Monday, January 18 2021

Why is Bollywood disrespecting Hindu gods and goddesses in their films? This has been going on for a long time. Now in the web series called ‘Tandav’, an actor is disrespecting our Lord Shiva by holding the Trishul and Damru in his hands. This will not be allowed. Bollywood should listen carefully. If our feelings and sentiments are hurt like this, and anyone dares to do that then you'll be beaten up with a shoe in the middle of the square. This series has to be boycotted at the earliest, and the director, producer and actor should apologise by kneeling and with folded hands

That’s Maharashtra BJP MLA Ram Kadam taking aim at the Saif Ali Khan series recently released on Amazon Prime. The Information & Broadcasting ministry has asked the platform to respond to the complaint. This would be yet another case of over-sensitive posturing except OTT services like Prime and Netflix were moved under the ministry’s supervision in November. So ‘Tandav’ may well turn out to be a test case that signals the long-term impact of that greater control.

Big Story

Arnab’s very own WhatsApp-gate

The TLDR: The Mumbai police filed over 1,000 (unverified) pages of WhatsApp conversations as part of its case against the former CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), Partho Dasgupta—which included extended chit chat with his best bro Arnab Goswami. The Gossip Girls of the TV industry appear to have traded confidential information and illegal favours, and (far more dangerously) talked smack about BJP ministers. The big picture—of a cosy nexus of politicians, news titans and industry heads—is damning, but hardly surprising.


First, BARC explained

BARC: is an industry organisation jointly funded and run by advertisers, ad agencies, and broadcasting companies—and is the sole legitimate source of viewer ratings, i.e. TRPs or Total Rating Points. There are eight members on its board—of which four are heads of broadcasting companies, who basically call the shots. 


TRPs: Viewership numbers give us a channel/show’s TRPs or Total Rating Points. Ratings can be for one minute, five minutes, 15 minutes or over 24 hours. The numbers matter because they determine which channels/shows receive advertiser revenue—based on a calculation of cost-per-rating-point (CPRP). Higher the rating, higher the return on investment. The money at stake: TV industry, which was worth Rs 787 billion last year.


The TRP fraud

There’s a two-step method of calculating these numbers. And each is vulnerable to fraud.


One: BARC collects data via 44,000 ‘Bar-o-meters’ installed in households across India. 

  • The meters detect ‘audio watermarks’ that are embedded in the video content—which is how they track what a person is watching. 
  • When the TRP scam first broke in October, it involved bribing households to keep the TV tuned to a certain channel for hours on end. 
  • At the time, the Mumbai police pointed their finger at Republic TV, Marathi channels Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema. 
  • It later added Maha Movie and Wow music channels to the chargesheet (we explained this case here).
  • Other forms of fraud include bribing cable operators to make a particular channel the ‘landing page’ of subscribers—i.e. the channel opens by default each time you turn on the TV.
  • Also: Airing the same content on multiple channels—which is referred to as dual Local Channel Number (LCN).


Two: In 2019, BARC introduced algorithms that would correct the data for certain kinds of fraud—such as the ‘landing page’ variety. These are at the heart of the case against ex BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta—who was arrested on December 24. Others arrested: BARC COO Romil Ramgarhia, and Republic TV CEO Vikas Khanchandani.


According to the Mumbai police, Dasgupta colluded with Republic TV to tweak the algorithm. Specifically, he changed the ‘outlier rule’ which says if one household is stuck on a single channel for 12 hours, it should be ignored.  Also this:


“...Dasgupta had the knowledge of trades of viewership, trades of news viewership, trades of channel performance etc, which he used to manipulate ratings of Republic TV and Republic Bharat. He knew about the panel homes, which he used to share with the channels to use dual LCN, which further increased the ratings.”


Point to note: Much of the police evidence relies on an internal BARC audit report that was conducted once Dasgupta stepped down. The investigation focused on 44 weeks of data collection, starting in mid-2017—which is when Republic TV was launched, and astonishingly swept the ratings in its opening month.


