Monday, May 21, 2012

Advertising Avarice

So the news channels are up in protest against a TRAI notification. Maybe some other channels too. And what is their grievance? That if the TRAI advertising limit of 12 minutes per hour is enforced most of them may find the business unviable and shut down. That would probably be good for people. Some news channels are simply not even news channels. If you add up the content of any news channel for a whole 24 hours the net content wouldn’t be more than 2 hours’ worth. The rest is made up of repeats and advertisements or even religious discourses. Almost everyone has either watched IPL or any other Cricket match but you wake up in the morning to catch up on some news you are likely to find these matches being discussed and clips being played over and over again. There isn’t any news-worthiness or original content in such programmes. Still, let us give them the benefit of airing what they choose and when they choose. Even if they have collectively forgotten that ‘news’ is public service.

So what are the TRAI guidelines that seem to have upset our honest, truthful and nation-building news channels? Here are excerpts from an IndiaToday report:

The TRAI notification says, no broadcaster shall carry in its broadcast of a programme, advertisements exceeding 12 minutes in a clock hour and any shortfall of advertisement in any clock hour shall not be carried over…..The ads in the clock hour shall include all types of commercials including those promoting the TV channel itself… that the ads carried on its channels are only full-screen advertisements and there shall be no part-screen or drop-down advertisement….that the audio level of the advertisements carried in its channel shall not be higher than the audio level of the programme being broadcast in the channel.

And India Today adds its own two cents: These restrictions on advertisements will reduce the earnings of the news channels and make it difficult for them to operate. Most news channels are running into losses or operating on wafer-thin margins as they have to make huge investments in preparing the news programmes and then bearing the entire cost of uplinking the content to the satellite from where it is downloaded by the multi-service operators.

Alright, so you might be led to think the news gangs are protesting some new TRAI notification. Not at all! The 12-minute rule has existed for a long time and the channels have simply been brazenly flouting all norms and rules of advertising for many years. So what they really want is the license to continue flouting the rules else they will die. Isn’t that nice? What if I tell you I want to beat up a few people because unless I do that I can’t live in peace? So the law should allow me to break laws for my survival. The recent TRAI notice was one to only remind the news channels of the rules which channels should adhere to. It was required to issue this notification in response to many complaints it had received against illegitimate advertising by news channels. In January 2011 a NGO, Utsarg, had filed a petition against the news channels with the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) on this very issue. TDSAT had to then take up the matter which has finally culminated in the fresh notice by TRAI. Prior to this, in a post titled ‘Fradulent Invasion of Privacy” I had listed the evil of Pop-up ads and screen-blocking ads.

 The print news media, in contrast to TV, is allowed over 60% of paper space for ads and commercials. While I am not debating whether it’s fair or not, at least with a newspaper you have the option of skipping the ads and reading the news and content of your choice. Even so, sometimes there will such gross features that you’d find it impossible to miss the images. Hmmm, this is particularly so when it concerns products for which ads are banned – tobacco and liquor. Take a look at this Hindustan Times article on the increasing popularity of Vodka among younger consumers: “Splash of white”. Ah well, new Vodka brands launched since 2011 can’t have mega launch campaigns or ads. But if you wanted to know which the new launches are, HT is there to tell you. And not just that, the huge images of Smirnoff and KetelOne aren’t even the new brand launches listed. That makes me wonder if Smirnoff and KetelOne and others make this a form of ‘paid news’. Only HT can confirm or deny. HT is not the only one, many other liquor and tobacco products are carried as “Features” with images larger than even normal ads in almost all newspapers.

If journalism was also about ethics, our TV news channels have absolutely no qualms about breaking rules, carrying surrogate advertising by every liquor brand and even carrying propaganda for political parties. The 12 minute advertising limit can surely be negotiated and increased a bit but beyond that all the fraudulent pop-ups and screen-blocking ads during programmes must surely stop.

Lastly, it would be naïve of anyone to believe that our news channels survive purely on advertising revenue. That used to be the old model. If this were true for the present then no news channel would be able to explain the illogically high investments many are still receiving from the corporate sector. Recently, Reliance has made huge investments in the TV18 group (CNN-IBN), Aditya Birla group has made investments in Living Media (Aaj Tak, Headlines Today). Surely, if Reliance or Birla wanted to seek great profits then news media is hardly a great prospect going by the wailing of the news channels over thin profits or losses. If the current 24-hour model of news TV advertising is not generating enough profits I find it hard to believe there can be a 48-hour model. The greed and avarice that drives the lust in our news channels to deliver a cocktail of Bollywood, Fashion shows, Cricket, Beauty Pageants, Page 3 culture, Surrogate liquor ads, Propaganda is really not about News at all. A serious investigation into the finances of major news channels by a statutory body, like CAG or ED, will reveal a lot more than “News”.


