Tuning In

Another sensational high profile suicide or murder?

Or is it yet another ghastly rape?

Or, could it be the discovery of another wrongdoing by Bollywood, like being involved in making movies that people like?

Of course, the unmasking of another attempt at influencing the presidential elections in the US cannot be ruled out either.  

These were the thoughts uppermost in my mind as I sat down and dug my eyes into the newspaper report headlined “Cops summon three over TRP scam.”

“At least three channels have manipulated TRPs,” the article quoted the Mumbai Police Commissioner, confirming my worst fears. Concerns for the law and order situation started running through my mind, painting dire doomsday images. Who cares about whether Rhea procured drugs or not, when channels are busy manipulating TRPs. “There is a need for further understanding the situation,” the same article also quoted Karti Chidambaram, a Congress MP. Challenge that for a sentence laden with meaning, if you can.

I made some surprising discoveries.

There are a few businesses in the, well, for want of a better alternative, business, of TV programming. In an economy that operates on the principles of a free market? Can you believe it?

These businesses, being businesses, try to increase revenue and keep costs under control so that their investors can generate handsome returns. Ever heard anything as preposterous?

These private businesses have collaborated to form a body known as BARC, short for Broadcast Audience Research Council, which also comprises of advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasting companies. BARC is a private body, classified as non-government company. One of the things BARC does is collect TRPs, short for Television Rating Points, a proxy for popularity of different programmes based on time spent watching them. This is done through installation of measuring devices in 40000 TVs. 40000 installed devices that represent 200 million households and 800 million individuals. Isn’t Statistics a life saver? Or a money saver? Depending on whether you are an individual or a business organisation.

These businesses, the ones creating programmes for TV, let’s call them channels, vie for an advertising (on TV) pie that is estimated at about INR 300 billion (USD 4 billion) annually. As the potential gains are substantial, it has always made sense for everyone involved to keep the 40000 households off the gravy train. The 40000 households that, by sharing their consumption data, make these revenues possible for TV channels, and enable spenders to believe they are doing it scientifically.  

Channels are interested in high TRP ratings as that will lead to more advertising revenue. It has been argued that they have offered financial incentives to participating households to tune in to certain channels. It seems offering financial incentives is a crime. I am wondering if I should cancel the Smartphone I ordered on Amazon yesterday. Mr. Bezos could get into trouble for offering a financial incentive. It was at a handsome discount. I am in two minds.

The spenders, or businesses who spend on advertising on TV, are represented on BARC, and are also private businesses who don’t have to worry about the financial situation of farmers in rural India, or hardships faced by migrant workers during the onset of the pandemic. They have not been forced to take decisions based on BARC data. They choose to. Hence, it must be an issue of national importance that ratings have been manipulated.

It appears that the government also bases its ad spend decisions on TRP ratings. One can never be sure, but it is believed that they were also not forced to. They could follow the established practice of ‘positive mentions’ of the government by a channel to allocate their advertising spend. Of course, it helps if the two are the same.

Perhaps the channels who are a part of BARC have signed a specific clause to not influence behaviour through financial incentives. Always a great idea to insert terms calling for unnatural behaviour into commercial contracts so that taxpayer money can be spent in unravelling them. And it must be treated as a crime, so that our perpetually understaffed and overworked police force can get involved, as soon as they are done checking on Rhea’s drug usage.

Just as well, though. Can you imagine the pandemonium it could unleash if left unchecked? Viewers having to watch a commercial for Dove soap instead of the rightful Pears during their daily dose of the ‘saas-bahu’ ‘soap.’ Or, being forced to watch a Trivago commercial during the news break when it should have been Makemytrip. Or, even worse, being exposed only to Samsung phones during IPL cricket matches. The common man needs to be protected.

So, it was for a good cause. I calmed down somewhat.

And, of course, it is scientifically justified. After all, science, and statistics, have helped in designing the system in a way that a few rogue households can poison the entire data. It is science, after all, which mandates that if more than 40000 devices are installed, the cost will go up and profit down. And science again which decides that the participating households should not be equitably compensated.

Such being the case, who can argue with the government getting involved.

I am looking forward to some honest and fair news coverage on the channels being probed for the TRP scam.

Magic Wand

“But this was not part of your promise”, she screeched, the volume knocking meandering satellites off their orbital path.

It was just yesterday that she had gone to the meeting. And gone with high hopes. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the new kid on the political block, had vowed to change corrupt practices and put political power back in the hands of the common man. And they had invited the common man to a public meeting where they could register their complaints. People passed over for promotion, youngsters feeling cheated in parental bequest, people charged ten rupees for a bank transaction, were all queuing up to join the party and serve the nation and the common man. Of course, in the rush, some other undeserving causes may have also slipped through.

