the current guidelines and see if they work, and address any lacunae.
Earlier, with questions being raised about robustness of measurement of TRP, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which measures TV audience viewership behaviour, suspended publication of TRPs for news for eight weeks after the allegations of manipulations had surfaced.
Currently, BARC is the primary agency that publishes TRPs. It is jointly owned by industry bodies representing broadcasters, advertisers and advertising agencies. The mention of “suggest steps for enhancing competition in the sector” as one of the points of the terms of reference for the committee hints that it could recommend creation of another body to measure the TV viewership in the country.
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