Monday, December 17, 2012

Can we rely on these Exit Polls?

As soon as the polling hours were over, all news channels got in race to telecast the exit poll results of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where the elections have just completed and  counting is to happen on 20th December. The four surveys did not have any significant difference unlike past when each channel used to show the projections as per their political ideology  confusing the viewers.

Psephology, which is used for these exit polls, is a branch of political science which deals with the study and scientific analysis of elections. Therefore, there is a systematic approach and it should be relied with a statistical margin of error.  The reason to raise question is not about doubting the science of psephology  or any efforts to recall failed and misleading projections of past, but it is about the ethical functioning of fourth estate of democracy – Press.

If you read the newspapers of Gujarat published  till 17th December, it looked as if Modi’s defeat is certain. Keshubhai will emerge as kingmaker and  after 22 years some Congress leader will head the state government once again. The exit poll projections do not confirm any of these. Such a radical shift highlights two facts – press is not neutral and does not represent the factual reporting  and second, there was a mass level of paid news publication.

A PTI news  has quoted Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath  saying, "While 444 suspected cases of paid news were reported in Gujarat, notices were sent to 224 of them. In Himachal Pradesh polls, the Commission came across 211 suspected cases of paid news and notices were sent in 190 cases and 91 confirmed cases were reported,"

The election authorities in Gujarat  have identified 126 confirmed cases of paid news during the just-concluded polls, with 61 candidates admitting of have paid for such news in electronic and print media.  Election commission will take some actions in case of the confirmed cases like adding these payments  to the expenditures of the candidates.

The extreme punishment can be disqualification of the candidate like EC gave to Umesh Yadav, MLA from Bisauli assembly constituency, after finding him guilty of getting news published in his favour during 2007 UP polls by paying hefty amount to media outlets.  This punishment was announced on October 20, 2011  when the term was almost over. (fresh election were held in UP from Jan to March 2012). Media which carried  these paid  news escaped the punishment.

A fact- finding team of the Press Council of India has also confirmed about large scale  practice of 'paid news' in the Gujarat elections. PCI chairperson Justice Markandey Katju has accepted that that self regulation by media was proving to be ineffective.

Press is not self regulated to remain honest, but is getting infected by the virus of “easy money” like government servants.  Majority of small papers published in local language are involved in money extortion business.  Their staff approaches for “monetary favour”  and threatens otherwise to tarnish your image. The tone of black mailing can be sensed from the communication.  All the industries who have to carry out public hearing in Gujarat undergo through this experience.

Mr Katju refers to the “freedom of press”,  but the time has  come  when we  should think of making it a healthy press by cleaning these malpractices from media. Such tactics spoil  core culture of the country as society look towards press as “just and honest”.  While EC takes  action against erring candidates, PCI should  take equally strong action against these publication and broadcasting channels. Unless that is done the fourth estate of democracy will continue to decay.

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