TRP Scam

By: Jhalak Dhandhania

Television has become a big business today. And like every other business, its main aim is to earn profit. But unlike others, these telivision channels make profit through the TRP of their channels. As we know, the hunger for money makes a person do anything. Similarly, the hunger for TRP has made these channels practice unfair means.

What is TRP?

Television Rating Point (TRP) is the tool to judge which channel and programme are viewed the most. It indicates the popularity of a TV channel or a programme. Basically, it shows how many times people are watching a channel or a particular programme. It is calculated by Indian agency - The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) using “BAR-O-meters." These meters are installed in around 45,000 households, divided into 12 categories, covering a population of 80 crore people. The BARC releases weekly TRP results ranking all TV channels and TV programmes.But some channels attempt at rigging this rating by fraudlent means to increase their channel’s TRP. They do this to attract more number of advertisers and investors to pay to their channel to run their advertisement as the more the number of ratings of a channel, the more will be the number of brands advertising on the channel and the more will be the profit earned.

TRP Fraud Case

The Mumbai police’s investigation into the TRP scam,allegedly involving Republic TV and two other Marathi channels – Fakt Marathi and Box Cinemas - of rigging the ratings has generated a lot of noise in recent days. The alleged scam came into light when ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group against these channels. The Mumbai Police claims that these channels bribed the members of the household where BAR-O-meters were installed and asked them to stay constantly tuned in their particular channels in order to boost their ratings. The police alleged that crores of money was made on the basis of this manipulated TRPs. However, all the channels named in the FIR denied any wrongdoing.The claim that these television channels were caught red-handed bribing households to raise their television rating points (TRP) was met with howls of approval from the rest of the media and an exasperated public and, of course, equally cacophonous protests from those accused of manipulation. Interestingly, almost the entire TV news industry appears to have united as never before against this malpractice.

TRP Manipulation -An open secret

This is not the first time that television ratings have been manipulated, nor is it surprising that it has happened again.There have been several cases of rigging of TRP in the past years. Back in 2012 , TAM Media Research’s authenticity of ratings was questioned for manupulating television viewership data in favour of channels that were willing to offer bribes to its officials. Following this TAM Media was replaced by BARC India. Then in 2016, three news channels, including India News, were accused of artificially enhancing their viewership figures by bribing members of BARC ‘panel homes’ to watch their channels. Following that, their ratings were suspended for four weeks. Not only this, back in 2018, Mahesh Kushwah, an employee of Hansa Research, has been accused for leaking the confidential information of the company to TV news channels, thereby causing financial loss and diminishing the reputation of the company. Hence, there is no improvement even today. It occurred even when TAM was around and now it’s taking place under the BARC regime as well.

 

Root Cause of TRP Scams

The problem is that there is no specific legal provision declaring this offence as a criminal one. Even though, the police can cobble up a patchwork of sections under the Indian Penal Code but it usually takes more than that to convince courts, unless they are in a very indulgent mood. Moreover some of the channels have deep political connections which makes the matters even worse. Frankly, the government should not have a role in the business of news television. But by running to the government, channel owners have invited the ministers and bureaucracy to step into a territory which they shouldn’t be treading on. So every time when there is a peeve, news channels flock to the information and broadcasting minister for government intervention.

The role of media and  news channels is to spread awareness and provide information about various government policies, facts about important events happening across the country, technological advancement, research studies and also to act as the voice of the voiceless and to be a great force in building the nation. Hence, it is supposed to be infavour of the public or for public good. But since this is not very profitable, the TV News Channels require the advertisers to fund their news channles. An advertiser will give money to these channels only when people watch these channels so that they can sell their products. Hence, in such a scenario a channel either tries to show explosive and exclusive programmes to keep the viewers glued to their seat or shows higher ratings by manipulating TRP.  This clearly potrayes that these TRP Scams are a result of a broken news model

driven by advertising money.

 

Does This affects the common People?

Does this affects the common people of our country? The answer is Yes, it does affects.We live in a democratic country and media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Democracy runs well only when its citizenry is correctly informed and it is true to its audience. And the citizens are informed by news channels. Hence, a compromised news model will lead to a compromised citizenry. Thus as responsible citizens, we must call out advitisers who are funding hateful and problematic content, change the channels and provide TRP only to the contents that are worth it and support independent media because when the public pays,  public is served and when the advitisers pay, advitisers are served.

Conclusion

Television has played a very crucial role in structuring the society. It acts like a bridge between the governing bodies and general public. It is a powerful and flexible tool that influences the public to a great extent. Thus,  the law on media surely requires a serious overhaul. It can very well begin with two small but extremely urgent pieces of legislation. First, declaring ‘rigging’ of TRPs a criminal offence, thus filling in a critical gap, and second, controling venomous hate programmes on television. An improved rating system is surely better than no ratings at all or any subjective assessment. In fact, if the present public disgust and industry’s apprehensions lead to these options, the well-organised manipulators of public opinion would simply slaughter the more vulnerable liberal media.

Sources:

https://thewire.in/media/trp-scam-tv-channels-government

https://thewire.in/media/trp-manipulation-tv-hate-propaganda

https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/10/30/there-was-a-trp-scam-before-republic-tv-what-happened-to-it