The TRP manipulation case, where India Today is accused of bribing households where BARC viewership tracking devices are installed to watch the channel, has become a tool of Mumbai police to illegally harass Republic TV. Despite documents showing that it was India Today which was named in the complaint and the FIR in the case, the police continue to harass Republic TV, which was not named, and Hansa Research, which had actually exposed the scam and filed the complaint.
While the illegal actions of the Mumbai police are well known by now, the role of another entity in the case, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), also raises some questions. There is a huge difference in its reactions to comments by the two channels, Republic TV and India Today, raising questions on its impartially and fairness.
BARC reaction towards Republic TV
After the Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh had alleged that Republic TV is an accused in the TRP manipulation case, the channel had accessed the report prepared by Hansa Research and the FIR filed in the case, which had shown that it was not named, instead, India Today was the accused channel. Subsequently on 18th October, Republic TV had shown an e-mail received from BARC, which had confirmed that the channel was not under investigation for TRP manipulation.
The BARC’s mail written to Republic TV had categorically stated that there has been no manipulation by Republic media network. The mail stated that if there was any complaint against Republic, BARC would have informed about the same to the media house. The response from BARC comes after Republic media network had urged BARC representatives to confirm in public about the clean chit given by rating agency to the media network. The CEO of Republic TV Vikas Khanchandani had written to BARC CEO requesting him to publicly acknowledge about BARC’s finding that it had found no infringement the Republic TV.
However, after Republic TV had displayed the content of the e-mail in its defence, the BARC had reacted in a strange manner. It issued a strong statement against Republic TV and condemned it for revealing the email, saying that it was confidential communication. “BARC India is highly disappointed with the actions of the Republic Network by disclosing private and confidential communications and misrepresenting the samem,” it had said in a statement.
BARC didn’t deny the content of the email shown by Republic TV, which means it is correct that they didn’t find any violation by the channel, but still objected to using the email in defence by the channel saying it was confidential. It was a rather strange, as it is expected that the channel will use everything to protect itself from the hounding by Mumbai police.
Moreover, the claim that the email was confidential also raises the question that why should the information contained within the communication be confidential. With media trial underway across all channels and the reputation of Republic TV being dragged through the mud, it is imperative that authorities with the wherewithal to clear the air do come forward and do their job.
But despite having crucial evidence that can clear the name of Republic TV, it chose not to so and allowed Mumbai police to continue to hound the channel when there is no evidence against it. And when the channel got an official statement from BARC and made it public, BARC objected to it, clearly indicating that it wants the case against the channel to go on despite knowing that the channel is not guilty.
BARC reaction towards India Today
Now, the reaction of BARC, or the absence of it, to a recent statement by India Today raises the question on impartiality of the organisation. On 5 November, India Today issued a statement saying that its stand has been vindicated against BARC. It claimed that Bombay High Court had overruled BARC in an earlier case where BARC had fined the channel Rs 5 lakh. The channel and its journalists claimed victory against BARC, saying they were found not guilty by the court.
But this was a completely wrong claim, as the court didn’t exonerate them, the court only set aside the BARC order of imposing penalty on them, and asked to start the proceedings afresh.
Moreover, it was BARC itself which had told the court that it was ready to give the India Today group a fresh hearing, which the court had accepted. BARC said that here is now a new Code of Conduct for Redressing Viewership Malpractices, and its Disciplinary Council is ready for fresh hearing.
The main argument of India Today was that when BARC had issued the order against it, the Disciplinary Council did not have the appropriate quorum. Now the council has quorum, and India Today also told the court that it is ready for fresh hearing.
This makes it clear that neither BARC nor the High Court has pronounced the channel innocent. They only quashed the earlier order and is going to start the proceedings again against the channel, under new code of conduct. The case against India Today remains, which will be heard by BARC again. Therefore, when India Today announced victory against BARC, it was clearly lying.
But BARC is yet to react to it, it has not clarified that India Today has not won against it. While Republic TV had displayed a mail actually sent by BARC, they had objected saying it was confidential, but now when India Today is openly spreading lie regarding BARC, the organisation is silent.
This, therefore, raises the question on the role of BARC in this entire TRP manipulation saga.