Thursday, June 10, 2010

An opportunity for broadcasting

BARC can infuse transparency into the television rating system. But it first needs to expand its stakeholder base

As the broadcasting sector in India has grown and become fiercely competitive, the existing audience measurement system has played an important role in deciding its direction and priorities. In the current unregulated and complex broadcast scenario, advertising is the main source of revenue for most companies. This advertising pie is now shared by more players than ever and is dependent heavily on this audience measurement system.

Currently, TAM and Audience Measurement and Analytics (aMap) are the two organizations providing this service in the broadcasting sector. TAM’s data is based solely on people meters installed in select sample homes across some of the larger cities. They provide weekly estimates of who’s watching what programme based on the record of audience preferences in these households. The more recent entrant, aMap, provides similar estimates of audience preferences on a daily basis, based again on people meters.

Only recently has this measurement been questioned both by broadcasters and other stakeholders, apart from the courts and policymakers. The declining standards in content and increasing “copycat” programming have also signposted the misuse of such inadequate audience measurement systems.

Media researchers and analysts, including CMS, call this the “TRP Trap” and have cautioned against it in a country like ours where there exist wide disparities and varied interests.

Even within the advertising industry, many have felt that any large-scale ongoing media measurement research should be conducted by an industry body that is constituted by the associations of respective media owners, advertisers and advertising agencies to ensure transparency, funding support and sustainability. There were also apprehensions regarding conflict of interest as there was ambiguity of ownership and/or equity interests involving rating organizations, advertising agencies and some broadcasters. In October 1997, the ad industry had come together to form a Joint Industry Body (JIB), but this lacked a formal structure and was unable to strictly implement what it had set out to do.

Most industry professionals maintain that the television rating system is an internal trade practice of measuring advertisements and programme reach to facilitate pricing of advertisements. However, with the increasing volume of trade based on these TRPs and their burgeoning influence on content priorities, even Parliament and the courts have questioned the system.

In response to such concerns, the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) was set up in September 2007 as a forum for self-regulation by broadcasters, advertisers and other industry stakeholders to oversee and control the TV audience measurement system in India. This also implied that rating organizations such as TAM and aMap would be commissioned and supervised by this body. BARC was also the forum that would bring in much-needed transparency with the inclusion of various stakeholders, not just broadcasters and advertisers.

The ministry of information and broadcasting asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to look into the policy and operational issues regarding the audience measurement system being used. The authority’s recommendations, issued in August 2008, encouraged self-regulation and suggested that BARC resolve to improve the accountability of the rating method and widen its membership to include larger stakeholders in the measurement.

In fact, the elaborate Trai report suggested an organizational structure, functions, methodology and mechanism for BARC to be made effective. The regulator, which made the recommendations after exhaustive consultations, stressed that operational and ethical standards needed to be maintained while highlighting the importance of disclosure norms inthis measurement process.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), a broadcasters’ lobby group, needs to be credited for BARC registering itself as a not-for-profit company under section 25 of the Companies Act. IBF had in fact taken the lead in initiating BARC along with the Advertising Agencies Association of India and the Indian Society of Advertisers.

However, this application for registration submitted last month along with its enclosed memorandum and articles of association doesn’t appear to be in sync with the need for BARC to bring more stakeholders into the current opaque measurement system. The memorandum only has IBF and its members as stakeholders.
Besides this, public representation—even through the ministry of information and broadcasting, or through Prasar Bharati (which runs Doordarshan), or even the government advertiser, Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity—has been excluded from this forum. Ethical standards, transparency clauses and disclosure norms are also not clearly elaborated on in the application submitted to the Registrar of Companies.

Prasar Bharti’s exclusion is an especially glaring omission—apart from being a member of IBF, it is the largest broadcaster in the country and has been one of the key casualties of the current TRP system. By keeping out these agencies and making no other provision for wider stakeholder participation, the memorandum represents just another lobbying opportunity for private broadcasters.

The reluctance to involve officials of the ministry of information and broadcasting and other representative bodies in BARC has forced the ministry to set up another TRP review committee to inquire into the system’s lacunae and suggest alternative methods of measurement applicable in our broadcasting ecology.

