Television

Whether BARC action can stop unethical practices?

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MUMBAI: Can businesses and industries practise their art of selling fairly although they have 'Fair Practices' training during academic courses, workshops and several ISO and other certifications? There seems to be the fear of the lawman, and not the law in India. If the traffic cop is watching, nobody would jump a signal on the highway, if the competition or the monopolies regulator is watching closely, none would dare to contravene rules. The case in point is of two television broadcast channels which had been caught trying to influence the sample of a rating agency in order to get higher viewership numbers, which in turn would help them get higher advertising revenue.

Close on the heels of Tamil Nadu-based Raj TV having been issued a legal notice by audience measurement body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, another similar contravention of law has been caught by it.

The Tamil Nadu-based satellite television network Raj TV was, in March 2016, issued a legal notice by BARC which, as reported by indiantelevision.com, alleged that certain 'sample' homes with viewership meters "have been approached and have been asked to watch your channel 'Raj TV' in exchange for some financial consideration."

And now, BARC India and Kerala TV Federation (KTF) have filed a police complaint with the director-general of Kerala police after the former's vigilance team received complaints regarding attempts to retrieve addresses of BARC India panel homes and influencing them.

KTF is a trade body representing Malayalam channels in Kerala. Speaking to indiantelevision.com, Asianet MD and KTF president K Madhavan said that it had facilitated BARC's police complaint against certain unidentified individuals who are trying to influence sample homes. "More the number of panels, more is the likelihood of such problems," Madhavan said.

Thiruvananthapuram-based Federation secretary and Kairali TV MD John Brittas could not be reached for comment on the possible way forward, and concrete action on the ground. But, the fact remains how effective will a mere complaint be, or how efficiently will the local police in the distant state of Kerala act against local unlawful persons on the basis of a complaint from a ratings body based in Mumbai or Delhi.

The complaint was filed after the BARC India vigilance team's gathered conclusive evidence of more than one effort to tamper with its TV viewership measurement system in favour of a couple of channels. Preliminary scrutiny by the on-ground vigilance team has confirmed that attempts had been made by some individuals to not only find out addresses of the TV panel homes, but also to incentivise them and influence their viewership.

These acts of the suspects are a cause for concern for BARC India and the broadcasting community in Kerala, and are allegedly causing financial losses to other channels. Kerala Police are reportedly investigating the matter further.

As per its established standard operating procedure, BARC India immediately quarantined the impacted panel homes from its TV viewership measurement system to ensure efforts at infiltration don’t impact the ratings of channels operating in the region.

In the case of Raj TV too, it seemed like a one-off case. "The network, in order to garner higher ratings, was perusing households with the meter boxes to tune in to its channels. BARC found this as a criminal offense and hence have issued a legal notice to the broadcaster," a source close to the development had said.

However M Ragunathan, director of marketing at Raj Television Network, had termed the allegations as 'baseless.'

It seems BARC is trying its best to send out a strong message to channels and broadcasters that such unethical means of influencing their respective ratings are not going to be taken lightly. BARC is attempting to project that it is not a toothless body. It is the first time that it has filed an FIR after meeting the Kerala director-general of police against these "criminal activities."

In the fresh case, Dasgupta, in a statement earlier, said, “TV industry trades on the currency released by BARC India and we understand how important every rating point is to the broadcaster. We have evidence of a couple of broadcasters trying to tamper with our panel homes to improve ratings. We have taken steps to quarantine the affected panel homes. While we have filed a complaint this time, we want the industry to be aware that, going forward, BARC India will stop publishing ratings for those channels found involved in such activities,” he said.

"Well done, BARC, for taking strong action against those tampering with the system. Must name and shame offenders," Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia Chairman and CEO Ashish Bhasin has tweeted.

It remains to be seen whether BARC is going to name or shame the broadcasters in question. It's over to team BARC.

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