Fake TRPs Scam: Can You Beat a Rigged System? Journalists Decode

Faking TRPs “will create a serious integrity crisis for the entire business” believe senior journalists.

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Have rigged TRPs and mudslinging between news channels cost television news its credibility? As the Mumbai police investigates into the latest allegations of TRP rigging by Republic TV and other channels, senior journalists spoke to The Quint, to help decode the TRP game that often sets the news agenda for channels.

Rigging of Television Rating Points (TRP) appears to be the worst kept secret of television news. Founding editor of Satyahindi.com, Ashutosh, points out that he was not surprised when the allegations surfaced.

“I had been doubtful about TRP rigging for a long time. In fact, when I was with IBN7... once I had thought and discussed with my team about rigging in the TRP ratings system, and if we could do a sting operation. So, we had many meetings where we discussed about it. But that’s almost 10 years back.”
Ashutosh, Founding Editor, satyahindi.com

Abhinandan Sekhri, the co-founder of News Laundry, further adds that this is not the first time TV news channels have been accused of faking TRPs. This is, however, the first time it’s made news on other competing channels.

“The reasons could be that one wants to take down the other, but now the whole country knows. Now, with this becoming such a big deal and everybody talking about this even for personal reasons, at least we can figure a way to resolve this because it is very dodgy... the way TRPs of news channels, specifically, are calculated and monetised,” said Sekhri.

Did Mumbai Police Jump the Gun By Naming Republic TV?

When the Mumbai Police held a press conference on 8 October about their investigation into the TRP scam, Commissioner Param Bir Singh named Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV among those who had “indulged in such malpractices.”

This prompted competing news channels to question Republic TV on the allegations. The FIR registered by the Mumbai police, however, referred to one channel – India Today, and not Republic TV.

This earned the city police massive backlash from Republic TV and other media outlets.

“Some of the arguments being made by Republic TV appear to be valid because they say that ‘the FIR was lodged with India Today TV’s name, how did it come to us?’ Now, the Mumbai police are saying that it reached Republic TV because when we investigated we found that the meters were being rigged and the people were being told to watch a particular channel they were being asked to watch Republic TV, along with these two other channels. However, the point is that even then, if it were a very transparent thing, then they should not have named only Republic TV.”
Aunindyo Chakravarty, Former Senior Managing Editor, NDTV India & NDTV Profit 

Chakravarty further explained, “We know the current political atmosphere in which Republic TV has taken on the Mumbai police and the Maharashtra government and, obviously, the Maharashtra government and the Mumbai police will be accused of a political witch hunt, whether it is a political witch hunt or not... that is obviously not for us to know or say, that will only appear after investigations are done.”

But this controversy begs the question, why are TRPs such a big deal? At the end of the day, the ratings drive advertising and revenue. If a channel is unable to garner good ratings, advertising agencies and media buyers would be unable to justify spending money buying ad spots on the channel.

As Chakravarty points out that, ultimately, the spending would be audited. “Someone's going to audit that, how did you put this ad on a channel which has no ratings? Why did you do it? So, therefore, that is why it is so important that ratings matter, because of advertising.”

“See, TRP is the real devil in the game. A real devil in the game in the sense because any TV news channel, which is slightly higher in the list, higher in the chart, there is a belief that that channel is doing very well. In my opinion, the quality of the editorial content should not be judged on the basis of the numbers in the ratings, the quality of journalism should be just on the basis of the stories you do, the impact to make the issues you take up and how much trust you have.”
Ashutosh, Founding Editor, satyahindi.com  

Viewer Confidence Shattered?

As the mudslinging between TV news channels continues over TRPs, it’s the confidence of the viewers that ends up shattered. Ashutosh points out, this will create a serious integrity crisis for the entire business as the audience would not be able to distinguish the honest from the dishonest.

“I think it is best these platforms discredit each other. They have done a huge disservice to news. Many of them, I’m not saying all. There are a few good broadcasters who are trying against the odds, although I do think they have other problems in how they have been lazy about having to adapt to the digital age. I think it’s fantastic that they are going at each other and the quicker they dismantle each other, a new, more robust and sensible news ecosystem can emerge.”
Abhinandan Sekhri, Co-Founder, News Laundry  

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