A conflict is brewing within India’s TV news ecosystem. The News Broadcasters Association, which represents over two dozen broadcasters, has accused the Broadcast Audience Research Council of “conniving” with TV9 Bharatvarsh to manipulate the Hindi news channel’s viewership ratings.
In a letter to BARC, which measures weekly viewership numbers of TV channels, NBA president Rajat Sharma demanded that the council conduct “an independent third party enquiry, thoroughly investigate, take remedial actions and also take actions against officials involved in corrupt practices.”
TV9 Bharatvarsh, launched ahead of last year’s general election, was a member of the NBA until March this year. It competes for viewership with India TV, which Sharma leads as chairman and editor.
“Several news broadcasters have written to BARC drawing their attention that every week’s ratings are not in correlation to the basics of television. The manipulated data is being released week after week without taking any remedial action. These are corrupt practices, which are being done with complete connivance with BARC and the broadcaster,” Sharma alleged in the letter. “Instead of looking into the problems being raised by broadcaster, we are shocked to receive an unwanted mail addressed to the President NBA from an official in BARC justifying the credibility of TV9 Bharatvarsh weekly data.”
He added, “It is a well known fact that several channels of TV 9 group have been caught in the past manipulating their viewership data so as to climb up the ratings data, which had resulted in suspension of their channel data by BARC.”
Sharma’s letter also raised questions about “wild swings” in the ratings of English news channels. “English has been suffering the same pattern of chaos. Many wild swings in single markets, compounded with the failure of a reach outlier picking mechanism, have made the data unusable. Republic TV continues to show exceptional Coverage in Chennai market, possibly because of an Out of Genre placement next to Tamil channels in gross violation of the law. How can an English speaking market be a single channel phenomenon? What is BARC’s plan to course correct?"
Responding to the letter, the TV9 Network said it contained “pernicious allegations”. “We are constrained to point out that this defamatory act will be addressed in an appropriate manner very soon,” it added.
It suggested that the letter was prompted by the network’s refusal to renew its NBA membership after March 31. To back up its claims, the network released its correspondence with the NBA’s officials regarding the matter.
“Till very recently, the NBA was relentlessly courting TV9 Network to retain its membership after the network decided not to renew the same on March 31,” the network said. “On June 16, after due consideration, we politely refused. One month later, we are in the NBA's bad books. Is this coincidence or coercion?”
Asked about allegations of corruption levelled by the NBA, a spokesperson for BARC told the , “BARC diligently reports what India watches on television and each week’s data is released only after a comprehensive statistical and security data validation.”
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