Times Network Mulls Legal Action Against BARC For Rating Manipulation
Bennett Coleman & Company Ltd., India's top newspaper publisher and television channel owner, on Monday said it is mulling legal action against BARC over its alleged role in the manipulation of television ratings.
In a statement, BCCL said it is contemplating legal action against Broadcast Audience Research Council over alleged fraud in declaring rival Republic TV as leading in the English News Genre ahead of the group's Times Now news channel.
BARC's Forensic Audit of July 2020, as well as the multiple emails and WhatsApp chats of that period, which has been accessed by Mumbai Police, clearly shows that BCCL's Times Now's TRPs were indeed manually reduced by BARC officials.
BCCL, a subscriber of viewership data from BARC for its channels, including Times Now operating under Times Network, alleged the rating agency had "fraudulently declared Republic TV as No. 1, even when Times Now was consistently higher" by a large margin.
"Due to this unacceptable and unpardonable act of BARC, Times Network has suffered huge financial losses and irreparable damage to its reputation/ goodwill. Times Network/ BCCL is contemplating all possible legal actions against BARC for non-redressal of its grievances, as available in law for wrongful loss caused," Times Network said in the statement.
It also intends to initiate appropriate proceedings against the individual perpetrators of the fraud as per provisions of Criminal and Civil laws, Times Network added.
Times Network had made multiple attempts to get an official statement of explanation from BARC in the last few weeks, which has been rebuffed.
Even after unearthing this gross misreporting of an entire genre for a protracted period vide the Forensic Audit Report of July 2020, BARC's present Management and Board kept this matter under wraps and took no action against any of the perpetrators other than asking some of the errant officials to silently resign, it added.
"The inaction as far as we can see is systemic and deliberate, as had it not been for the Mumbai Police investigators who stumbled upon this report in December 2020, BARC had no intention in the first place to either inform us as affected party or penalise the fraudulent broadcaster," it said.
This constitutes moral turpitude, breach of trust and puts a question on code of conduct and ethical standards of the present BARC Board and Management.
"It is worth pondering as to whether such a Board and Management can indeed preside over a system which puts out ratings that impact ad spends worth over Rs 30,000 crore per annum and impacts the livelihoods of thousands of employees engaged in the broadcast sector," the statement said.
According to BCCL, it had suspected manipulation of ratings after the launch of Republic TV.
"Since 2017 and especially after the launch of Republic TV in May 2017, BCCL/ Times Network suspected large scale manipulation of ratings pertaining to illegal usage of multiple LCNs and out of EPG placement by Republic TV," it said.
It had found significant abnormalities in market-wise ratings of Republic TV, which clearly indicates ground level tampering and deliberate intervention at the raw data level to favour them.
It has repeatedly complained about these irregularities to BARC for almost two years but got no resolution, said Times Network, part of country's largest media conglomerate, The Times Group.
Now, the press statement by Mumbai Police on Dec. 25, 2020, in the ongoing investigation into the BARC TRP Scam, has made it clear that proof had been unearthed exposing manipulation by BARC officials for the benefit of Republic TV in 2017/18, Times Network added.
"As per BARC's Forensic Audit of July 2020, as well as the multiple emails and WhatsApp chats of that period, which has been accessed by Mumbai Police, it is now clear that Times Now's TRPs were indeed manually reduced by BARC officials headed by Partho Dasgupta and Romil Ramgarhia before publishing, with the intention to give undue advantage to Republic TV in the English News Genre and thereby fraudulently declare Republic TV as No 1, even when Times Now was consistently higher by a large margin and was the undisputed leader of the Genre," it said.