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NBF seeks MIB’s intervention in resumption of news channel ratings

The News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) has written to Minister for Information & Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, seeking his intervention and action so that BARC India resumes publishing the ratings for the news genre.

As is known, BARC had ceased to publish the weekly individual ratings for all news channels from October 2020, in what it called was an exercise to improve their statistical robustness and to significantly hamper the potential attempts of infiltrating the panel homes. For this, BARC’s Technical Committee has been reviewing and augmenting the current standards of measuring and reporting the data of niche genres.

Also read:

BARC to pause audience estimates (ratings) of news channels

NBA welcomes 12 week suspension of TV ratings

The step was taken following revelations of manipulation of BARC panel homes in Mumbai. Since October 2020, the weekly ratings for the News genre has remained suspended.

Now, news broadcasters are seeking a resumption of the weekly ratings as, they implored the I&B Minister that mass livelihoods were at stake as the ratings dark period is impacting the smaller news channels the most and many were staring at an uncertain future.

In its letter, NBF blamed “a group of channels with deep pockets and heavy capital” behind the move to keep ratings in indefinite suspension. “While the suspension of ratings may not have financial bearing on them, it certainly has put an unimaginable amount of stress on our finances,” the NBF added.

It further alleged that this biased and selective suspension of ratings of a single genre has the effect of muzzling news channels, crumpling their revenue models, threatening the livelihood of their employees and driving honest channels to extinction.

Following is the complete letter, which has been signed by 51 mostly regional news channels as well as Republic TV, R Bharat, NewsX, India News, among others.

"We are a group of 51 news channels, writing to you in great distress and in deep concern. Cumulatively, we reach an audience of about 70 crore people, and given the developments and decisions of the past few months, there is a threat to the livelihood of lakhs of employees cumulatively, should the present trajectory to arbitrarily single out and act against the news genre continues.

We write to you to reiterate our concerns regarding the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) taking the decision to suspend ratings, for a continual period. Initially, we accommodated the sudden suspension of ratings on being told it would last for a period of 2-3 months – which in itself was a difficult period to get through and caused a huge stress on our finances and operations. However, that declared duration has long been past, and with no sign or sight of the return of broadcast ratings to the news genre, now the very survival of our news channels is at stake.

At the very outset, it remains a fact that ratings are derived from common bar-o-meters for news and non-news channels, so simply suspending the ratings for the news genre for the purpose of improving the rating system is not just unreasonable, but also defeats the very purpose of combating any alleged manipulation.

While everyone in the news genre signing this letter is in agreement that manipulation must not be tolerated or enabled and firmly stands for fair practices, what is happening today is the use of the garb of alleged manipulation to suspend ratings indefinitely and thereby, shut down smaller news channels that do not have the clout and capital that some much larger players do. A group of channels, with deep pockets and heavy capital is behind the move to keep ratings in indefinite suspension. While the suspension of ratings may not have financial bearing on them, it certainly has put an unimaginable amount of stress on our finances – in fact, to a point that we may well soon be compelled to take tough decisions that may impact our operations. This biased and selective suspension of ratings of a single genre has the effect of muzzling news channels, crumpling their revenue models, threatening the livelihood of their employees and driving honest channels to extinction.

We humbly submit the following:

  1. We have been gravely economically impacted by the decision at a time when the financial fallout of the pandemic has already had a grievous impact on us. Now livelihoods and our news channels are under existential threat.

As you are aware, the on-going pandemic has thrust all businesses and operations into severe financial stress. Right in the middle of this excruciating economic situation we were faced with because of the health crisis, BARC suspended the publishing of news-genre ratings. This has only worsened our ability to keep our channels afloat, fund our operations, pay our salaries, run our news teams and newsrooms smoothly and without interruption. BARC is the only television audience measurement system for India, and therefore, our advertising revenue directly hinges on regular circulation of these ratings by BARC.

With such indefinite suspension of news channels from ratings, the sustenance and livelihoods of thousands and thousands of our employees across the country is at stake. Our operation is a sum-total of work done by not just reporters, anchors, editors, editorial desk teams, production teams, corporate teams, but also security guards, pantry personnel, secretarial staff and many others who will not be able to tide through should our channels be pushed into further financial distress. Braving all odds, our staff recognised their roles as essential workers and contributed even during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is outrightly unfair if despite their honest & diligent work at the most trying times for the nation, they are left without jobs because the rating agency suspended ratings on a whim and drove out any possibility of revenue for the news networks subscribing to them.

  1. Even as ‘big’ channels with deep pockets are deploying pressure to keep the ratings suspended indefinitely, smaller news channels across India have their survival at stake.

We, humbly submit, that we are small and honest news organisations with the only purpose to deliver its viewers the news and nothing more. We are channels from across India, each one of us are dependent on honest advertising models to keep our news operations running for the viewers we are answerable to. Today, 111 days after the suspension of ratings by the agency, our existence will soon come under threat and the livelihoods associated with our news organisations will also come under threat. This is grave injustice.

It is crucial to note that the bringing back of ratings does not in any way compromise the changes envisioned and being drafted to the mechanism of measurement of TRPs – be it the changes related to the format or sample size or any other novel modification. We humbly request that in the interim the ratings are published so that the news industry and its advertisers are infused with confidence.

  1. Defies logic that the News genre is being selectively penalised when even non-news channels and others are being investigated.

It defies logic to assume that if panel homes were being bribed and manipulated, it was limited only to the news genre. It is also crucial to note that it is in the public domain that non-news channels are also being investigated. However, unexplainably, ratings have only been halted for the news genre based on a claim.

This raises massive concerns that despite news and non-news channels being probed as part of the alleged TRP manipulation scam, only the news genre is being penalised by suspension of ratings. It explicitly denies a level-playing field for those in the news genre. Today, even though non-news channels are being probed, advertisers are being compelled to be driven away from the news genre. This in itself denies a level playing field and creates a situation of favourability of non-news channels, which is unjust.

  1. Broadcast is a pan-India medium not limited by geography.

Broadcast is a pan-India medium, and not limited to a certain geographical perimeter. The narrow application of the suspension of ratings to a selective genre based on a selective complaint in a limited jurisdiction is entirely untenable and illegitimate.

  1. We as stakeholders in BARC are ready for changes, but arbitrary suspension of ratings is undue and endangering our survival.

We are ready for any changes of BARC, but the complete absence of ratings has truly destroyed the economy of news channels. We are stakeholders in BARC. Data measurement is the lifeline of our broadcast industry, in the past too there have been incidents of manipulation, but shutting it down is not the solution. The improvements can only happen while the data flows continuously. It’s an ongoing process of improvement.

We are humbly requesting you to urgently intervene so that:

  • BARC starts to publish ratings for the news genre in pendency of the investigation so that livelihoods can be saved
  • If weekly ratings are problematic to publish, an alternate system to publish ratings can be brought out so that advertiser confidence in the News genre is restored
  • We are not forced to shut down operations despite having done no wrong
  • News organisations do not face extinction due to corporate and conflicting interests

We hope that you will recognise the urgency of the situation and the grave effect the current suspension of ratings has on the entire news genre. Ratings for all news channels must be released with immediate effect.

We look forward to a positive response and restoration of ratings."

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