Admittedly, a forum such as BARC is challenging to initiate; yet it is an opportunity to set right the course of our broadcast sector. It is not only an opportunity to review the overall approach, methodology and systems but also address concerns such as the frequency, coverage, rigour and usability of such measurement systems.
Only time will tell whether BARC will be just another impasse or part of the solution, bringing in the required transparency, credibility and accountability in the broadcasting sector.

PN Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies (CMS). She also heads the CMS Academy of Communication and Convergence Studies.
Comments are welcome at

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Admission Open

CMS Academy of Communication & Convergence Studies invites applications for admission to the following 11 Month PG Diploma Programs 2010 – 2011:

1. Convergence Journalism:
* Business Journalism
* Environment Journalism

Duration: 11 Months.
Number of Seats: 20.
Eligibility: Graduate with minimum 50% or taking final year bachelor’s degree exam in 2010.
Admission Procedure: The admission test will comprise of written entrance exam and interview. Students will be granted admission on the basis of their combined performance at both levels.

Fee Structure: Rs.1,00,000/-, including Rs.10,000 refundable security amount.

2. Strategic Communication:
* Communication for Social Change
* Marketing Communication

Duration: 11 Months.
Number of Seats: 20.
Eligibility: Graduate with minimum 50% or taking final year bachelor’s degree exam in 2010.
Admission Procedure: The admission test will comprise of written entrance exam and interview. Students will be granted admission on the basis of their combined performance at both levels.
Fee Structure: Rs.1,00,000/-, including Rs.10,000 refundable security amount.

Placement: Assured placement in news and entertainment sector, national and international development agencies and corporate houses.

Last Date for receipt of Application Form 30th June, 2010.

For details: SMS < CMSACADEMY > to 575758 (or) call – 098990 46592.

Research House,
Saket Community Centre,
New Delhi – 110 017,
Phone No: 91 – 1 – 4054 5335 (D), 2686 7348, 2686 4020,
Fax: 91 – 11 – 2696 8282.

Plot No. 17 – 18, Sec 106,
Institutional Area, Noida, UP,

Monday, May 31, 2010

Media regulation needs teeth

The Press Council’s hesitation about the report on paid news is a sign of the regulator’s growing redundance

PN Vasanti

The sole statutory, quasi-judicial body set up for media regulation in our country is the Press Council of India, established in 1966 to preserve the freedom of the press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India. However, the watchdog has been rendered largely toothless as it only has the power to inquire into complaints against newspapers and journalists, and has no way of imposing punishments on those who err. It can ask a newspaper to publish details relating to an inquiry against itself, but cannot levy a penalty or enforce its directions.

While there has been debate on and off over the relevance of the Press Council in the prevailing media scenario, the debate over so-called paid content has revived the argument over the role of the agency and whether there is any point in keeping it alive.

At the core of the latest controversy is the sale of space in the print and time in the electronic media. What’s carried in that space or time isn’t labelled as advertising for the benefit of readers and viewers, but masquerades as legitimate news.

While this trend itself is not new, it has become more deeply entrenched and even institutionalized in recent times. P. Sainath broke the story in The Hindu about politicians who engaged in the practice during the Maharashtra state elections of 2009. He even gave specific prices for the various types of coverage sold by newspapers, besides showing how the same write-ups praising chief minister Ashok Chavan were carried in three different newspapers during the elections.

The concern with paid content is that it is a breach of ethics as it deceives readers and viewers. In the context of elections, such news also raises critical issues of coercion and malpractice, eroding the very basis of our democracy. The Election Commission, concerned about the undue influence on the voter, has clarified that paid news does not come under the rubric of freedom of speech, and hence should not carry the same protections. On top of that, the practice of paid news violates election spending laws and, therefore, is also illegal. For those publications that engage in this activity, it means additional revenue, while the advertisers can choose not to list the money they pay as expenditure, since it’s dressed up as news.

