MUMBAI: When Kantar Market Research Services, a shareholder of TAM media research, decided to go to court to legally oppose one of the guidelines that had been recently approved by the cabinet committee on economic affairs, it raised some eyebrows though the move was not unexpected. And even though Kantar was not given a stay on the legality of the cross holding legislation that it has been seeking, what came as a surprise on day two of the hearing was when the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) was made a party to the case.
What made the biggest news broadcasting representative body in the country decide to intervene in the case and be subsequently made a part of it? Contrary to what many may believe, the NBA is not against Kantar but rather it is in favour of the guidelines. “We went as interveners to show our support to the approved guidelines and the court decided that we should be a part of it,” says a senior official from the NBA.
The news organisation has always been vocal on the alleged irregularities and kinks in TAM’s rating system. “We had decided a while ago that we would make a mention of our support in court. Change in the way the ratings are delivered has been pending for several years and finally the moment of truth has arrived and so we don’t need it to be stalled again,” informed the official.
In mid-2013, several news channels members of the NBA had decided to boycott TAM claiming that its TV ratings data was rigged. Voices in support of the upcoming agency the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) grew overwhelmingly. The NBA now feels that there could be no better time than now for the guidelines to come into effect.
The case which is ongoing in the Delhi High Court is now being fought by the petitioner Kantar against the government of India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the NBA. In media interviews Kantar has stated that it won’t go down so easily and that the cross holding guideline it has challenged will make its life and existence a misery.
In the hearing on 29 January, the HC decided not to give a stay order to Kantar since the regulation was promulgated by a statutory body – the TRAI. On the same day, the NBA pointed out that TAM operates on a small sample size of just 8,000 people. The case will next be heard on 11 February.
All the three respondents have a week’s time to file their respective affidavits to the court.
In October last year when the ad cap case was ongoing in the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), three broadcasters namely Star, Zee and Viacom18 had tried to become interveners in support of the 12 minute ad cap regulation but they had been barred from doing so since their representative body - the Indian Broadcasting Foundation - had decided to withdraw the appeal against the ad cap. However, the NBA claims it has consistently been vocal about its views on TV viewership ratings, hence its candidature as an intervener has validity.
The key questions now are whether the HC will offer a lifeline to TAM by imposing a stay on implementation of the cross holding guideline or whether will it cut off its oxygen supply?