  1. atleast the law should be enforced for these paidmedia channels who flout all ethics in the name of media

  2. Dear Ravinar,

    The main stream news Media has become the puppet of the Rich & Powerful with very long hands & deep pockets. Every Indian must be made aware of this sick trend of Money power. Again & Again we come to the same conclusion :

  3. This is reality of our paidmedia channels state of affairs & u r exposing them brilliantly.


    Modi on the way out. The above article proves it conclusively.

  5. Better will be Govt allows only 12 mins programming only in half an hour and rest of advertisements, because usually they don't have contents more than 12 minutes and these saas bahu serials are a torture. Will be happy to see them curtailed or shut off completely. The most irritating part is on the cable connections they show local ads running during the show as a strip on popular channels

  6. Will this be enforced ?
    (will you please disable this word verification, this is nuisance)

  7. There are some more things that TRAI needs to take note of. At any moment you watch TV, you will see a large garish channel logo, some onscreen graphics about whats on now, or what will be broadcast next, or some other overlaid promo for other programming.

    And then there may be the subtitles and finally the overlaid logo of the DTH operator and the annoying little box with your subscriber details that flashes on the screen every once in a while, to prevent cable operators stealing channel signals from DTH boxes. So, for much of the time on many channels, all four corners are occupied with one kind of overlay or another. All this drowns the actual visuals, the real purpose of the broadcast, out and distracts you with all this rubbish.

    TRAI needs to impose rules on the percentage of the screen the logo should occupy, how far from the corner, and the time at which the subscriber IDs (can be random but not every few minutes) become visible on the screen. Overlaying of the DTH operator's logo on every channel should be banned outright. There need to be serious restrictions on the promo overlays during programming also. I do not pay thrice the cable operator's fees to a DTH operator to watch channels with half the screen blocked with such crap.

  8. I would like the TRAI to formulate one policy as well. If you show commercials in your channels and your programmes are sponsored by someone else, then you can't be a paid channel. Now the channels are showing commercials, as well as getting paid. Let the channels choose audience over ads or vice versa... But somehow, I am not seeing this common sense approach from the TRAI... or Broadcast ministry.

  9. Dear Ravi,
    Has anyone ever taken TRAI seriously?
    Have service providers ever obeyed a TRAI or Supreme Court order? How many ads have we be bombarded with?
    Does any mobile or TV manufacturer ever stop to consider what features the consumer would like?
    The Consumer Courts are largely a failure due to their obscurity.
    We need a positive clone of Ralph Nader and Mamta Bannerjee for consumer issues.
    Most importantly, is TV passe'?

  10. I would have been happy, and the country a better place, if these news channels were actually banned. I hear people say 'All are the same, XYZ is different'. But they fail to see the disguised ploys of XYZ .

  11. Dear Ravi,
    Please check this webpage:

    It clearly shows what TOI is trying to do. They took some pics from web and posted then as Jaganmohan Reddy's home(sorry PALACEs as per TOI). Everything was fine when he was with congress. When he doesn't agree to bow before Sonia..he became a demon.they are doing to do everything whatever they can to contain him.

    1. From past 2 weeks i am seeing negative reports on Jagan everyday in TOI. But also in Deccan Chronicle, to some extent(not including telugu media). TOI,CBI,Congress found that YS Jagan as the corrupt person only after leaving congress party defying sonia AMMA. Now as there are elections in 18 constutiencies and in which all the surveys pointing his win..eveyday there wille be some news defaming him, linking him to almost every crime happened in the state.

    2. Gvr, that doesn't mean Jagan is clean. Every body knows that Jagan is corrupt. Whether it is Congress or BJP, culprits must be punished and their assets must be seized. Jagan looted huge amount with his father and congress help. Let the corrupted be punished. Don't make this blog an anti congress. This blog is about Media crooks that licks the foots of politicians.

  12. Pls do write a piece on how paid dalals of media tried to justify petrol priceton hike last night. Arnab Goswami does not know the meaning of moderator, Congi lout was running late, instead of discussing the issue, he started blasting BJP spokesperson for NDA rule! In our country, media is worst than worst whore available is cheapest of red light area anywhere in the world. Arnab has forgotton that media has act in a balanced and objective way rather than paid dalals of CON party, so charged he was last night, that given a chance, i will beat him physically, he is annoying as well as stupid! These thugs never question how tax-payer money is wasted!

    1. Arnab is not congress, but he loves to blast everyone. Dont forget during Anna's tamasha, he routinely blasted congress spokespersons and leaders while making Anna look like a demi god with halo. Media has no masters.

  13. we need media which is free from corporate,paid news and an surrogate ads,,shame on us who watch brainwashing tv telecast as true,they are worse than prostitute,,spoiling new generation and creatng delusion among youth by propogating false image of idiot shahrukh khan prostitute actress,,shame on them


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