Nobody had ever invited her before. But that was no hindrance. Cometh the hour cometh the man. Or woman. She was ready. Ready to do her bit for the country and the common man. There were worthy causes all around. Like the smooth, blemishless road in her colony. Roads in the nearby colonies had recently been relaid without needing the relay. Why should her colony not get the benefit of being relaid without needing the relay. It was an apt example of the corruption that had seeped into the previous government.

On her way to the complaint registration desk, she had jumped the queue several times and battered and bruised several complainants standing in the queue awaiting their turn. After all, every common man has a voice. Isn’t that what had been promised by AAP? Why should she not have one? She was happy that her complaint had been heard and registered.

On the ride back home, her face was all aglow with the knowledge that the common man was finally going to reap the fruits of independence and democracy. She parked her car on the pedestrian path in front of her house under the “No Parking” sign and went inside whistling. It was a momentous occasion.

She knew action would be quick. She had awoken early that day and was ready for the Vigilance department staff when they came calling. A pot of tea was on the stove and cookies were neatly laid out on a tray.

The Vigilance Officer held out a letter for her. She smiled, took the letter in one hand and held out the tray of cookies for him with the other.

“Bring the pot of tea, you idiot,” she said as she slapped her underage domestic help, illegally brought in from a nearby country, admonishing her for her tardiness.

Taking a moment to look at herself in the mirror, she carefully opened the letter. It did not take long for her face to turn from glowing to ashen.

The letter was a show cause notice for throwing garbage from her house in front of the neighbour’s house. It appeared that the neighbour was also fighting against injustice done to the common man. She was aghast. “What right does the neighbour have of fighting for the common man?” she wondered.

Struggling to maintain her external composure, she managed to ask, “Where does your manifesto say that you will take action against the common man?” In the same breath she added, “Show me where you have said that the common man has responsibilities. We have lived with other political parties for so long without any responsibilities. Nobody has ever bothered about it. Who are you to tell me where I should throw my garbage? Next you will tell me not to park my car under the “No Parking” sign”. Who are you to tell me that I need to behave responsibly? And who are you to take cognizance of my neighbour’s complaint against me? Even if she is common, I am more common than her.”

The Vigilance Officer tried to offer an explanation. She could only see his lips move. She could not hear anything he was saying. She could hold it no longer. “But this was not part of your promise”, she screeched, the volume knocking meandering satellites off their orbital path.

Meanwhile, outside the house, happiness was coursing through the streets like a pleasant breeze. There was expectation of magic once again in the air. To be performed by someone else.

What do you think?

“What do you think of the verdict?”, the old gentleman in the changing room asked me.

We were in the changing-room of a gym I occasionally visit in my losing battle against creeping unfitness. He had been watching the news on the TV in the changing-room, shaking his head all the while. This was in the early part of last week.

The news was about a verdict announced just a short while earlier, pronouncing a doctor couple guilty of killing their only daughter and a domestic help. This was a case that had received a lot of attention a few years back when the event happened. The accused were not someone living on the margins of society. They were, as doctors mostly are, a well-respected doctor couple, and likely to have been part of the affluent set of society.

Caught off-guard by a stranger, I paused before replying, “I do not consider myself competent to say whether the verdict is right or wrong. But what I do feel is happy that there are processes in the country that permit cases to be taken to their logical conclusion; even when there is no individual who has an interest in pursuing the case to its logical conclusion. In the case of a teenage girl, it would be her parents who would have the most interest in bringing the guilty to book. Here, the parents were the accused.”

He was silent for a while. Then he spoke again, “This verdict is incorrect. I know these people. They have come to my charitable school. They are a very pious couple…” and his voice trailed off.

“Pious? What has that gotta do with it?” I thought, but said, “I don’t know on what grounds that can happen? I assume due process of law has been followed and the accused provided reasonable opportunity to present their case.”

Just then the attendant came to talk to him and he got distracted. In the meantime, I went on into the shower.

In the shower, my mind was full of the event and the brief conversation I had just had.

“What has pious got to do with it?” I wondered.

Another case that has been in the public eye came to my mind. Of a sage (or self-styled godman as he is called in the media), who apparently had a following in the hundreds of thousands, accused of raping a girl in his ‘ashram’.

“Would he not have been considered a pious man?”, I again wondered.

So what happened to him?

