Rivalry-turned-war exposed. We need a reincarnation of TRP system: Alok Mehta

Guest Column: Mehta, former president of Editors Guild of India & ex-member of Press Council of India, writes how the recent TRP scam is affecting the credibility of the news business

e4m by Alok Mehta
Updated: Oct 12, 2020 9:51 AM
alok mehta

The TRP war among TV channels has been exposed. Even though Mumbai police has been accused of being biased and working with vendetta and support of ruling leaders of Maharashtra, the unfortunate part of the whole controversy is that senior editorial people are losing credibility. But who should be blamed?

Most of the players in the industry have been crying foul and accusing others of manipulations. The TRP business of news channels has been a controversial topic in the last two decades. In fact, I carried one detailed story in 2006- 2007 in Outlook Hindi weekly as the Editor and one senior official from the ratings agency came to meet me for protest-cum-clarifications. But we stood by our story and did not carry any clarification. Therefore, media persons are not surprised with the recent exposures. But, we feel bad, sad and wish for some long- term solutions. 

Television ratings in India have been the most controversial element of the media business since the unleashing of private channels, and yet ratings continue to dictate and determine the content priorities. The way TRP has become a yardstick of the industry is unprecedented and even intriguing. Broadcasters have often raised questions on the credibility of TRP. But in the recent months, it has turned into a dirty game.  The real problems are processes, the formula of western society, semi control by foreign agencies, and cut-throat competition of the media industry.

But why only blame electronic media? Are we not aware and have experienced manipulations in print publications? For decades, small, medium, and big media companies have challenged the circulation figures of other dailies, magazines. The unfortunate part is that governments and private business groups also give priority to the number game – circulations/ readerships/viewers. Certainly, it's important, but qualities suffer and some owners or marketing people start a game of manipulations for a bigger share of advertisements.

Ten years ago, in a seminar, I suggested a senior editor of a news channel to do a sting operation on manipulations and frauds in the circulation of some publications. I, and a number of my colleagues, were aware of how copies of these publications were dumped in godown and later discarded as trash.

The same problem started in news channels when we opened doors for all who can invest and earn by hook or crook. New players are always in a hurry to make profits. Political parties, business houses or other lobbies also support one or the other channel and help to destroy the "enemy". 

If we go in the history, one book will not be enough. When we have challenges and crises, we need to think positive and try to find out solutions for credibility, survival, expansion, and revenue. We need to try to be 'swadeshi'.

Hope our colleagues are better aware of the difference in the social, and family life of western societies and India. In the west, the basic income capacity and life standard do not vary in different regions. But in India, near the biggest bungalows, one can find the smallest houses. Also, in one family, three generations have different choices in several areas of life.

Anyway, the recent controversy of TRP or extremism on news channels also provide a chance to governments ( Central or states) to intervene with new rules, regulations, and laws. The demand for a media council has been pending for long, and most political parties are interested to have some check/control on media.

The other factor is more serious. If news business/channels loose credibility and fight each others & police, or revenue departments start questioning investors and advertisers, who will come to rescue them? This is time for self analysis. Self discipline means code of ethics, a 'laxman rekha'. We need a new system of TRP with larger audience of India. It will not only help to improve and boost the reputation of Indian media but alo strengthen Indian democracy and its future.  

The writer is former President of Editors Guild of India & ex- member of Press Council of India

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

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