Republic TV launched in the first week of May last year, with an exposé about the relationship between the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and the gangster turned politician Mohammad Shahabuddin. The channel aired an audio clip of a telephone conversation that allegedly took place between the two while Shahabuddin was in jail. Yadav apparently took instructions from Shahabuddin on how the police should act in cases of violence in Siwan, from where Shahabuddin was elected to parliament four times.
The next day, Kapil Mishra, a former Aam Aadmi Party leader, claimed on the channel that he saw Satyendra Jain, a cabinet minister in the Delhi government, handing Rs 2 crore in cash to Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal. The day after that, Republic TV broadcast recorded conversations alleging that the body of Sunanda Pushkar, the deceased wife of the Congress politician Shashi Tharoor, was moved from one room to another in the Leela Palace hotel after her mysterious death. Tharoor filed a defamation suit against the channel, and its co-founder and editor-in-chief, the television anchor Arnab Goswami. The Delhi High Court did not restrain the channel from airing news of Pushkar’s death, but directed it to send advance notice to Tharoor before airing any related story, and to respect his right to remain silent.
The stories were enough to draw eyeballs—the next week, the ratings-points numbers from the Broadcast Audience Research Council, or BARC—the industry body responsible for television-audience measurement in India—had the channel at top spot in the English-language news category. Republic TV had 2.11 million impressions in its debut week—52 percent of the total available in the category. (Each “impression” is an individual instance of viewing, even if a fleeting one.) In fact, by this metric, the channel had double the audience of its closest competitor—Goswami’s former employer, Times Now.
But other news channels cried foul, alleging that Republic TV was employing unfair tactics to bump up its ratings. For example, the channel had dual logical numbers, also called LCNs— it was registered under multiple genres on some cable distribution networks, making it appear more than once in the electronic programme guide, and so giving it more impressions as viewers cycled through channels. For instance, the distributor DEN Networks showed the channel among both its English-language news and Hindi news offerings in Delhi. Some distribution networks set Republic TV as their “landing channel”—the default channel displayed whenever viewers turned on their set-top boxes—which again meant giving it an additional LCN.
In protest, that month, the News Broadcasters Association—a body of private news and current-affairs channels—wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to seek an investigation into what they saw as Republic TV’s unfair practices, and asked that BARC withhold publishing any viewership data for the channel until these stopped. When BARC did not heed the request, several leading English-language news channels pulled out of the BARC system. The news network TV Today also approached the Delhi High Court to object against Republic TV’s “unlawful” and “unethical” practices to boost their ratings. “The problem with this whole thing is that nobody is clean,” a veteran television anchor told us in November, when we asked him about the channel’s ratings. “The grouse now is that Arnab does it better than them.”