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News channels have come under the scanner over the past few weeks, with the government and broadcaster associations cracking the whip on them for toxic reportage. (Photo: Mint)
News channels have come under the scanner over the past few weeks, with the government and broadcaster associations cracking the whip on them for toxic reportage. (Photo: Mint)

BARC to pause ratings for news channels

  • The TRP scandal will likely affect the news channel business which has been under the scanner for rumour mongering and spewing hate in the past few months, specifically in their coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death

NEW DELHI: Following reports of alleged rigging of viewership ratings, television viewership monitoring agency BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) has said that it will pause publishing of weekly data for news channels for the next 8-12 weeks in order to review and augment the current standards of measuring and reporting the data.

The exercise will be carried out for all niche genres to improve their statistical robustness and impede any attempt to infiltrate the panel homes. With immediate effect, ratings for all Hindi, Regional, English News and Business News channels will be stopped.

The move comes soon after the Mumbai Police unearthed a Television Rating Points (TRP) scam where some channels have been accused of manipulating their viewership by bribing homes where measurement meters have been placed.

The TRP scandal is expected to affect the news channel business which has already been under the scanner for rumour mongering and spewing hate in the past few months, specifically in their coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.

In the case, the Mumbai Police named Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema. A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology led by Shashi Tharoor is also likely to take up the matter soon.

Though BARC will not release viewership data for individual news channels, however, it will continue to release weekly audience estimates for the genre by state and language. It is, however, unclear as of now, how the actual process of measurement will be tweaked or reviewed.

"Given the most recent developments, the BARC Board was of the opinion that a pause was necessitated to enable the industry and BARC to work closely to review its already stringent protocols and further augment them to enable the industry to focus on collaborating for growth and well-natured competitiveness," Punit Goenka, chairman of BARC India Board, said in a statement.

News channels have been in the eye of a storm with even the courts asking the government to crack the whip and ensure they follow the programming code. Consequently, the ministry of information and broadcasting issued an advisory to all private satellite television channels asking them to broadcast content strictly adhering to Programme and Advertising Codes, which may not contain “anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half truths."

The move on pausing ratings comes right in the middle of the festive season when channels expect spike in advertising. However, buyers at media agencies say that most broadcasters do advance deals so advertising may see only marginal impact.

"Unlike general entertainment channels (GECs) where ratings play a crucial role in deciding the ad spot costs, advertisers choose news channels looking at time spent and share of the market as well. TRP data has a small role to play. This decision will not have an immediate impact since the entire month of November has already been booked in terms of media buying," said a media buyer on condition of anonymity.

Yet another senior executive at a media agency said that pause in ratings may not be a good sign. "While not all ad buying decisions are solely based on TRP data, it does give agencies a direction. Diwali is one month away and marketers have already chalked out their media plans and bought ad spots. If they decide to pull out, there could be a 10 -15% drop in advertising on news channels but majority of them will continue with their plan," the executive said.

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), meanwhile, said BARC’s decision is an important step in the right direction to help overhaul its systems and restore the credibility of the information it collects.

“Recent revelations have brought disrepute to the measurement agency and by extension the broadcast news media. The current atmosphere of toxicity, abuse and fake news is no longer tenable and NBA believes a bold step of putting ratings of news genre on hold will help in improving the content," NBA president Rajat Sharma said in a statement.

To safeguard the integrity of viewership data, human intervention in its collection and processing must be totally eliminated, Sharma added.

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