Parliament also raised the issue and condemned the practice. In keeping with the tenor of the public debate, the Press Council was emboldened enough to condemn the trend and, in response to the demand by lawmakers, set up a two-member committee to look into the “allegations”.

This committee completed a draft report last month that was to be released to the public. That’s now on hold after strong opposition from some media owners— who are also council members—at a meeting held on 26 April 2010. Their resistance stems from the report supposedly having named newspapers and channels engaged in paid news practices.

The findings of the draft report reveal a disturbing trend. Though some have complained that the evidence presented is weak, the report identifies several publications that are believed to have sold editorial space, and it lists instances in which the practice transpired.

Today, discerning media consumers can detect paid content not just in the regional-language media, but in the mainstream English-language media too. Add to that, it’s not just political news that is “sponsored”, but business, sports, cinema and everything else, including cultural events.

There are obvious forms of commercialization eroding the media’s credibility. One is the concept of the so-called private treaty, which offers companies a certain amount of advertising space in exchange for equity stakes in the firms. Such a barter system has nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but when the Chinese wall between advertising and editorial is breached, there can be serious conflict-of-interest implications.

Last year, even the capital market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, wrote to the chairman of the Press Council expressing concern about the practice.

Why has the Press Council not been able to ensure that the media remains free of blemish? On its website, the Press Council calls itself “one of the most important bodies that sustain democracy, as it has supreme power in regard to the media to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained”. Ideally, it should have been playing a critical role as a self-regulating body. That doesn’t seem to be the case in this key issue that threatens the foundation of our democracy.

By hesitating to make public the report on paid news, the Press Council is missing a golden opportunity to take a proactive stand. The trend may be condemned by everyone, but until those engaging in it can be pinned down, the malaise is difficult to treat.

Clearly, self-regulation is not sufficient to address complex problems that affect our media today. We need to create more adequate systems with punitive powers that can help foster a vibrant media in our country. Perhaps it’s time to give the Press Council a quiet burial.

PN Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies (CMS). She also heads the CMS Academy of Communication and Convergence Studies.

Comments are welcome at

Courtesy: LiveMint

Friday, May 28, 2010

CMS Academy lecturer participated in the International Musicology Conference (IFYM, 2010) held at Yokohama, Japan

New Delhi: CMS Academy lecturer and academic coordinatior Ms Shrinkhla Sahai participated in the International Musicology Conference (IFYM, 2010) held at Yokohama, Japan recently. She was among the 57 participants who attended the Forum in addition to the 20 invited, young and promising scholars from across Asia, including Japan, Europe and America.

Ms Sahai, a Phd scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University gave a presentation on “Excavating Tradition: Classicism and Modernity in the ‘Gharana’ system of Hindustani Music. Her paper focused on the question of continuity and change within the Hindustani classical music system, the claim to authenticity as a basic premise for establishing the concept of and the breaking down of the gharana system in the post-modern world. She said, “Classical music pedagogy in India follows the oral transmission of music knowledge within a gharana. The authenticity and classicism in a musician‘s style is substantiated through his claim to the musical lineage of the gharana. In the early part of the twentieth century, when these gharanas emerged, music knowledge was passed on only within the family or to gandabandh shagirds ’ (a thread-tying ceremony in which the Guru accepted a person as his disciple). This practice effectively thrived on a politics of exclusion, operating out of the socio-cultural hierarchy and reinforcing it by allowing selective access to knowledge and prohibiting outsiders from learning a particular style (of the gharana) of music. This practice also aimed at preserving the uniqueness and distinguishing quality of a gharana.”

She further elaborated that it is significant that the concept of gharanas emerged at the turn of the twentieth century and the whole emphasis on gharana as an authentic lineage of classical music, which claims its purity by aligning itself to tradition, is itself a modern phenomena. The classical styles of Hindustani music are therefore ‗neo-classical.

International Musicology Conference (IFYM, 2010)

International Forum for Young Musicologists 2010 was organized by The Musicological Society of Japan from May 14-17, 2010, in Yokohama. It began with kind messages from Prof. Tadashi Isoyama, President of the MSJ, and Prof. Tilman Seebass, President of the IMS, who spoke over the SKYPE. 57 participants attended the Forum in addition to the 20 invited, young and promising scholars from across Asia, including Japan, Europe, and America.

