Amid TRP fraud controversy, BARC pauses ratings of news channels
Just as news channels remain embroiled in a petty fight over who leads the viewership race, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) has decided to pause weekly ratings for three months. Effectively, for 12 weeks starting now, Hindi, English, Regional, and Business news channels will not be given weekly individual ratings. In the meantime, BARC will review its "measuring standards."
A statement released on Thursday read, "In the light of recent developments, BARC Board has proposed that its 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." However, weekly audience estimates for news genres will be released.
"The exercise is expected to take around 8-12 weeks including validation and testing under the supervision of BARC's Tech Comm. BARC will continue to release weekly audience estimates for the genre of news by state and language," the statement went on.
The fake TRP scam surfaced last Thursday after Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh, in a press conference, said three channels, including Republic TV, allegedly paid households in Mumbai to keep the channels switched on, in a bid to improve ratings. According to the top cop, English news channels remained on even in illiterate households. He predicted the scam could be spread beyond Mumbai.
The allegations triggered a war-of-words between Republic TV's chief Arnab Goswami, Mumbai Police, and India Today channel. Both the news channels claimed innocence and blamed the other one for rigged ratings. Later, Mumbai Police summoned Republic TV's CFO, Shiva Subramaniyam Sundaram, in connection to the case, but the latter requested for a new date. Sundaram reportedly said he was busy with personal commitments.
Naturally, the controversy over rigged ratings got BARC ire, driving the agency to rethink its parameters. Explaining the move, BARC India Board Chairman Punit Goenka said, "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."
"We at BARC take our role in truthfully and faithfully reporting 'What India Watches' with the greatest sense of responsibility and work with integrity to ensure that our audience estimates (ratings) remain true to their purpose," said the agency's CEO Sunil Lulla.
Notably, BARC's announcement came after the Supreme Court refused to entertain a plea by Goswami in which he cast aspersions on Mumbai Police's investigation into the TRP scam. The journalist was asked to approach Bombay High Court. "Your office is at Worli. Worli to Flora Fountain (where Bombay high court is situated) is closer. We should have faith in our high courts," SC said.
Meanwhile, BARC's decision to give ratings a break was welcomed by Rajat Sharma, president of the News Broadcasters Association. "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," he reportedly said.