Ranjona Banerji: TRP scam is one more reminder that we have fallen over the edge

09 Oct,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

So, surprise, surprise. The measurement of Television Ratings Points in India is full of scummy scams. You knew this, right? You didn’t? You watched the sort of kachra that passes for “journalism” on Indian “news” channels and didn’t wonder for a moment how much integrity these channels observed in their business practices?

I don’t believe you. Anyway, it is true that they are widely watched because the first rule of journalism is that if you pander solely to the lowest common denominator, you will be very popular. But is amusing indeed that in spite of being so widely watched, they still have to fiddle their viewing figures so that they can manipulate advertisers to increase their revenue.

The Mumbai Police has filed an FIR against certain channels and named others, over a TRP scam:

https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/cover-story/nation-gets-to-know-/articleshow/78564162.cms

 

Pradyuman Maheshwari, founder and editor-in-chief of MxMIndia.com is the expert here and has the analysis and breakdown of exactly what’s going on in hand. That’s not my territory. Indeed, true confession, it took me a while to figure out that BARC is not just the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre but also Broadcast Audience Research Council, a joint industry body made up of all the “stakeholders” in television.

Disclosure: the various forms of circulation and readership surveys that are used for print journalism have also have many internal fights and breakaways and accusations but to my knowledge, the police have not yet got involved.

Meanwhile. Because the Mumbai Police mentioned Republic TV (although it is not named in the FIR), there was an enormous outbreak of melodrama and sanctimony in the media. Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami got his nostrils in uber-flare mode and threatened criminal defamation against the Mumbai police commissioner.

The other “news” channels like India Today, Times Now, CNN News18 and the rest all jumped up and down in glee at their big rival being named. India Today has also been named in the police complaint but shhhh, only Republic TV will tell you that. Don’t interrupt us now because we’re in self-righteous mode. Every news channel in India, most of whom would not understand journalism if it walked past them like the Incredible Hulk are now crowing that Republic TV is a fraud. Of course it is a fraud, but it is just one more in the stable.

In fact, I would even question whether Republic TV qualifies as a journalism outlet at all. It is nothing but a propaganda channel for the BJP. And the proof is here: BJP President JP Nadda and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar both took to Twitter to jump to the defence of Republic TV in the interest of a free media, and then predictably blamed the Congress Party for destroying democracy blah blah. No defence of India Today, umm, in spite of seven years of direct and indirect sycophancy.

(The same BJP government meanwhile has at the same time arrested journalists who want to cover the Hathras gangrape, silenced dissent, arrested activists on spurious charges including the 84 year old Stan Swamy yesterday, in the Elgar Parishad case. The BJP has no interest in democracy.)

Just as a reminder, all this action is about the media-created drama over the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, the unfounded allegations about drugs and nepotism, the destruction of Rhea Chakraborty, much of it urged on by actress Kangana Ranaut. And underlying all that, was a malevolent reasoning: use the death as distraction tactic to take people’s minds away from the various omissions of the Narendra Modi government, especially the exploding Covid19 situation.

In a comparative study, general consensus is the NDTV, Hindi and English, provide more journalism than other channels. However, there is also a consensus that of late, NDTV has been dipping its toes in the toxic water of TV “news”. It is also true that because NDTV overall practises more journalism than Times Now, India Today, CNN News18, NewsX and whoever else, they have lower viewing figures.

The model of journalism in India is clearly broken. It is broken across all media because ownership is shared. Within each media house, there are outlets which do government propaganda, outlets which practise journalism and those which sit in the middle. I give you the shamelessness of the owner of Bennett Coleman Vineet Jain tweeting about how Rhea Chakraborty was targeted by evil news channels, conveniently ignoring his own Times Now, where Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar matched Goswami in their sheer viciousness and pretence of “investigative journalism”.

Earlier, the accusation was that media outlets pandered to the advertiser to increase revenue. Remember Bennett Coleman started Medianet where advertisers and the public could pay for ‘news’ in the glamour sections, which were then on run by the marketing department? Remember how self-righteous all other print owners got? Remember how quickly they all followed suit?

That evil has been infinitely compounded by media houses now kowtowing to the Modi government and falling in line with its lies. The TRP scam is one more reminder that we have fallen over the edge. If consumers are our only lifelines back up to even ground and we’re fudging even there, then we are doomed.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal.

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