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Publications slam IRS 2014, call it misleading

MUMBAI: Last week, the 2014 edition of the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) was released without any immediate criticism by the publications. However, within one week, the ghost of last year has once again come haunting the survey.

It is pertinent to note here that in 2013, the all-new IRS data was released in January, which saw some major reshuffle in the pecking order of many publications. Both Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and Nielsen, which did the survey, maintained that the data was not comparable to the previous editions as the methodology changed, but it attracted harsh criticism from publications, who called it ‘illogical’.

Later, 18 publications pulled out of the IRS, and the data was kept in abeyance after the MRUC board and the managing committee of the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI) ordered a third-party validation.

Hence, when the IRS data for 2014 came out towards the end of March 2015, eliciting no immediate criticism from the publications, the industry was at peace. However, it was short-lived, and on 2 April, The Hindu ran a story questioning the authenticity of the data, calling it a “stale wine in a new bottle”. Similar sentiments were echoed by the Times of India Group, Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar, Amar Ujala, and Dharitti.

Kasturi and Sons, publishers of The Hindu, MD and CEO Rajiv Lochan said, “The recently released Indian Readership Survey 2014 has left many publications dissatisfied, some with the methodology, others with the execution.”

The publications have carried large advertisements that said that the survey presents “fiction masquerading as facts”.

“Filling a new bottle three-quarters of the way with stale wine, then adding some fresh spirit to it and trying to pass off the whole offering as brand new, isn’t the most transparent thing to do. In fact, some might call it downright misleading,” the piece read.

Ironically, each of the six publications issuing this notice has grown in readership in the latest round of IRS. Dainik Jagran has grown by 7 per cent to 16.63 million, Dainik Bhaskar by 8 per cent to 13.83 million, Amar Ujala by 10 per cent to 7.8 million, Dharitri by 9 per cent to 0.85 million, TOI by 5 per cent to 7.59 million, and Hindu by 10 per cent to 1.62 million.

“All of us have grown faster than our key competitors like HT and Hindustan (both 4 per cent).However, even though it would suit us to use these figures to blow our trumpet, in the interest of truth and fairness, we would not like to do so,” the advert/ notice said.

It goes on to add that the very term ‘IRS 2014’ seems to suggest that it is a fully independent chapter of the Indian Readership Survey. However, the fact is, “three-fourth of the survey is the same as the discredited IRS 2013; only one-fourth of the sample is fresh.”

“Worse, the field work for even the so-called ‘fresh sample’ was done in January-February 2014…in other words, over a year ago. An accurate name for the report would be IRS Q1, 2014. Instead, it is being described as IRS 2014, which seems to suggest that it provides the latest findings for the entire year instead of what it really contains -data that is over a year old and hopelessly outdated.”

The notice also said that the publications are at a loss to understand why a reputed organisation like the MRUC could have released such stale data even though it must surely be fully aware of its numerous shortcomings.

“We look forward to a time when the IRS will actually produce a survey that is indisputably unflawed. Till then, we will continue to point out anomalies in their findings and not attach any credence to their numbers, even if they show us in a favourable light. Unlike others who perhaps adhere to the adage of lies, damned lies and statistics, we believe that numbers are meant to be sacrosanct, not massaged whenever required,” the notice read.

MRUC director general Shaswati Saradar was not reachable till the filing of this report.