RatingsChannel ratings & media ethics

By S. M. Hali 

The burgeoning number of TV Channels in Pakistan has raised the level of competition for attracting the number of eyeballs watching certain content. Attention span of viewers is essential for advertising agencies, who vie for the limited share of the commercial budget to gross higher revenues.

The modus operandi currently in vogue by a number of TV Channels to enhance business and elevate Channel ratings has created novel schemes of generating market competitions, attracting viewership and controlling financial shares. Prime time of most TV Channels is swayed by advertising concerns; so much so that even news bulletins, time check Bloomberg, sports or weather bulletins, crawler bugs, all have sponsors, which fill the coffers of the TV Channel proprietors.

If the competitive nature of the broadcast industry in Pakistan were limited to raising the bar for improved and more objective reporting, there would be no cause for concern. Unfortunately, in the mad rush for gaining the viewer’s attention, the contents of news items are at times slanted while in a bid to create novelty, tone and tenor of media reports gets interspersed with sensationalism and shock and awe treatment. Such a practice is contrary to the moral codes of journalism. Greed for pelf and riches drives the TV channel owners to coerce their reporters and anchor persons to adopt negative techniques and unscrupulous practices in their media coverage, which include yellow journalism, challenging the prestige of sensitive institutions of the state including the armed forces and law enforcing agencies, without adequate evidence or fear of libel and mudslinging and slandering in general. Content of questionable moral standards as well as those placed by enemies of the state as paid content but aimed at propaganda, misinformation and subliminal programming are at times freely aired, without questioning the source of the revenue and the agenda setting being machinated.

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Resultantly the moral fiber, ethical standards, public esteem and social order of the country has been badly affected. Whereas it is the ethical duty of the media to inform, entertain,  educate as well as reform society, the sole raison d’être of most Pakistani  TV channels appears to be enhancing their ratings through questionable means.

In this regard, the system of ratings to evaluate the performance and ranking of TV channels merits examination. Most systems rely on using subjective viewership scoring procedures, which feed the cut throat competition among the TV channels. The main purpose of installing a system for gauging the popularity of a TV channel or time slot was to enable the astute positioning of commercials and sponsorship of content by advertising agencies or media buying houses. Since TV channels require revenues to operate their mammoth organizations, it is understandable that they would employ best practices to break even or earn profits. This is not true for most and has resulted in the manipulation of the ratings systems too.

A common devise to record ratings is “The People Meter System” which measures the viewers’ responses for having viewed a number of channels as indicated by the meter. These meters are installed at the residences of selected people in chosen cities like Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and a few others. “The People Meter System” unfortunately suffers from certain handicaps as it does not represent the population of viewers for which it reports. The system is based on an automated device attached with television sets which records the frequency and time of the shows and channels being watched based on 675 households in the whole of Pakistan. There is not even a single meter in Balochistan; while out of 675 meters, 365 alone are in Karachi which makes the ratings debatable. The concerned channels, however, earn billions of rupees touting the biased samples and unscientific techniques of obtaining the rating.

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There is a need to monitor the rating system and putting it through an official filter. The government agency for regulating the electronic media in Pakistan, PEMRA needs to get its act together. The rat race it has unleashed by issuing far too many private TV licenses, cross-media licensing, which has provided certain media owners unbridled power to bring down governments and state institutions and a system based on faulty monitoring viewership on the basis of ‘Television Rating Points’, needs to be reviewed critically. Social scientists and neutral observers and expertsmust be engaged to make the ratings scientifically valid and reliable. Failing which, the entire exercise would remain skewed, illegal and unethical, while the nation would sink deeper in the morass of confusion.