The recent instance where NDTV— a Delhi based news channel has sued television measurement company TAM India and its parent firm Nielsen and Kantar for over a billion dollars in the Supreme Court of New York for alleged manipulation of TV ratings puts a big question mark on the credibility of the much-vaunted TRP ratings that news channels hanker after. Media reports indicate that in the past too, TAM India has resorted to such unethical manipulations with its officers taking bribes and presenting distorted ratings. In its 194-page lawsuit dossier, NDTV is seeking compensation to damages amounting to $580 million.
The lawsuit NDTV filed mentions that using a small sample size and low turnover, the organization has resorted to make manipulators in the “People Metres” installed in over 8,000 respondents’ houses. It has also been alleged that TAM staff offered to multiply and give higher TV ratings for NDTV in just two or three months provided NDTV was willing to grease their palms.
While it is indeed refreshing that NDTV has blown the whistle against such errant practices and for this, in its first place, NDTV should be congratulated, but simultaneously it is also imperative to look at two other facets. First— the well known fact that the TRP ratings are manipulated and lack credibility. Secondly and following from the above, despite being known for its manipulative nature and discrepancies, TRPs are of utmost importance for a television channel. Otherwise why would NDTV have bothered to file a legal suit and expose the country’s only television measurement company? It is certainly not entirely because of its avowed journalistic mission.
Ever since the advent of the era of globalization, liberalization and consequent free market economy, which started in the early 1990s of the last century when path-breaking economic reforms were unleashed by the then Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, the emergence of private TV channels has led to the dramatic evolution in the Indian media industry. On one hand people were no longer compelled to restrict themselves with Doordarshan’s Government version but on the other hand, the stiff competition among the private players at the same time had given rise to an unhealthy competition. In their mad rush to give the ‘news’ first, news channels started airing footages and presenting facts and figures without properly scrutinizing them. Reporters have become no longer reluctant to even concoct fake stories just for the sake of feeding content to their channels for 24 hours. The recent instance where a reporter of a Guwahati based satellite channel owned by a powerful cabinet Minister in the Assam Government can be cited as a classic case in point of such instance. It would, however, be wrong to put the blame entirely on the electronic media, for the print too has resorted to such means by publishing advertorials or by publishing the version of certain vested sections under the impression that this is the unbiased version of the newspaper. Readers would do well to know how a Kolkata-based regional daily during the Beltola incident published the semi-naked picture (that was only partially blacked only to avoid legal action) of a girl only to increase its circulation.
By emphasizing on the above, we are not even remotely trying to undermine the commercial aspect of the media. It is beyond doubt that for an industry to survive revenue must come and in this context especially for a region like Assam where Government advertisements are scarce, revenue must come in the form of advertisements sponsored by private organizations. But that should not in any way indicate that the said channel or newspaper will not point out the wrongdoings of the advertisement-sponsored organization. To stem the prevalence of unethical vices in as far as employees are concerned, managements of media organizations too have to play an important role. They should give the employees a decent salary— sufficient to sustain so that to earn extra money they do not indulge themselves in unfair means. We are not suggesting that mere hiking the salary will stop a section of unscrupulous journalists from treading the wrong path for we have said long ago that all saints have not become journalists but it will at least encourage some people with good integrity and an effective value system in place to come and join this industry. It is also required that the people subscribe to news papers with low circulation. This is because newspapers with low circulation do not usually earn lot of advertisements so their possibility of being biased and propagating vested interest is ruled out to a great extent. The same holds true of news channels. However, it appears difficult for news channels as most of them are owned by unscrupulous people or people with vested political links.
In the ultimate analysis, we wish to reiterate that when the whole world is changing and where corruption is ruling the roost, it would be total absurdity to assume that only journalists will remain insulated from this but at the same time journalists would do well to note that this is not a profession but a mission to deliver that must be reflected on the canvas of democracy and gel well with its cause. It is imperative that present day journalists remember our tradition linked with media, when visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak started newspapers to inform the public about the callousness of the British raj and some of which must continue even today. Therefore, it is important that the journalists today remember this and that the media evolved thus, with this attitude in its backdrop.