The Bombay high court on Friday ordered that that the fine imposed on India Today by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) for the "sudden jump" in its viewership ratings be deposited. The HC has asked the group to first deposit the fine amount, around Rs 5 lakh with its registry and only after that would the group be protected from any "coercive" action by the BARC.
A bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Milind Jadhav said, "It will be open to the TV Today Network, without prejudice to its rights and contentions, to deposit the amount of Rs 5 lakh, as directed by the BARC's disciplinary council, in the registry of this court."
"If this amount is deposited, no coercive steps will be taken against TV Today in the meanwhile (by the BARC)," the judges added.
The bench was seized with a plea filed by the TV Today group, which operates the India Today and Aaj Tak channels. The group has sought protection from the BARC order and a warning letter asking the channel to refrain from any kind of viewership malpractices in future.
To buttress its decision, the BARC had relied upon its report which pointed to an "abnormal" jump in the reach of these channels, despite there being no significant improvement in its distribution.
"The sudden jump may be due to influencing the panel households, which is strictly prohibited by the Code of Conduct for resolving viewership malpractices," the BARC submitted.
Having heard the contentions, the bench ordered the TV Today group to first pay the fine amount, saying only then would it be protected from any further action.
In an official statement, India Today Group said, “The petition filed challenges an order passed by the BARC disciplinary committee on the grounds that it was without an appropriate quorum and without presenting the evidence, among other criteria. The court has stayed the order and directed that no coercive action be taken subject to a deposit of Rs 5 lakh with the court—and not with BARC—and without prejudice to our rights.”
“India Today would like to clarify that the Hansa report has nothing to do with the case filed by TV Today against BARC. Similarly, any mention of India Today's name in the Hansa Report is something we are completely unaware of. We are not privy to any such information, and neither has BARC informed us of this report,” the statement read.
The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on November 5.