A large part of North India woke up to a severe public health emergency on Friday morning with Delhi-NCR almost choking in the smog.
In such a dire situation, the people were left to their fate not only by the governments but even the top national news channels, although both institutions run because of the same very public. There was almost nil coverage related to the pollution-led health emergency. Instead, people found non-stop Israel-Hamas war on most of the news channels.
One simple takeaway: News channels mean business and chase TRPs which comes from Israel.
Having said that, if there was no ratings for the news genre, most of the news channels would be focussing on pollution, questioning the government’s efforts and advising people on ways to keep themselves safe from the toxic air.
Unfortunately, the same news broadcasters somehow have convinced the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that they are showing public interest content.
So much so that I&B Secretary Apurva Chandra on various occasions said that the news channels automatically show mandatory public interest content as per the government’s guidelines.
On the contrary, his ministry has issued several warnings/advisories to the news broadcasters for not adhering to the programme code and relying on everything from fake news to hyperbole in order to get some eyeballs from innocent people.
Television ratings or TRP released every week by BARC India are solely responsible for this unprecedented crisis.
Until the government accepts the problem, there could be no solution in sight.
In August, speculations were rife that the government was about to order shutting down the TRPs for the news genre. There was a serious consideration in this regard at the top level of the government. However, for some reason, the I&B ministry was convinced by the idea of sharing raw-level data as a solution and Chandra came on record to say that it would check manipulations.
Bombarded by complaints from various news broadcasters about manipulations, the ministry misconstrued that the problem was about manipulations.
The ministry argues that under any democratic framework, a robust TRP system is news broadcasters’ fundamental right. However, given the external and internal interferences, it is still debatable if the TRP system is representing What India Watches, a trademark tagline of BARC India.
It is an undeniable fact that a better TRP gives a channel more bargaining power for a better advertising rate.
When you ask advertisers, they claim that they keep the credibility of a news channel in mind and not necessarily the TRPs for advertising. But their double speak is exposed when they agree to offer a rate hike to the channels performing better in TRPs and negotiate for a lower rate for lower TRPs, irrespective of their own credibility claims.
The vicious cycle news broadcasters are caught in
In the quest to earn that advertisers’ money, a news broadcaster first tries to influence the system with external interferences which could be landing pages or meter tampering.
Those external interferences give them a boost in the reach of a news channel which can only be translated into TRPs if a viewer sticks to their channel. And there comes the internal interferences which is making the content as sticky as possible by any means.
This is the logic of showing ‘war hysteria’ 24x7. That too in a tonality that it becomes a sensational live video game that any viewer sitting in remote areas would continue watching non-stop.
The same goes for offering toxic content such as deplorable, distasteful and offensive debates involving religious hatred.
Several news broadcasters who claim to serve the nation and the national interest do not even think about how they are infecting the minds of innocent people with filth.
The broadcasters always argue that they show what people like to watch and the parameter to judge this is the TRP.
After the infamous 2020 TRP scam, there was a pause on the ratings for about 17 months which briefly improved the television news content barring a few incidents such as the arrest of Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan. That was an exceptionally high-interest case and no media outlet, including print and digital media, was leaving any stone unturned in their coverage.
Is the I&B ministry undoing the government’s efforts and failing society at large?
The mandate of the I&B ministry is to amplify the messaging around the government policies and ensure they reach every person even in the remotest areas of the country.
So much so that the government recently announced 'Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra' starting from 20th November 2023 under the supervision of the I&B ministry.
In the proposed yatra, government schemes will be publicised across 2.55 lakh gram panchayats and nearly 18,000 locations in urban areas.
In order to ensure the last mile messaging, the government offered crores of DD Freedish connections to the poor people in the remote areas.
Now, do you know what the viewers of DD Freedish are forced to watch?
The ‘war hysteria’.
The latest BARC data for week 43 (October 21-27, 2023) shows that the DD Freedish viewers are watching the ‘war hysteria’ as most of the ratings coming from ‘war content’ are coming from the "free platform".
Thus, the innocent people are being forced to watch the ‘war hysteria’ in the name of news for the reasons explained above.
Considering this, it appears that the government created a huge platform with an estimated 60 million DD Freedish connections to spread toxicity instead of awareness about government schemes and achievements.
And this is directly harming the interests of the government when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a third term.