War over TRPs: Republican 
norms buried by all players

At the outset, we can most unambiguously state that this newspaper group has no personal stake in the war that has broken out between media players over the alleged abuse of the Television Rating Points tool to award advertising budgets to competing channels. However the welter of charges and counter-charges flying around in a section of the media since Mumbai Police, allegedly incidentally, discovered the alleged manipulation of viewership figures by Republic TV, reflects poorly on the media as a whole.

A messenger ought not to become the message himself. Of course, there are no saints in this war. One of those making the loudest noises is widely known to have been a big culprit itself. Circulation figures for hoodwinking advertisers were routinely fudged by selling bundles of freshly printed publications in bulk as 'raddi' during the time newsprint was rationed. Since then, circulation figures have been padded to influence advertisers. Editorial policy is dictated by the extent of advertising revenues earmarked by government agencies. Some of the big players were big because they have mastered the art of manipulation.

Another finds itself dragged into the vortex of the loose accusations, though for obvious reasons, the focus of Mumbai Police remains on Republic TV. Following the rather wild and unprofessional handling of the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput by the channel, the ruling alliance has looked for ways to fix its promoter-editor Arnab Goswami. Earlier, multiple FIRs were filed against him after the channel unleashed a no-holds-barred tirade against the ruling alliance, blaming it for the 'murder’ of sadhus in an ambush by villagers who had allegedly mistaken them for child-lifters. Goswami got relief from the apex court against the harassment of running around all over the country to respond to almost identical FIRs. But he was now a marked man, as far as the ruling Maharashtra alliance was concerned. His shrill coverage belligerently countered the initial finding that Rajput’s death was a case of suicide. It in all likelihood was.

Republic TV left no stone unturned to allege a conspiracy to suppress the murder, since it hinted the alleged involvement of a high-profile Maharashtra politician. Several Bollywood figures too were dragged in. And poor Rhea Chakraborty became a collateral damage. But this is not about Arnab Goswami’s journalism. Viewers, of course, have an option. If they don’t like what they see, they can always use the remote. There are professional bodies meant to oversee television and other media content.

Our problem is with the manner in which the local police has inserted itself into the matter. It seems vengeful. We do not even remotely approve of Goswam’s editorial judgment. No. Not at all. But we will defend his right to go horribly wrong. Those at the receiving end of his seemingly vicious attacks can always seek redressal through bona fide channels. Investigating an alleged TRP scam does not even serve as a thin fig-leaf to cover the real motive. It is to teach Arnab Goswami a lesson.

Mumbai Police, in seeking to please its political masters, may be as wrong as Arnab Goswami seeking to curry favour with the Central government, by going after its political enemies in Mumbai. But then Goswami is a private player. Besides, two wrongs do not make one right. Leave the media alone.

Meanwhile, it is unfortunate that the integrity of voices in the media harping on professional standards and norms is so poor that they command no moral authority. Barren of moral leadership, the media too pursues Mammon as the political class pursues power uninformed by any norms or proprieties. 'Iss Hamam Mein Sab Nangey Hain'. Why then try and make an example of one alleged blackguard who seemed to have successfully beaten the veteran players at their own game? Besides, Mumbai Police have other far more important crimes to pursue, with a much greater bearing on the general law and order, don't they

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