The great WhatsApp leak

In its latest filing, the Mumbai police submitted 1000-plus pages of Dasgupta’s WhatsApp conversations—presumably accessed from his cloud backup. Not surprisingly, almost all the attention has focused on his chit-chat with Arnab. Here’s what we learned from this DM dump:


One: Goswami is privy to confidential information on matters of national security. Here’s his convo with Dasgupta on the eve of the Balakot strikes:


AG: “On another note something big will happen.”

PDG: “Dawood?”

AG: “No sir Pakistan. Something major will be done this time.”

PDG: “Good. It’s good for the big man in this season. He will sweep the polls.”

AG: “Bigger than a normal strike. And also on the same time something major on Kashmir. On Pakistan the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated. Exact words used.”


Two: Dasgupta and Goswami appear to be united by a common goal: boosting Republic’s TRPs. To sum up:


“Amid a wide spectrum of intrigue, their conversations throw light on what appears to be collusion between Republic TV and BARC to enable Goswami’s channel to access confidential TV viewership data and malign its competitors. It reveals BARC’s lobbying efforts with top ministers in the Narendra Modi government and the possible suppression of complaints against the pro-government channel in the ministry of information and broadcasting.”


Three: The Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in 2017 helped bury complaints against Republic TV—specifically its illegal use of the free satellite TV network funded by the government to reach its 22 million subscribers. Typically, broadcast channels have to pay a fee that runs into crores to get a slot. Republic TV did not.


Four: Other than that, both of them talked smack about industry rivals and BJP ministers. They dissed Arun Jaitley as a “total failure,” dubbed current I&B minister Prakash Javadekar as “useless” etc. 


Point of irony: There are likely to be more serious consequences for that kind of loose talk than the leaks about Balakot.


Coming up next: Dasgupta has been rushed to the hospital, and is apparently in critical condition. BARC—which stopped publishing weekly ratings for news channels on October 15—may extend its policy for another three months. 

The bottomline: For all the hand-wringing and schadenfreude over Arnab and Republic TV, this case is just one of the many fronts in the ongoing war between the Shiv Sena and the BJP. No one knows its endgame except for the combatants. But we’re fairly sure that most trustworthy BARC data isn’t one of them.


Reading List

NewsLaundry has the best reporting on the WhatsApp chats and the BARC’s TRP issues. The Telegraph zeroes in on the Balakot angle. You could download the chats over here and read them for yourselves (though we’re not quite sure about this site). Quint has more on TRP scams in the past. Also read: Our explainer on the Mumbai police case that kicked off this investigation.


Sanity Break #1

You may love or hate Lilly Singh. But her sketch titled ‘Being Cousins With Kamala Harris’ is spot on! Yeah, it would be that bad and you know it! 

Headlines that matter

Inauguration Day: A quick update

  • Washington DC police have arrested a man trying to enter the Capitol armed with a handgun and 500 pounds of ammunition. Yup, it’s that nuts!
  • Trump may face criminal charges in Georgia for trying to overturn the election results. No, he can’t pardon himself out of this one. New York Times has the details. CNN offers an excellent read on Trump’s last daysincluding his desperate effort to get a big military farewell. The Pentagon’s response: No.
  • Women are using Bumble to trap rioters and turn them over to the police. Bumble does not approve. Law & Crime has the story.
  • Joe Biden has picked 20 Indian Americansincluding 13 womenfor prominent posts in his administration. Hindustan Times has more details.
  • Biden’s desi supporters in turn are making thousands of kolam tiles to welcome the new administration. Example below.


India has a good cricket day

As did two players making their India debut: Washington Sundar, Thangarasu Natrajan. Staging a grand comeback to Test cricket: Shardul Thakur. But day 3 was mostly about the Thakur-Sundar jodi who put up a seventh wicket stand of 123 runs—right when India had staggered to 186 for 6 (match recap here). Scroll best sums up what this day meant for us and the team:


“Indeed, one of the greatest joys in sport is success when you least expect it. Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur, two men who were in Australia arguably only as back-ups to the back-ups in the original squad, stood up to be counted with the series on the line. The result could still go either way for India but, from that 36 in Adelaide to this 336 in Brisbane, it’s been quite the journey and this partnership of 217 deliveries summed up their never-give-up attitude.”


