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Issue 7

Arnabgate, TRPs and What you need to know about the ‘Business’ of Journalism

Saman Fatima

Fiery debates, screaming news anchors and a flurry of accusations or honest news and analysis—-what makes journalism sell? What makes news sensational and how does the business of television journalism work? These are questions that most of us asked after Republic TVs TRP scandal, Arnab’s WhatsApp chat leak and the BARC chiefs chilling confessions.

Journalism, despite its claim to honesty, is not always about unbiased, neutral news coverage. What we see as news and the way it is presented and moulded into a narrative is often a product of a larger nexus of debates, deliberations, requests, and often political and social leanings. With sensational journalism and ideologically driven news becoming increasingly common, why the ‘business’ of news reporting needs to be understood today is more important than ever. Arnab Goswami and the Republic media’s TRP scandal is an important marker in understanding how this ‘business’ functions and affects news viewership, content and revenue from advertisements. 

Television Rating Point (TRP) is the primary mechanism that keeps track of the popularity of specific programmes and channels on the television. How the TRP works and the policies for survey and measurement of these points differ for each country. In India, however, BARC (Broadcasting Audience Rating Council) is responsible for installing 44,000 bar-o-meters to represent the program choices of over 2 lakh Indians. BARC thus, is supposed to be an independent, transparent body, vested with significant authority to understand television consumer behaviour within the country. However, despite the sample size of survey by these meters being too small for a country with over 2 crore television sets, another problem with the way the system is its ability to to manipulate these meters and their ratings by paying individuals or households to view particular channels or programmes. Several such instances would thus provide faulty samples and result in something that we see happening today with news agencies like the Republic. The question then arises,

Why do TRPs matter?

 Televised Rating Points, other than establishing what the Indian population watches, also decide who within the myriad of television channels is popular and worth investing by companies.Higher TRPs result in businesses and political parties advertising through these channels to get their product, ideology or achievements to the public. This, in turn, provides a platform for engagement between businesses, political organisations and viewers. This relationship between the three develops further as investments in these channels increases with higher increasing TRPs thus allowing for certain ideologies, products, and affiliations to thrive through advertisements and funding for the channel. 

 Why does the interaction/nexus/business matter?

When we as viewers watch these news channels, not only do we see specific advertisements for products, we also get a glimpse of promotional advertisements by political parties, the government as well as specific financial contributors to the channel, which in turn does affect our consumer behaviour and supply specific information about these products and organisations. Further, news channels may have ideological or political leanings, often stemming from the business aspect of it, or maybe projections of the organisation or editors’ opinions. These factors decide what ‘makes’ the news. Breaking news thus might be a result of deliberated pros and cons for the channel, its beliefs and is often reflected in the way news is presented on tv. What we get as news may thus reflect personal or organisational beliefs, ideologies or political leanings, owing to TRPs which increase the channel’s funding ,reach, narratives, and often holds power to affect public opinion. 

The business of news reporting is complicated and is often hard to understand. Sometimes, it might be difficult to differentiate between opinion, news and propaganda, owing to the fine line between the three. Thus, as consumers, what we can do is try to understand the industry as a business, separate and filter ideas of honesty and truth to further understand what constitutes news. 

While online media, Instagram channels and Twitter have become prominent spaces for debate, what still needs to be done is to understand and differentiate between news and organizational views we are surrounded by and subjected to every day.

Saman Fatima is an undergraduate History student who is an avid reader and poetry writer.

Picture Credits: “TV, Television and remote controller – stock photo” by espensorvik is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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