Another weekend and we have another Friday blogbuster from RajdeepSardesai. This time it’s about the plight of Irom Sharmila and her 11-year old fast against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This time, his lament is why Anna Hazare got all the attention and Sharmila didn’t. I usually help Rajdeep rehash his articles, because he's a favourite of mine, but this time I will let it pass. Though there are many holes in his latest article I am for anything that can help Sharmila end her fast and fight for her cause in a different manner. Right now, it’s the battle of TRPs that the media is engaged in with advertisers that is not on front pages or on our screens.
Okay, this was a headline on a news channel today morning (either Headlines Today or CNN-IBN) ‘Kareena Kapoor with all three Khans in a row’. Would any bright intellectual ever explain to me what exactly that is supposed to mean? Why in heavens are news channels more and more like ZoomTV or ImagineTV? It appears the only thing that drives news channels is a terror strike, an Anna type movement or fierce political battles. Their main programming is made up of cricket, Bollywood, cheap thrills, cars and gadgets, Hindu-bashing and if after all that, they find some time, there is news. And they'd even like to think they are the ones mostly making it. On most channels there are no serious documentaries or any serious investigations. The now extinct ‘News of the world’ and that dead dodo ‘Illustrated Weekly’ would be proud of our news channels any day. Kushwant Singh would applaud what our news channels have become. Mindless banter by the fair and lovely manly crowd of Kanwal, Rajdeep, Arnab and the extinct Prannoy! Oh, that includes the ladies too! This is where Rajdeep Sardesai came in lately. TRPs!
Television Audience Measurement (TAM) releases TRPs every week. Now, Rajdeep leads the chorus that wants them to release the ratings monthly and not weekly while advertisers want it weekly, as it currently is. Wait, advertisers even ask: why not every day? The ratings for TV channels are given in time bands from morning till prime time. In case you haven’t looked at the ratings, I recommend you just take a casual look. Mind you, the TAM ratings aren’t released publicly but only to members, who in turn use it to claim superiority in one segment or the other. You might get to see those TRPs as they get slightly dated and not before. As ordinary viewers you and I are not normally concerned about these ratings but for TV channels and advertisers these are their Bibles and Korans. They swear, live and die by it, after they have paid for it.
The recent Anna Hazare movement had TimesNow taking up the cause against govt so strongly that it had other channels playing catch-up. TimesNow took pole position like Demi Moore in Striptease, sort of! Now, Rajdeep and others contend that the weekly ratings negatively affect content on TV. Oh yeah? So if your news content is bad you throw up a Kareena Kapoor and a Khan because the ratings are bad? Yes, indeed! That is pretty much the strategy of all news channels. Saas Bahu, Bhoot Pret, Cuckoo on the couch, Flashback Bollywood, Total Recall – all these are supposed to be worthy of news channels?
“Have you noticed how news channels are getting more and more breathless in their coverage of the news? How anchors tend to shout rather than speak? How every bit of news, no matter how mundane, is deemed worthy of a Breaking News headline? And how sensation is increasingly replacing the sort of thing that used to be regarded as news?” That’s not me. That is one time Radiagate hero Vir Sanghvi writing on his website Counterpoint. I am tempted to ask Vir Sanghvi what he did when he used to be on TV. At best I could call his shows gentle massaging while you snoozed. And I am being kind really. But let it be!
Let’s hear some more from Vir Sanghvi: Currently, the news channels and the advertising industry are locked in a fierce battle over ratings. The news channels say that the current system in which ratings are declared every week is bad. It should be replaced by a system where such ratings are announced only once a month. Nonsense, say advertisers. We are in the business of spending the money our clients give us wisely. We need information that is accurate and up-to-date. In an ideal world, we would like ratings that are instantaneous. At the very least we would prefer the current system of weekly ratings that allows us to judge how well a show is doing. Why should we have to wait a month to find this out?
Let me not bore you with Vir Sanghvi. The larger principle is pretty clear. In the recent discussions about a CAG report damning Air India, every channel had conducted an inquisition on Praful Patel with severe questioning. Not one, I repeat not one channel dared mention the other report on the Reliance scam relating to the KG Basin scam. Why would they? Just as ordinary citizens that they accuse of politician-bashing, the news channels derive the same TRPs by politician-bashing. After all why would they bite the hand that feeds them? Right? And then, would an interview or screwing some lame executive from Reliance get them the same TRP? In both cases, Praful Patel and Reliance, the end result would have been denial, denial, denial! Given that end result in mind who would the channels pimp with? That’s simply a business decision and not a ‘news’ decision’! That’s the rating game.
Reliance, of course, is a stake holder in some of the news channels. Reliance is also a major advertiser on all the channels in India. So the crimes of Reliance can pass, but Praful Patel, like other politicians, is fair game for our news channels. Anna Hazare knew that pretty well. So, when Rajdeep Sardesai wonders why Irom Sharmila doesn’t get the same media attention he makes the same mistake most journalistic cub idiots make. Corruption is more identifiable with politicians than with the army. That is why the rating game prevents news channels from the issues of Irom Sharmila. The news channels are as corrupt as the political class. Try and figure this – IndiaTV for all the ridicule that is heaped on it for its ‘Bhooth preth, Karma, Punar Jamn’ stories could still be business-wise the most profitable one. If your game is getting eyeballs, real news and truth is not about catching the criminals by their balls. I doubt anyone would pay to see Rajdeep Sardesai in the nude on TV, but hey, make no mistake, if Poonam Pandey makes that announcement - that would break a lot of eyeballs wouldn't it?
So it’s neither about truth nor about news, it is just about the rating game. Our news channels just want to ensure that they remain sexy and attractive for their paymasters. Where do we, the viewers, come in? Go figure!