Also read: Indian Express’ profile of the wonder kid in town: Washington Sundar. Our favourite moment: Sundar’s no-look six. Also see: this gorgeous photo of Sundar swaying away from a bouncer and Thakur’s sixer to reach his half-century.


In less happy news: 47 players at the Australian Open have been quarantined for two weeks. The reason: four people on the two charter planes carrying them to Melbourne tested positive. Now, the players are stuck in the hotel, and complaining bitterly about the food—exactly like the Indian cricket team!


Alexei Navalny returns… to prison

Russia’s main Opposition leader made global headlines due to a recent attempt to poison him—an attempt made by none other than Kremlin’s premier security agency (our explainer here). After escaping to Germany—and recovering from the brink of death—Navalny returned to Moscow, as he’s repeatedly promised. And he was promptly detained by the police. The reason offered:


"In a statement late on Sunday, Russia's prison service said the opposition leader 'had been wanted since 29 December 2020 for repeated violations of the probation period'. It added that he would remain in custody until a court decision."

This refers to a previous embezzlement case for which Navalny received a suspended sentence. The Kremlin is also preparing fresh fraud charges against him. BBC News has more.


Intelligence agencies target farmers

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has registered a “fresh” case against Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)an overseas group that supports the Khalistani cause.  As part of its probe, it has sent notices to 40 people to appear as witnesses. These include farm leaders, businessmen, a TV journalist and actor Deep SindhuSunny Deol’s cousin who briefly shot to viral fame. All of them vocally oppose the new farm laws, but the NIA insists that’s just a coincidence:


“They need to be examined as witnesses to ascertain details of the investigation. A number of people have been called and we are not aware about their profession or they are involved in farmers agitation or if they are engaged in dialogue with the government.”

Those served with the notice are less convinced.


Also on the radar: NGOs like Khalsa Aid which has been providing geysers and foot massage machines to farmers on the Delhi border. Lending a helping hand: Reliance-owned CNN News18 which named Canadian talk show host Joginder Bassi as a foreign funder with Khalistani links—based on an “intelligence report.” But it quickly backed down thanks to photos that showed Bassi with the one and only PM Modi.


The great pandemic: A quick update

  • 29 people have died in Norway within days of receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Of these, 13 were related to side effects from the vaccineand were nursing home patients and at least 80 years old. But Norwegian authorities are not ringing the panic button. They instead have offered new guidance: “Doctors must now carefully consider who should be vaccinated. Those who are very frail and at the very end of life can be vaccinated after an individual assessment.”
  • Also read: Indian Express' explainer on these deaths.
  • Meanwhile in India, 52 healthcare workers reported some ‘adverse’ effects after being vaccinated, but only one had to hospitalised. There’s no information on which vaccineCovishield or Covaxinthe person received. 
  • In related news, we now know what the consent form for Covaxin looks like. FYI: It does not inspire confidence. Why this matters: Right now, a person does not have the option of choosing which vaccine they receive. So you either sign the “consent form” or choose not to be vaccinated.
  • State governments are not meeting their daily vaccination targets due to a 'wait and watch' approach—i.e. people are waiting to see how those who go first will fare.
  • Prefer to wait for the Oxford vaccine? Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla claims that it will be freely available at chemists after March/April. Watch him here.
  • In the US, younger Americans are finding novel ways to skip the vaccine queue. They’ve found a handy loophole in the short shelf life of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinesboth of which have to be used up once a vial is prepped for use. So they line up outside clinics and pharmacies to take advantage of leftover doses that would otherwise be thrown away.
  • Mumbai police have uncovered an airport quarantine scam. Passengers pay Rs 4000 for fake health certificates that lets them skip mandatory institutional quarantine. Sigh, our jugaadi ways will be the death of us.


WhatsApp’s change of heart

Faced with widespread panic and indignationand rising Signal and Telegram downloadsthe company has postponed implementing its new privacy policy to May 15. 


“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp. We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15."

Indian Express has the story. 


In related news: Reliance Retail plans to embed its e-commerce app JioMart into WhatsApp within six months. Point to note: the updated privacy policy mainly affects your communication with businesses—which can now be shared with Facebook. Read our explainer here.


