New Delhi: The prospect of advertisers and publishers having to do without readership data for at least the next few months, maybe longer, loomed large with the industry body behind the controversial Indian Readership Survey (IRS), 2013, sticking to its guns, and a publishers body responding by issuing an advisory to all members to reject the report, withdraw from future editions of the survey, and seek “restitution".

The Media Research Users Council (MRUC), the body that, along with the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI), oversees the Indian Readership Survey refused to withdraw IRS, 2013, despite a demand on Monday by some members of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) disappointed with the findings of the survey, that it be withdrawn by Tuesday evening.

In a letter sent to INS chairman Ravindra Kumar on Tuesday evening, MRUC defended the methodology of its survey, expressed its “disappointment that Nielsen (which conducted the survey)" was not allowed to present its point of view at the meeting with INS on Monday, reiterated that the new survey was not comparable with the old one, and offered to “respond to every single query posed by subscribers in the coming few days".

Kumar, who is also the editor of The Statesman newspaper, confirmed the receipt of the letter from MRUC and issued an advisory calling for the rejection of the survey.

Readership data is the currency used by advertisers to choose publications in which they advertise, but with several publications unhappy with the findings of the new survey that reflects a decline in readership, there’s been much brouhaha over the numbers.

In response to INS’s demand seeking a withdrawal of the survey, MRUC called an emergency meeting of its board of governors in Mumbai this morning. At the meeting, MRUC members decided neither to withdraw nor put the study in abeyance.

“We are solidly behind this product (IRS). The grievances will be addressed. People are reacting to the symptoms while we’re addressing the ailment," said a person familiar with the development at MRUC. He declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

A press statement released by MRUC director general Shaswati Saradar on Tuesday evening said that the “design, methodology and in-field execution of the study was benchmarked to and conducted at the very highest standards".

In the letter to Kumar, MRUC chairman Ravi Rao wrote that the board felt IRS 2013 was “the most advanced and robust study ever done at this large scale". It went on to highlight some of the changes in methodology: the use of a dual screen computerized mechanism to capture responses; a shortening of the questionnaire to reduce respondent fatigue; and the use of the latest Census 2011 numbers as the base instead of Census 2001. MRUC also offered a way out to INS by suggesting in the letter to Kumar that RSCI, which has called a meeting on 19 February, could, at this meeting, examine “the data set at the respondent level to check for data veracity".

It added in the release that “all aspects of the study will be placed before the RSCI for helping the broader community of stakeholders convince themselves about the study’s robustness and integrity".

RSCI came into being three years ago when two readership surveys—the National Readership Survey (NRS) and the Indian Readership Survey (IRS)—were merged. While the IRS was always managed by MRUC, NRS was managed by the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC). RSCI was designed as an equal partnership between MRUC and ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation).

Speaking to Mint on Monday, a Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd executive had said that if MRUC does not withdraw the data, the INS will have to explore other options. “INS could also approach the courts for a stay on the research findings," the BCCL executive said on Monday, asking not to be identified.

If INS does approach the courts, publishers and advertisers run the risk of having to do without readership data. Unhappy at the proposition, the promoter of a regional language newspaper said that four big newspaper companies were dictating INS’s agenda just because their print products have lost readers.

“Weren’t their representatives on board during the survey to check on anomalies? The fight is over circulation versus readers. Everybody knows which newspaper brands dump copies creating a dissonance between circulation and readership," said this person who asked not to be identified, and refused to name the four companies.

Media buyers at advertising agencies are not very worried about the absence of data. Print data doesn’t change overnight, they claim. “Any impact happens over a period of time," said Naveen Khemka, managing partner, ZenithOptimedia. He added that, given this, advertiser and media buyer responses were unlikely to be “knee-jerk" like they are when it comes to television ratings. According to Khemka, if the eventuality of a ratings-dark period in print, media buyers would rely on historical data, circulation figures and feedback from local markets.

MRUC had earlier stated on its website that “audience measurement data make most sense when seen in a time series. This is just the first point, and patterns will only begin to emerge once the first round of 2014 is published about a quarter hence. Using historic data to do any projections or extrapolations is contrary to our sincerest professional advice and RSCI/MRUC disclaim all responsibility for decisions made or conclusions derived by such methods. Hence, no real comparison should be made with the old data on account of superior methodology, advanced technology and greater statistical accuracy."

The survey findings—the first after MRUC and RSCI changed the research agency and the methodology—were released on 28 January and after initially celebrating the numbers, The Times of India, from BCCL’s stable, published a front page report on 31 January about 18 newspapers joining hands against the readership research. The Hindu BusinessLine’s editor also dismissed the findings on the front page of the paper.

TheHindu BusinessLine, published by Kasturi and Sons Ltd, competes with Mint, published by HT Media Ltd.

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