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Exposé, statements, rebuttals: India TV & STAR India slug it out over ‘KBC2’

28-January-2006
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Exposé, statements, rebuttals: India TV & STAR India slug it out over ‘KBC2’

KBC2’s premature wrap-up might have been one cause of concern for STAR India, but matters have become grave with the ‘exposé’ that India TV aired on its show, ‘Breaking News’, on January 26, 2006. The exposé by India TV was first published by Mid-Day on the same day and was also carried in ‘Hindustan’ on January 27. In a press statement, STAR has strongly dismissed the report, allegation by allegation, while India TV has countered it point by point.

To put things in perspective, in the report headlined ‘Con Banega Crorepati’, Mid-Day highlighted India TV’s charge that the same person appearing twice on KBC2 is a ‘mathematical improbability’. In a nutshell, key points of the report stated that five contestants made it to the show twice – the probability of which is almost zero.

Nine BSNL employees and one MTNL employee made it to the final 10, which, as quoted in the report, is in “… apparent violation of the rules, which bar employees of KBC2’s advertisers and partners from participating”. The India TV exposé hinted at the possibility that the anchor of the show, Amitabh Bachchan, had distanced himself from KBC owing to these alleged irregularities.

In the statement issued by STAR India, the broadcaster called these reports “attempts to defame KBC2 and the STAR Network by deliberately creating an atmosphere of innuendo and hype” and “based upon incomplete information and misinterpretation of facts.”

The statement quoted STAR India’s COO, Sameer Nair, “We have always maintained that Bachchan’s health is of paramount importance. After he expressed his inability to shoot for the next couple of months on medical advice, we have taken the decision to end this season of KBC. We are also contemplating the modalities of returning with the third season of KBC after taking this break. Claiming that Bachchan is distancing himself from the show due to alleged irregularities in the selection process is trying to put weight into a story that is baseless.”

In regards to the other charges regarding the selection process, STAR India drew attention to the fact that the selection process was validated by well-known audit firm KPMG. The statement further added, “Rules allow for contestants to come to Fastest Finger First (round of 10) more than once. Only if the participant has made it to the Hot Seat (which means the winner of Fastest Finger First round) is he disqualified from subsequent participation in the competition.”

The STAR statement also pointed out, “BSNL/MTNL are national telephony service providers and not restricted entities as per the rules of KBC2.”

India TV also came out with its arguments late in the evening. About rules allowing contestants to appear in Fastest Finger First more than once, Chintamani Rao, CEO, India TV, said, “The rules may well permit a contestant to come up to the round of 10 more than once, but that is not the point at issue in our story. It is simply a matter of mathematical (im)probability. As the numbers get funnelled down from up to 25 lakh to 500 to 100 to 10, with a combination of skill, quotas and random selection at each stage, the probability of one person making it twice is near zero. When that happens five times in a span of three months, ordinary viewers wonder…”

Regarding STAR India’s claim that BSNL and MTNL were not restricted entities as per rules, Rao observed, “The question is simply whether STAR TV makes money out of these phone calls. If STAR TV has a revenue sharing arrangement with them, as broadcasters and telecom companies usually do, then they must be restricted entities in the spirit of fair competition.”

Sameer Nair has termed the expose as nothing but “frivolous” and “sensational journalism”. In STAR India’s statement, he said, “Frivolous accusations of this nature have created an environment of malicious innuendo. We will be taking strong action, using whatever means available to us under the law of the land, against such deliberate defamation and slander against KBC 2 and the STAR Network,” said Sameer Nair. “It is a clear case of sensational journalism by trying to stir up public frenzy on hype rather than facts,” he asserted.

Rao responded, “What is frivolous is a subjective question. To a large multinational broadcaster like STAR, this may well be a frivolous matter. To crores of Indians, who have believed in KBC and, especially to those who have spent their time, money and emotions chasing a dream, it is not. Since the story broke, our phone lines have been jammed and we have received thousands of email and SMS messages from viewers expressing their anguish. In our daily India Poll, 99 per cent of respondents want a refund. The rest want to let it be because of their love and respect for Amitabh Bachchan.”

As for “taking strong action, using whatever means available to us under the law of the land”, all India TV had to say is, “To crores of ordinary Indians, it is an emotional matter and a let-down, not a legal issue.”

The issue surely doesn’t appear closed. What most are watching out for is the impact this could have on Indian television’s most expensive and arguably the most successful property, KBC 2, and STAR India.

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