2020 was the hottest year ever

Or at least, it tied for first place with the previous hottest year, 2016. We will leave it to NASA to explain why this is a really big deal in a one-minute clip: 


In related news: Temperatures have plummeted to -2°C in Saudi Arabia, and snow is falling across the sand dunes in Sahara. Yes, it’s lovely (see clip below) but also an ominous sign of climate change—which is dramatically altering the weather across the globe.



The phishing of Nidhi Razdan 

Last June, the former executive editor of NDTV announced that she was quitting her job after 20-odd years to join Harvard University as an associate professor. But last week, she realised that there was no job offer. Rather, she’d been a victim of a "sophisticated and coordinated phishing attack”which included dummy job interviews, recommendation requests from her colleagues, and forged offer letters on the Harvard letterhead (Read her astonishing first-person account of the experience here). 


Many were quick to blame Razdanarguing that her self-importance and/or failure to investigate made her a dupe. But as a US professor revealed on Twitter, the scamster appeared to know standard academic hiring practicesand “is most likely an academic or at least a former academic with connections.” 


In other scam-related news: At least 40,000 people have fallen victim to a con perpetrated by two Chinese women. They sent victims a WhatsApp link promising a daily commission of up to Rs 3000 if they spent time interacting with an app to promote celebrities. Instead, the app installed malware on their phone which then drained their bank accounts.  Times of India has more details. 


Anti-scam advice: The Delhi police has warned folks to not post customer complaints on Twitter or Facebook. The reason: It attracts fraudsters who will then pose as customer service reps, and trick you into sharing sensitive personal data. They suggest using standard customer user service channels like emails or numbers to resolve grievances… never? (GadgetsNow)


Two new studies of note

One: A troubling US study shows that minor insults at the workplace can have a major impact on mental healthand can trigger suicidal thoughts among depressed or bipolar colleagues. These are “low-grade negative interactions” like excluding a coworker from a conversation, skipping eye contact etc.:


“They’re not even considered bullying or harassment. These are ways that, on a day-to-day basis, that you might hurt somebody but in a low-grade way. It’s how we may behave, and we don’t think twice about it.” 


Two: A study of 81 food ads on five children’s TV channelsPogo, Nick, Hungama, Disney, and Cartoon Networkfound that they mostly show boys rather than girls, “reflecting Indian society’s traditional preference for male children.” FYI: These are ads for candies, biscuits and beverages targeting kids as young as ages 5-12. Also, less surprisingly:


"The ads also show the mother as the caregiver at home, deciding what the kids should eat. Just one ad showed the father making the same decision. This aligns with traditional ideas of how household labour should be divided between parents in the kitchen."

Sanity Break #2

A reminder that nothing feels as good as nostalgia—even if it involves really tacky old-time ad jingles… lol! Hey, our mantra: embrace the feels!

Smart & Curious

A list of good reads

  • Indian Express offers an interesting take on when the farmer became invisible in Bollywood.
  • Until now, we’ve read reported stories on what it is like being an Uighur in China. The Guardian instead offers a powerful first-person account penned by Gulbahar Haitiwaji. This is as real as it gets.
  • Axios’ ‘Off the rails’ series is a fly-on-the-wall account of the last days of Donald Trump—and it doesn’t pull any punches.
  • What’s the difference between skill and intent? Vinayakk Mohanarangan in Scroll offers an insightful take on Rohit Sharma, and his performance issues.
  • Meghna Uniyal in Down To Earth offers a contrary take on liberal attitudes toward dogs, stray and abandoned. Whether you agree or not, it is certainly worth a read.
  • Feminism in India has a lovely profile of India’s first female photojournalist, Homai Vyarawalla.
  • Shunali Khullar Shroff in Condé Nast Traveller pays tribute to the pleasures of being an ‘army brat’.
  • Imagine if you had to make a vanity film for a Chinese billionaire? Imagine no more! Chris Shearer details his off-the-wall experience in Vice.
Feel good place

One: Doggie jugaad…


Two: Learning curve…


Three: Google Maps ka baap…


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