The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology is likely to take up the fake Television Rating Points scam, days after the Mumbai Police said that their investigation revealed that three news channels manipulated the numbers in their favour, The Indian Express reported on Saturday. The IT panel is headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.
Lok Sabha member Karti Chidambaram on Friday wrote to Tharoor, requesting the panel to seek a clarification from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the matter. “The recent issues surrounding Television Rating Points of television channels have cast doubts on the legitimacy and reliability of the system,” the letter said. “TRPs produce essential data on television audiences in India and have become the primary basis for advertising decisions. Government advertising expenditure depends on this system, but public spending should not be based on flawed data.”
The next two sittings of the committee will be held on October 15 and 16, according to News18. The sitting would hear the views of the representatives of News Broadcasters Association, Press Council of India and Prasar Bharati on the subject “Ethical Standards in Media Coverage”. The News Broadcasters Association is an industry body for television news channels.
Besides this, the agenda also includes taking “oral evidence of the representatives” of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Ethical Standards in Media Coverage.
According to the Hindustan Times, this meeting would be the first such discussion by a committee of the Indian Parliament on matters such as ethical standards in media coverage and preventing the misuse of social media platforms.
Besides ethical standards in media coverage, the panel has listed 20 other subjects for review in this financial year after its reconstitution last month. This includes safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms. There will also be a special emphasis on women’s security and a review of the functioning and outreach of Doordarshan channels.
The TRP scam
Television Rating Point, or TRP, is a metric provided to judge which programmes are viewed the most. It gives an index of the choice of the people and also the popularity of a particular channel.
The fake TRP racket came to light when ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group, alleging that certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers. Hansa Research is one of BARC’s vendors on engagement with panel homes, or “peoples meters”.
The agency currently has 44,000 panel households measuring viewership across the country. The data collected from these meters was supposed to be kept under wraps. One of the witnesses in the scam on Friday told NDTV that he was bribed by a television channel to watch a certain programme everyday.
Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh had said that an analysis of manipulation of news trends showed a “false narrative” was being spread, especially regarding the investigation into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.
Republic TV, Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi have been accused of TRP manipulation during the preliminary investigation. The Mumbai Police have arrested four people so far, including the owners of Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi, Shirish Shetty and Narayan Sharma. They were produced before a local court on Friday, which remanded them in police custody till October 13.
Republic TV has refuted the allegations and accused Mumbai Police of a vendetta because the channel had questioned the city police’s investigation into Rajput’s death, as well as the channel’s reportage on the Palghar lynching case. The group has moved the Supreme Court against the Mumbai Police’s summons to its executives.
Republic TV also raked up its allegations against India Today and said the Mumbai Police gave the news channel a clean chit even though the FIR in the case names it six times. Besides this, it claimed that the key witness in the case has gone on-record making allegations against India Today. However, Singh had clarified there said was no evidence against India Today.
On Friday, the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police summoned Republic TV Chief Financial Officer Shiva Subramaniyam Sundaram in connection with the investigation. He is the first official from the television channel to have been called in for questioning. Sundaram, however, called for a reschedule on Saturday, citing “personal commitments”.