Millennium Post

Rhea, TRPs & the 'News' game

The TRP scam clarifies the reason behind sensational and even fake news that has overrun many Indian news channels

Rhea Chakraborty — the vixen, the gold-digger, the witch, the b*@#ch — is finally out on bail after a month of incarceration. For all those days and some more, the actor was lynched in the virtual world by news channels, film colleagues, and social media. Pronounced a murderer, a drug dealer, a wanton figure, she was branded guilty even before the investigations were through. The army of trolls and social media campaigns spearheaded by Sushant Singh Rajput's family, celebrities such as Kangana Ranaut, and some biased news anchors, forced the investigative agencies to arrest someone (read: anyone!) to take off the pressure.

The nation was drugged on the alleged murder mystery of a talented yet tragic young actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. It was easier to point at his live-in girlfriend and conspiratorial murder theories than accept that perhaps Sushant's brilliant mind was troubled too. Every uncle, aunty and their neighbour sat on judgement every night with primetime news anchors to discuss every murky detail, every shady leak made in the case. Nothing distracted our countrymen in their single-minded endeavour to bring the alleged murderers of SSR to justice. If only they showed their perseverance in dealing with other matters of national importance, India would be a far better place to live. But I digress with wishful thinking.

But now that both the AIIMS medical panel and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have ruled out murder, should we not hold someone responsible? The witch-hunt that followed the death, the harassment of a girl and her family, the vitriolic social media and news reportage that was both distressing and scarring — and who do we hold responsible for the utter breakdown of morals and ethics? All those who are singing a different tune or seem shocked at Rhea not being pronounced the queen bee in some insidious affair are hypocrites at best and fools at worst. Without an iota of credible evidence, fed solely by uncorroborated news leaks and fake WhatsApp forwards, we gave birth to virtual lynch mobs! No natural tragedy, terrorist attack, plane crash, or even gangrape has matched the nationwide outcry and demand for justice in recent recorded history than the death of a star.

The ringmasters of this charade were few — some celebs who gained from milking the death, some others who are professional conspiracy theorists with political backing able to run social media campaigns that indirectly attack another political party/government, and news anchors chasing TRPs. The audience, that watched and participated in this part-circus and part-kangaroo court, was the gullible Indian masses, who believe anything that flashes on their television or phone screens.

The agenda of news channels should be quite clear now with the exposé on the TRP (television rating points) scam wherein some television channels paid for higher ratings. To put it simply, the higher the TRP of a channel, the greater the chances for it to receive advertisements based on the cost-per-rating-point (CPRP). The best way to get huge advertisement revenues is by hooking the viewers. And since most of the Indian audience will accept unverified drivel as news, there is a proliferation of more and more sensational, and sometimes even fake news. The race for TRPs is so competitive that it is no surprise that some news channels, that were anyway tottering in their commitment to journalistic ethics, would also stoop to manipulating ratings.

Now, this is where you, dear reader come in as that audience. Take the SSR case as an example. Since SSR's death on June 14, you must have spent hours consuming television news. You would have flipped channels till you found your most favourite stark raving mad anchor screaming his guts out. You would have agreed with him, cheered him on, and jeered the sensible speaker who wouldn't have been able to get a word in. Rhea the murderer, the drug peddler, the witch --- today, when you discover that she is none of these --- you may feel sheepish, perhaps you will wise up for the future but guess who has gone laughing to the banks? That stark raving mad anchor with his ill-informed news pieces would have made his channel very, very rich. Thousands of people like you watched the crap, advertisers impressed by the high TRPs pumped in money, and journalistic ethics were damned. And guess what, you helped.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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