Close on the heels of Dharitri, an Oriya daily, getting a reprieve from a court, directing IRS not to use its masthead in the readership survey, Rashtradoot, a Hindi daily from Rajasthan, has derived an interim order from the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) not to exclude it from the readership survey conducted by NRS.
The Commission has also ordered an enquiry into the alleged restrictive trade practice by the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC) for blacklisting the newspaper.
Rashtradoot, which is published from five centres in Rajasthan and has been NRS subscribers since its inception, had moved the Commission complaining of serious loss of advertisement revenues due to the unwarranted non-inclusion of its daily and weekly publications from the 2005 survey.
The Commission has restrained NRSC, a division of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), from excluding the Rashtradoot group of newspapers from NRS 2006, “subject to payment of requisite subscriptioin fees and compliance with all general conditions.”
In their 19-page order, pronounced on January 24, MRTPC Chairman Justice B K Rathi and member M M K Sardana rejected NRSC’s plea to exclude the newspaper group on the ground that it has ‘leaked’ the results of NRS 2003, degrading credibility and reputation of NRS reports itself, and further denounced integrity of the survey by going to the High Court causing great financial loss in terms of litigation cost and putting hurdles in its functioning.
Rashtradoot had published a news item on the NRS 2003 showing the Times of India overtaking Hindustan Times in Delhi, two months before the survey report was out.
“Nowadays, there is strong competition between newspapers as to who breaks the news first. The complainant alleged that it had received the news from reliable sources and accordingly published it. The complainant, therefore, cannot be blacklisted for the reason that it published the result of the survey before it was actually released,” the order said.
The MRTPC also rejected NRSC’s plea that it could not be questioned in the instant case since NRSC was a private body that did not discharge any statutory or quasi-statutory functions.
Rashtradoot alleged that its publications were excluded only because it chose to move the Delhi High Court in exercise of its rights to plead for correcting the gross errors in their readership figures in the 2003 survey, which wrongly depicted their readership as having plummeted by 95 per cent in just a year.
Welcoming the order, Somesh Sharma, Chief Executive, Rashtradoot, said, “NRS never addresses the grievances of small and medium newspapers and it thinks it can get away with any serious blunder. Our fight is a fight for transparency in its functioning.”
Replying to a query as to why the newspaper wanted to be included in a survey in which it had no faith, Rashtradoot’s lawyer Akhil Sibal said, “The patronage enjoyed by NRS is very high in the industry. It commands virtual monopoly when it comes to readership surveys. So, we don’t have any choice but to opt for NRS. But the entire process of its survey is shrouded in secrecy. It treats smaller players in a high-handed manner, whereas we are fighting for transparency in its action.”