News Ratings: “Approval” Received

14 Jan,2022

 

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorAdvisory. Directive. Missive. Instruction. Notice. Approval. Order. Go-ahead.

 

These are some of the words that have described the communication sent by MIB to BARC India, for the latter to release new channels ratings with “immediate effect”.

 

While the decision to revive news channel ratings has been long overdue, that such a decision must come from MIB and not from BARC India itself encapsulates the core issue with India’s television ratings system (or Indian television, in general) today. The industry must suffer from the vagaries arising out of too much interference from government bodies such as TRAI and MIB.

 

To begin with, some of this interference is extra-constitutional. MIB has no official role to play in BARC India, which is an independent industry body. Some may argue that the MIB note is just an advisory that’s not legally binding on BARC India. But we know that’s not how things actually work. If MIB has said news ratings must restart, BARC India has no practical option but to comply.

 

The restarting of news ratings is a welcome step. But the MIB statement begs the question: Whose decision was it? Why now, just before some big state elections? Have the “problems” that warranted the stopping of ratings in late 2020 been fixed?

 

When founded as an independent industry body, BARC India would have aspired to hold the positioning of a credible and progressive TV ratings measurement company of one of the biggest TV markets in the world. It’s a highly technical role, and one that should command immense respect from stakeholders across the board. But today, they are positioned as an agency that’s at the beck and call of ministers and administrators, who seem to know more about research, measurement, and statistics than the company set up to run the show. The role of BARC India CEO should have been arguably the most enviable position in the Indian media and entertainment industry. Instead, it’s one burdened with controversies and bureaucratic hassles.

 

It’s difficult to say how we reached here. Did BARC India make the mistake of opening its doors to “interference” in its early years? Avoiding government interference in media altogether may be difficult. After all, you never know when an “advisory” or a notification is coming your way. Perhaps BARC India could have pre-empted some of this, and worked on setting committees and processes in its formative years.

 

So, we will soon have news ratings back. That, in isolation, is a good development on several counts, though some would argue that our news channels have become marginally more watchable since the ratings went out of their lives. But the real issue is: The government is finding new ways to run the Indian television industry by proxy, with no apparent logic at the heart of it. From the disasters called NTO and NTO 2.0 to the involvement in BARC India, the government seems to be back in the old Doordarshan mindset: That the state must exert its influence over the media, even if it is just to flex its muscles. And the television industry must grin and bear it!

 

 

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