Once the matter came to light, he was apprehended. Apparently a prima facie case has been found against him and he has been incarcerated. To stand trial as per the law of the land. He will, equally, have the right to defend himself. With the help of the wealth he has seemingly accumulated on account of his pious activities, he can certainly afford to hire the best and the brightest. And I am sure he will not be denied that right. I am also sure he will not be tried by a kangaroo court. He will have the right to appeal at various levels should initial verdicts be inimical.

So what is the point?

The point I am making is that in case of the doctor couple also, while their supporters would no doubt be aggrieved at the verdict pronouncing them guilty, I have confidence that the law of the land has been applied.

In my view, a verdict which does not either have an admission of guilt or video evidence will always have scope for doubt. Should such cases be abandoned? Supporters of a person at the receiving end will never find such a verdict fair.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying they are guilty. All I am saying is that I have reasonable confidence that over the last few years this case has been going on, due processes have been followed. And there are multiple agencies involved. Not a single gun-toting marshal in a lawless western frontier town of yore who “is the law”.

I can only say that I grieve for them and sympathise with their supporters. I wonder what nature of provocation can lead one human being to kill another. I also hope that no-one has to go through an experience like this.

The point I am making is that while we find reason to complain about the smallest things, and I have no doubt there are many irritants, we do not bother to appreciate the privileges we possess.

We could be living under a despotic regime claiming to be benevolent while amassing wealth and power.

We could be living in a nation where decisions pertaining to someone’s life and death are taken based on the whims of whoever is in power.

We could be living in a state where clerics have arrogated to themselves the right to decide how others should behave and what scripture should be applied to what situation.

We could be living in a place where the path to justice passes through the barrel of a gun.

We could be living in an environment where any sort of dissent is treated as treason.

We could be living in a society where public servants blindly toe the party-line and have neither the courage or vision to make sensible decisions based on law and their own conscience.

We do not appreciate enough living in a free country. We do not appreciate enough living in a place where generally there is rule of law. We do not appreciate living in a place where the common man can raise his voice when the need arises and the powerful are brought down when the situation demands.

This is what I wish to do through this post.

Human battles will continue. We now have the case of the managing editor of a leading publication who has been accused by a young journalist of rape. Again, he apparently has the resources to buy whatever kind of help he wants. At the same time, I am confident that we have the institutions to handle the case on its merit.

We also have the case of a charismatic Chief Minister, feted by leading business schools of the world for the apparent turnaround implemented in his State, who is now in jail for a scam. Again, I am confident justice will be done.

What do you think?

That’s what friends are for

“We have beaten back the spirited challenge from other BRICS nations.”

It was evening. As per long-established tradition, during the days Parliament is in session, daytime adversaries met informally in the evening. Their concern for the common man had led to the daytime debate being continued in the evening, normally a time for conciliation. The Minister for IT and Telecom was the star of the show, after having ably quelled what had, at first, appeared to be a logical and well-meaning challenge, mounted to protect the interests of the common man. He was holding forth once again.

(see post: Only snooping around)

“In the secret surveillance programme carried out by NSA (National Security Agency) of the US, we are now the most spied upon BRICS nation. India stands fifth overall, only after Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but with active connivance of the government we will inch towards the top spot. Let nobody say that India is no.1 only in corruption and population growth”, the Minister said to the sound of clapping.

“What do you think will come out of all this anyway? Without meaning any disrespect, till the time Americans run this, we have nothing to worry about. Poring through tonnes of data this exercise generates is painstaking work. Who do you think has the stomach for it? You guessed it; only our countrymen. Especially when they are in a foreign country, and paid in dollars. This will create job opportunities for scores of graduates from our well-known educational institutions. Have you any idea how many peoples’ dreams of going to America this project will fulfil?”

Opposition members knew. They had already calculated. They could see new job avenues opening up for their near and dear ones. The ones not cut out for a career in politics; the educated ones that is.

The Minister continued, “We will need to start worrying about the data when Indians start running the show. We know how effective Indians are in pulling down other Indians. The real benefits of this system will be felt only when Indians start running it, while the Americans are busy lobbying government to enact laws to get innocent taxpayers to pay for being spied upon.”

Opposition members had to grudgingly agree.

“And have you given a thought to the common man?” the Minister asked.

Opposition members looked at him blankly. They did not understand the question. None of their training and years of experience had ever required them to think of the common man.

“The common man is happy being spied upon by the US. He can proudly say he is being spied upon by the US and not by any local government. I can already see people starting to change their Resumes to reflect this accomplishment. Can you imagine the social advancement opportunity this creates? Can you imagine what this will do to the marriage market of the young men and women who can demonstrate being spied upon by the US?”

