TRP Wars: The Battle Between News Anchors on Indian Television for the Most Eyeballs Just Got Personal

24 June 2015
According to a report by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Times Now, commands nearly 76 percent of the English news viewership in the time band that he hosts from 9 pm to 11 pm.
The India Today Group / Contributor
According to a report by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Times Now, commands nearly 76 percent of the English news viewership in the time band that he hosts from 9 pm to 11 pm.
The India Today Group / Contributor

For the past three or four months, a media war that had been simmering among the English news networks in India has started making its way to the surface. This battle is primarily being fought between the pack leader Times Now, CNN-IBN and India Today TV—the erstwhile Headlines Today—with NDTV ( New Delhi Television) and News X following in pursuit.

The intensity of this Television Rating Point (TRP) driven war may not be proportional to the stakes involved: a minuscule 0.04 percent of the total time spent on the television (TV) by India's viewers. Nevertheless, it is being played out daily. Outside the news bulletin format through combative promotional advertisements, and within, mainly in the form of asides, innuendos and pot shots taken by the leading anchors against Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Times Now. The thinly veiled mockery is most often aimed at Goswami’s shrill, bombastic and hectoring style of anchoring that fosters a ritualised anarchy of sorts in his studio.

Goswami has not been a passive victim either. Recently during the course of the infamous Lalit Modi scam, Rajdeep Sardesai—a consulting editor at the India Today group and an anchor on India Today TV—got the first interview with Modi. In response, on his bulletin, Goswami repeatedly made mentions of “friendly” journalists who conduct friendly interviews instead of the tough ones that Times Now, or more accurately, Goswami is famed for. This, according to Goswami, was also why Modi wanted Times Now to sign a “deal”  as a pre-condition to an interview. What Goswami appeared to be insinuating was that Sardesai had managed to get an interview by agreeing to this deal.

Meanwhile, during a panel discussion on NDTV, Barkha Dutt—a consulting editor and anchor on NDTV—repeatedly assured a rattled Shaina NC, a spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the BJP’s articulate fellow traveller Swapan Dasgupta, an Indian columnist, by saying, “We don’t bay for anyone’s blood.” Dutt appeared to be suggesting that the channel she represented did not believe in the aggressive mode of questioning that Times Now and Goswami are both known, and often belittled, for. This is a trope that is being frequently used across several news channels now. On multiple occasions, I have noticed both Sardesai and anchors from CNN-IBN proclaim during their respective bulletins that, “we don’t scream at our guests” or that they do not “not talk over each other (on this channel).”

There is little clarity on what sparked the belligerence. However, Goswami’s sharp attack in March this year, on NDTV”s decision to telecast India’s Daughter—a documentary produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation on the gang-rape in New Delhi that took place on 16 December 2012—could have been a possible catalyst. Right in the middle of News Hour, the two-hour panel discussion that plays at prime time on Times Now and is hosted by Goswami, the anchor accused NDTV of being “voyeuristic.” He further alleged that the channel was providing a platform to rapists with an eye “only on TRPs” and nothing else.

Sandeep Bhushan was a television journalist for twenty years. He is currently an independent media researcher.

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