CMS Academy of Communication & Convergence Studies

CMS Academy of Communication & Convergence Studies is a communication school aimed at developing communication and media leaders through excellence in education and research. The Academy is a uniquely designed, research driven, practically relevant and futuristically oriented educational institute. CMS Academy is an initiative of Centre for Media Studies (CMS), a multi-disciplinary research organization in the country. CMS Academy is associated with over 160 reputed national and international organizations through its 20 years experience of research, strategic planning and managing of over 500 projects. With campuses in NOIDA (UP) and Saket, Delhi, it provides a world class infrastructure that includes media lab, prototype lab, research library, audio visual resource centre, etc.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Telugu news channels see fierce competition

Among the southern states, Andhra Pradesh has the largest number of dedicated news channels, apart from having the highest cable TV penetration

Fine Print | PN Vasanti

India’s television businesses see fresh impetus for the industry coming from the regional languages, the key ones being Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali and Marathi. Given the higher literacy levels and better infrastructure, the south has always been lucrative for any marketeer. With their reach extending beyond the borders of their home states to the diaspora, regional-language television broadcasters have been growing at a faster rate than the overall television industry in India.Among the southern states, Andhra Pradesh has the largest number of dedicated news channels, apart from having the highest cable TV penetration.

Until 2008, there were only a few Telugu news channels in the state such as TV9, ETV2, NTV and TV5, alongside the entertainment ones, which were Doordarshan’s Saptagiri, ETV, Gemini TV, Teja TV, Maa TV and Zee Telugu. Some of the entertainment channels featured news bulletins with their array of serials, movies and reality shows.

Last year’s simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections marked a surge in news channels as film star Chiranjeevi announced his entry into active politics. These included Sakshi TV, HMTV, HYTV, Maha TV, Studio-N, Zee 24 Gantalu and ABN Andhra Jyothy. With the launch of Raj TV earlier this month, the state now has 13 news channels compared with 12 general entertainment channels. It’s intriguing to see this rush to start news channels in an already cluttered space.

Most of the news channels have been launched by politicians from different parties with low investment costs. With a news channel costing around Rs50 crore to launch, this is seen as an economical option to get “favourable coverage” and build up a public image.

However, the clutter has resulted in fierce competition and rising sensationalism. The Telugu media has been criticized for fanning the Telanagana agitation, leading to loss of life and property. The Andhra Pradesh high court had to intervene and warn TV channels in the state to refrain from airing provocative speeches and visuals.

Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
Similarly, the channels were blamed for spreading rumour and disinformation when chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy died in a helicopter accident. The courts had to step in to stop the airing of speculative discussions or programmes before the release of an official report on the accident.While the rising number of such channels in Andhra Pradesh can be hailed as a step towards meeting information needs and feeding the hunger for news, it has also raised questions regarding coverage. The threads linking politics and the channels often get entangled, resulting in distorted coverage. The explosion of Telugu news channels provides further opportunity to study the role and relevance of such media in our democratic state.

It’s inevitable that what has happened in Andhra Pradesh will be replicated as the share of regional markets in the overall revenue pie (including subscription) is increasing.

A McKinsey and Co. study forecasts that the regional markets are expected to grow at 20% CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) in terms of ad revenue to at least $1 billion (Rs4,460 crore) by 2012-13. However, the emerging trends—as highlighted by the Telugu news channels—indicate that most regional players are focused on expanding their political clout and achieving their aspirations. In this process, professionalism, innovation, quality, competition and diversity of opinion take a back seat. However, for the sustainable growth of regional news media, these issues may need to be brought to the forefront.

Therefore, the future of regional television news channels lies in the hand of news leaders and not political leaders.

P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies (CMS). She also heads the CMS Academy of Communication and Convergence Studies.
Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at 

Credit: LiveMint

CMS Academy Unique Courses - The Hindu March 29, 2010