New Delhi: The allegations of a ‘TRP scam’ levelled by the Mumbai Police against one English and two Marathi channels have forced the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the designated television ratings agency, to pause weekly ratings of news channels to ‘review and augment’ its current standards.
In a statement issued on Thursday, BARC said that in the light of the recent developments, its Board has proposed that “it’s 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”.
The exercise will cover all Hindi, regional, English news and business news channels with immediate effect, the Council said. “Therefore, starting with the ‘News Genre’, BARC will cease publishing the weekly individual ratings for all news channels during the exercise. This exercise is expected to take around 8-12 weeks including validation and testing under the supervision of BARCs Tech Comm. BARC will continue to release weekly audience estimates for the genre of news by state and language,” the statement said.
BARC India Board’s chairman Punit Goenka said the pause was necessitated to “enable the industry and BARC to work closely to review its already stringent protocols and further augment them”. This would enable the industry to focus on collaborating for growth and well-natured competitiveness, he said.
BARC India’s Sunil Lulla said besides augmenting current protocols and benchmarking them with global standards, the Council is also “actively exploring” several options to discourage “unlawful inducement of its panel home viewers”. It also plans to strengthen its Code of Conduct to Address Viewership Malpractice, Lulla said.
According to Business Standard, the News Broadcasters Association welcomed the decision as a “step in the right direction”.
BARC India is a joint industry company founded by stakeholder bodies that represent broadcasters, advertisers, and advertising and media agencies. As The Wire‘s explainer detailed recently, the Council estimates ratings through BAR-O-Meters that have been installed in over 45,000 households.
The members of these empanelled households are given separate viewer IDs, which helps them register their presence. When watch televisions, they are required to put on their viewer ID button, which helps BARC monitor which channel they are watching and for how long.
The Mumbai police’s allegations against three channels – Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema – were based on a complaint registered by Hansa, the firm contracted by BARC to install audience measurement meters. These channels were accused of manipulating their TRPs. Some households were bribed to watch a particular channel, Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh said at a press conference.
Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami has denied the allegations.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Thursday refused to entertain Republic TV’s plea quashing the FIR in the case, asking the channel to approach the Bombay high court, saying, “We must have faith in high courts”.
A bench comprising Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee said the high court has been working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the media group should approach it.