Television viewership monitoring agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) on Thursday said it will not publish weekly data for news channels for 8-12 weeks as it seeks to review and improve the current standards of measuring and reporting data.

The exercise will be carried out for all niche genres to improve statistical robustness and impede any attempt to infiltrate the panel homes.

Ratings for Hindi, regional and English news, and business news channels will be stopped, with immediate effect.

The move comes after Mumbai Police unearthed a television rating points (TRP) scam, in which Republic TV, Fakt Marathi, and Box Cinema were accused of manipulating viewership data by bribing homes where measurement metres were installed. The scandal may hit the business of news channels, which are under the scanner for rumour mongering and spewing hate, specifically in the coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.

BARC will, however, continue to release weekly audience estimates for the genre by state and language. It is, however, not clear, how the process will be tweaked to ensure better data standard. “Given the most recent developments, the BARC board was of the opinion that a pause was necessitated to enable the industry and BARC to work closely to review its already stringent protocols and further augment them to enable the industry to focus on collaborating for growth and well-natured competitiveness,” said Punit Goenka, chairman of the BARC India board.

The news channels have been in the eye of a storm with even the courts asking the government to crack the whip and ensure they follow the programming code. Consequently, the ministry of information and broadcasting issued an advisory to all private satellite television channels asking them to broadcast content strictly adhering to programme and advertising codes, which may not contain “anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half truths”.

The move on pausing ratings comes right in the middle of the festive season when channels expect spike in advertising. However, buyers at media agencies say that most broadcasters do advance deals so advertising may see only marginal impact.

“Unlike general entertainment channels, where ratings play a crucial role in deciding the ad spot costs, advertisers choose news channels looking at time spent and share of the market as well. TRP data has a small role to play. This decision will not have an immediate impact as the entire month of November has already been booked in terms of media buying,” said a media buyer requesting anonymity.

Yet another senior executive at a media agency said that pause in ratings may not be a good sign. “While not all ad buying decisions are solely based on TRP data… Diwali is one month away and marketers have already chalked out their media plans and bought ad spots. If they decide to pull out, there could be a 10-15% drop in advertising on news channels but majority of them will continue with their plan,” the executive said.

The News Broadcasters Association, meanwhile, said BARC’s decision is an important step in the right direction to help overhaul its systems and restore the credibility of the information it collects. “Recent revelations have brought disrepute to the measurement agency and by extension the broadcast news media. The current atmosphere of toxicity, abuse, and fake news is no longer tenable and NBA believes a bold step of putting ratings of news genre on hold will help improve the content,” said NBA president Rajat Sharma.

Human intervention in the collection and processing of viewership data must be totally eliminated to safeguard the integrity of the data, Sharma said.

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