Television

Charge sheet filed against seven for manipulating BARC viewership data

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MUMBAI: In a first, a charge sheet is filed against seven accused in Hyderabad for allegedly manipulating BARC viewership data to benefit two Telugu news channels.

The cases were registered against the accused after BARC filed FIR at West Marredpally Police Station, Hyderabad. The accused were connected with two news channels in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana region.

BARC has, in the past, taken tough action against those involved in TV ratings (TRP) manipulation in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Assam in 2018-2019, but this is the first time that a charge sheet has been filed in such a case.

During the investigation, the police took a note of influencing and tampering the viewership of BARC household where meters are installed which is used to capture and report TV ratings and thereby causing losses to the TV industry. The charge sheet was filed on Monday which prima facie makes out a case against the accused, BARC said in a statement.

The accused have been booked under Sec 406, Sec 420 r/w and Sec 34 of IPC. 

Advertising is a major source of revenue for the TV industry and TV viewership data (TRP ratings) provided by BARC India acts as the currency for advertisers. Hence some channels with vested interest use these means to boost their ratings.

To deal with such cases of data manipulation, BARC India has upped its vigilance drive in July with stronger counter-measures to protect the system from Panel Tampering and other unfair practices with respect to manipulation of television viewership.

In March 2017, BARC had set up an independent Disciplinary Committee (DisComm) to probe complaints of viewership malpractice. Over the course of last 28 months, 18 cases have been referred to the DisComm with evidence of such malpractices.  

The highest number of instances have been reported from markets in South India: 6 from Tamil Nadu, 5 from AP/Telangana and 1 from Karnataka. Penal action has been taken against 12 channels in the country. It may be recalled that FIRs were filed in Telangana and arrests have been made in Karnataka and Gwalior. 

The DisComm is headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal, former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, and has representation of all three industry bodies Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF), Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI). The committee also comprises of D. Shivanandan, former Mumbai Police Commissioner and Maharashtra DGP, and Paritosh Joshi, independent technical expert. 

BARC India is also evangelizing initiatives like Sample Return Path Data (SRPD), which will not only make the viewership data more robust but will also help address the issue of panel home tampering. BARC India also has a strict code of conduct for redressing viewership malpractices that is undertaken by all entities subscribing to BARC India’s weekly service.  

BARC India has also engaged with TRAI and Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to get regulatory support and legal provisions to make panel tampering a punishable offence. BARC India and several industry members have made the point in TRAI’s Consultation Paper on TV viewership measurement. 

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