With continued ratings blackout, is news genre a level playing field anymore?
It’s been almost a year since the TRP scam exploded and BARC India decided to suspend publication of audience ratings for news channels till a better mechanism was put in place. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then.
Several facts and new information have emerged in the investigation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). The latest is the confession of dismissed Mumbai Police officer, Sachin Vaze, who told the ED that former Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had wanted Republic Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami arrested in the TRP scam case, as per media reports.
Meanwhile, even as the investigation continues in the case, BARC India has remained non-committal on when it plans to resume publication of news channel ratings.
Several media agency heads, along with news channel heads that Adgully has spoken to, have questioned BARC’s silence in this matter. They found it bewildering that while two of the channels named in the TRP scam case were non-news channels, it was only the news genre that was penalised with suspension of channel ratings. They found this move illogical, as this was not the first instance that individuals and entities were caught manipulating viewership data of channels. However, while in the earlier cases the individuals and entities were arrested and penalised, this time BARC decided to penalise an entire genre. This is unprecedented, fumed the channel heads.
The non-publication of data has hit the small and regional news broadcasters the most as they are faced with loss in ad revenues, which has started to impact their operations.
There is a sharp divide that has emerged for all to see in the new broadcasting space in India. News Broadcasters Association (now News Broadcasters & Digital Association) comprising some of the biggest national news networks and the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF), which is a mix of some national news broadcasters and mostly small and regional news broadcasters.
When BARC had announced in October 2020 that it was suspending the measurement of television viewership ratings of news channels for a period of 12 weeks, NBA had welcomed the move and called it an important step in the right direction. NBA President Rajat Sharma had stated, “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 on What India Watches and has been putting pressure on our members to take editorial calls that run counter to the journalistic values and ideals of journalism.”
“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 added.
On the other hand, NBF has alleged that some vested national channels want the news channel ratings to be blocked to protect their own revenue potential vis-a-vis the channels that have seen a rise in their viewership in recent times. In a recent letter to BARC India CEO Nakul Chopra, the Federation urged BARC to steer away from such vested entities and release the ratings data for the news genre who want the publishing of data to resume, and exclude the ratings of those channels who want the ratings suspension to continue.
The NBF maintained that BARC’s silences in this regard is threatening the survival of over 400 news channels and livelihoods of the people involved in this industry.
It’s high time BARC broke its silence in the matter, especially now as it has started putting its house in order with a new CEO in place. Penalising an entire genre for such a long period is unheard of. When ratings are continuing for other genres, singling out news now seems illogical. It is only adding more fuel to the fire of voices against the big news broadcasters trying to stifle the growth of smaller and regional channels. This raises the question as to whether news is a level playing field anymore.