IRS 2014: Nothing but stale wine in a new bottle

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. And yet, that is precisely what Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2014 is attempting to do.

The irony is that each of the five publications issuing this notice has grown readership in the latest round of IRS. Dainik Jagran has grown readership by 7% to 166.3 lakh, Dainik Bhaskar by 8% to 138.3 lakh, Amar Ujala by 10% to 78 lakh. TOI has grown readership by 5% to 75.9 lakh and Hindu by 10% to 16.2 lakh. All of us have grown faster than our key competitors like HT and Hindustan (both 4%).

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. Here’s why. The very term ‘IRS 2014’ seems to suggest that it is a fully independent chapter of the Indian Readership Survey. The fact is, three-fourth of the survey is the same as the discredited IRS 2013; only one-fourth of the sample is fresh.

Readers may recall that the same IRS 2013 had been unanimously condemned by 18 leading newspaper groups of the country, which had called it “badly flawed”. In a statement issued in public interest, the newspapers had stated, “The survey is riddled with shocking anomalies, which defy logic and common sense. They also grossly contradict audited circulation figures (ABC) of longstanding.”

Among other major shockers, the survey showed Hindu Business Line having thrice as many readers in Manipur as in Chennai; Hitavada, the leading English newspaper of Nagpur with a certified circulation of over 60,000, not having a single reader; and Delhi showing a drop of 19.5% in overall English readership.

IRS 2013 was rejected by several media companies, including Dainik Bhaskar, the Jagran Group, The Hindu, Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd (the publishers of The Times of India) and Amar Ujala. Many media houses have subsequently withdrawn from the IRS membership.

Given that IRS-2013 was riddled with biases and errors, it is obvious that many of the mistakes will be carried over to the new round, since three-fourths of the data used is the same. 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.

Indeed, we are at a loss to understand what possible reason a reputed organisation like MRUC could have for releasing such stale data at this point of time 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.

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