After the dressing down during the day, the opposition had been a tame lot, slinking in corners, keeping to themselves. With each revelation they were getting more and more animated. Even tame politicians can identify a sensible argument even if they cannot understand it. Their ears perked up at the question even though it was rhetorical.

“And it is really not so bad. Why, even John Kerry, during his recent tour of UAE, has said that Barack Obama ‘didn’t order all NSA snooping’. He has also said, in no uncertain terms, that the administration was close to finding out who issues orders in the country”, the Minister said with some finality.

“By the way, do you know who John Kerry is?”, he asked.

Noticing the blank look on the faces of Opposition members, he continued, “I don’t, either. They say he is an American. By the way, do you know who an American is?”

He could see their faces brighten up. They nodded vigorously. Each one of them knew who an American was. In fact most of them had an American in their immediate family who they were proud of. They knew that an American was an Indian who loudly said he did not understand Hindi, and conducted his conversations in English mainly with the help of three words, ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’ and ‘like’. They all agreed that John Kerry did not look like an American one bit. Besides, and this was damning evidence, he used more than three different words.

“And, like respectable Opposition parties, you may choose to disregard what I say, but surely you cannot disregard what John Kerry has to say about this issue. You know Americans believe everyone believes them when they say something.”

“Besides, one has to help friends, is it not?”, posed the Minister, a little softly. “What can we do? Our hands our tied. US laws allow for snooping on other countries even though US law does not apply to other countries.”

Opposition members could empathise. They knew what it was like to help a friend. On numerous occasions they had helped friends get out of jail, or escape the clutches of the law by tampering with evidence or threatening witnesses. Their friends had done the same for them on numerous occasions. There could not be a more convincing argument.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

{continued from the previous post titled Power corrupts…(https://darkofficehumour.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/power-corrupts/) on 6th August, 2012}

The following day, a press conference was called to announce what everyone already knew from the previous day.

The Prime Minister, pilloried by the press for sticking to his Job Description and being an ineffective Prime Minister, lashed out at critics of his policies and said that the criticism was levelled by ignorant fools. His cabinet of ministers have been working with each other to ensure well-rounded growth. The power failure, he offered as an example, was the result of close co-operation between the Power and Finance Ministers. The power-grid failure will give rise to a demand for diesel, generators and other useless equipment that will provide an economic stimulus to the somnolent economy.

Every household, every business, needs to buy and install power generation equipment. Thereafter, they must buy diesel to run these power generating units inefficiently, as there is no other technology available. Thus, a simple enhancement of non-supply of power leads to a powerful multiplier effect for all-round growth.

Other emerging economies around the world have already asked for details of this initiative so that they can emulate the example we have set. I am sure the developed nations will soon follow suit.

We are also considering legislation to outlaw all improvements in efficiency achieved in the last thirty years and go back to a more inefficient production method. This should give a further boost to consumption in a faltering economy.

From a mere two hours a day ten years back, the shortfall in grid provided power supply is now over seven hours a day in urban areas. And growing as we speak. Do you think this has been achieved by chance? No sir. This is the result of many years of hard work by this government.

Deviating slightly from the topic, he added that people are needlessly fretting over the medals that we haven’t won in the just-concluded Olympics. All games are rigged, he said. They are played under lights and often in an air-conditioned environment, fed by uninterrupted power. Our athletes are not used to such artificial conditions. Then, after a pause, and to wild applause, he announced that the nation has won the right to host the Olympics in the year 2134. He added that the host nation will decide the events to be played at these Games. One decision that has already been taken is that all events will be held in the dark. A list of events to be held will soon be announced.

The crowd cheered wildly. The Prime Minister thanked them for their support towards the rapid development of the nation and took leave.

The common man, in the states impacted by the grid failure, expressed surprise at the event. When asked by media-persons covering the event on how they handled the crisis, the common man said that he was not aware there was a crisis till the media-persons told him there was one and that he was impacted. He felt proud to be part of such a well-planned nation-wide event, even though he had not been aware of it.

The knowledgeable media-persons found it difficult to explain the difference between a normal day, when he had no power supplied by the grid, versus the crisis day, when he had no power supplied by the grid, to the common man. The media-persons put down his inability to grasp the magnitude of the crisis to his ignorance and lack of exposure to the modern world.

Elders were envious of the development the country has made and rued the “dark ages” that they had to live through. The maximum that they ever got was about two hours of power cuts in a day. They wished they were young in today’s times with so much more opportunity for development.

To silence the doubting Thomases, who claimed that the event was a freak occurrence and had nothing to do with planning, the event happened again the next day. Now we know it was no accident.