A Mumbai Police statement said some television channels, including Republic TV, were rigging their TRPs. Police claimed the viewership was being illegally increased, as per reports. They claimed they have arrested owners of two such channels and have sent a notice to Republic TV as well. Arnab Goswami, owner-anchor of the channel in question, hit back at the police saying, “Republic will fight back, Republic will continue its investigation into the Sushant Singh Rajput case, the Palghar case and any other case.”
Republic TV is not alone; other channels like Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema are also under scrutiny. As per reports, and as indicated by the channel’s statement, these spiked TRPs are the ones linked to the coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case, follow-up of Rhea Chakraborty, and build-up around the same.
Now that authorities are claiming to have smelt out fishy business on TRP ratings of television news channels, it’s the perfect time for us as the audience to reflect on all we have been consuming in the name of news with our dinners every day these past few weeks. How far are news anchors really interested in delivering truth to the audiences? Do they consider the public a priority or their ratings?
Big Question Mark On The Veracity Of News
Media watcher and independent filmmaker, Harini Calamur tells us this is not the first India has heard of a TRP rigging. There was a similar case during the early 2000s, with CNBC breaking a story in Mumbai. “It’s not the first and it won’t be the last time either, because the system is very clunky. It’s a winner takes all system. There’s a very non-transparent method of evaluating. TRP is the only currency accepted by the advertisers, advertising agencies, and channels. But nobody wants to change the system because it’s convenient. It’s not a new problem… We’ve had it since we have private-sector channels.”
The clear lack of sturdiness in the rating point system ironically even mirrors the kind of reporting we as viewers are seeing today.
Knowing it will drive TRPs, news channels plate out gossip, and the audience laps it up hungrily. The sensationalist agenda we are served daily in the name of news, as a total insult to our intelligence, should be a personal affront to everyone. Do we not deserve better from the channels we are paying for? Should we not be hearing the voices of people from remote India with urgent problems instead of anchors screaming from air-conditioned studios?
In the Sushant Singh Rajput case for instance – all the while that CBI has been probing into the case, news media was conducting parallel investigations of its own. Was the audience checking WhatsApp forwards based on these news reports for veracity? Why must TV media even be allowed to weigh in on ongoing death cases with sensationalism? Is it time for us collectively to reflect on the news we consume?
Major Gaffes By News Channels: Should We Not Demand Better?
With many news channels under the legal radar, there only seems to be one answer – YES. Earlier today, it was reported that NBSA had slapped a fine of Rs 1 lakh on news channel Aaj Tak for telecasting fake tweets in the case, and directed broadcasters Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV, and News 24 “to air an apology on their channels for violation of ethics.” How did fake information get past the channel’s editorial filters? Should they have even been allowed to float on air without verification? Does it not hamper the route to judicial and ethical resolution (of any case)?
Consider this other instance: Throughout the SSR coverage, Times Now, led by anchors Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar, gained access to and displayed WhatsApp chats of Bollywood celebrities, Rajput’s dead body, while inclining itself towards the murder theory. Recently, following the AIIMS medical report that allegedly claimed Rajput’s death was a suicide, not murder, the news channel took a sharp U-turn and on one of its flashes ironically showed, “Will those who cried murder and maligned Mumbai Police now introspect?”
Because public memory is short. pic.twitter.com/QVcCOcKmvx
— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) October 3, 2020
If this is how seriously a news channel is taking itself, how can the audience be expected to treat it with blind trust? Does it not indicate that news channels are only swimming in the tides of whichever narrative is dominant at one given time? Should they not report with restraint when their own theories are riddled with ifs and buts? Must they not keep their reporting adrift of hints towards conspiracy theories?
Breaking News And Hate Agenda
Jon Stewart’s immortal words – “Twenty-four-hour news networks are built for one thing, and that’s 9/11. There are very few events that would justify being covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So in the absence of urgency, they have to create it. You create urgency through conflict.” – seem to have fallen on deaf ears as far as Indian TV media is concerned. Did the SSR case really warrant an hourly breaking news update every single day?
Non-broadcast journalists have been relentlessly pointing out that the TV media’s continuous coverage of Rajput’s death was risking neglect to a lot of other pressing issues in the country. Questioning this, Rituparna Chatterjee in an earlier interview told us, “If you think about it, is this a case that justifies 24/7 news coverage at the cost of everything else? There’s COVID, job loss, lives are at stake… TRPs should be driven by talking about issues that matter right now to a lot of people.”
We had earlier reported how a Republic TV journalist had quit citing the channel’s “aggressive agenda” towards Chakraborty in the SSR case. Speaking now on the alleged TRP scam, Priyanka Chaturvedi, a politician with Shiv Sena, spoke in an interview about how channels were “creating stories out of hatred” and running an agenda “under political bosses,” which was “definitely far from the truth.”
“The TRP was being manipulated to show that their agenda was something the country was connecting with, which was definitely far from the truth”: Priyanka Chaturvedi, leader, Shiv Sena on Republic TV being named by Mumbai Police in rating manipulation case pic.twitter.com/pd5kiVi7KY
— NDTV (@ndtv) October 8, 2020
Time To Renovate The TRP System?
It is also widely understood that TRP ratings aren’t often in sync with what the actual numbers are since the system takes a limited number of TV-watching households to extrapolate information as a reference point for its general consensus. Calamur asks, “But who benefits from TRP? It’s the channel that benefits. Unless action is taken against the people authorising this, it won’t change.”
So what is the way forward from here? Will legal action deter news channels from running propaganda or baseless reports? Will channels sit up and now bring to us stories that are honest, authentic, less affected by the TRP rat race? Will they show preference to factual reporting over gossip? Finally, will the rating system be renovated to streamline it with what the actual numbers are?
Since the investigation is underway, nothing conclusive can be said on how things will end. But much of the power lies with us, as the audience. Whether or not channels and their owners are brought to book in this case, as intelligent viewers we must begin demanding better from the upholders of journalism, what is said to be the fourth estate. To break out of the vicious cycle of broadcast news and TRPs, we must stop enabling this toxic, co-dependent relationship by shifting our consumer focus to real news. News that deserves views, not eyeballs.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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