A TV news channel today claimed that a sting operation conducted by it had revealed that some of the agencies which conduct opinion polls before elections are willing to tweak their findings for money
A TV news channel today claimed that a sting operation conducted by it had revealed that some of the agencies which conduct opinion polls before elections are willing to tweak their findings for money

By ET Bureau | 26 Feb, 2014, 04.43AM IST

NEW DELHI: A number of opinion polling agencies approached by undercover reporters agreed to manipulate poll data, a television news channel has claimed, sparking a fresh controversy in a heated election season as senior ministers and political parties called for an investigation.

Clips from the sting operation aired by the channel showed many pollsters agreeing to produce favourable numbers by leveraging the so-called margin of error, a statistical concept meant to indicate the quality of sampling and the accuracy to be expected from survey results. “For a price, the prediction of seats tally can be changed to suit the interests of political parties.

The agencies have no qualms accepting even black money for this purpose,” the channel, News Express, said in a statement. Polling agencies approached by the channel include QRS, CVoter, Ipsos India, MMR and DRS, apart from a clutch of littleknown ones. Representatives from these agencies are seen responding variously to the undercover reporters, who posed as consultants for political parties.

India Today magazine and Times NOW have said they were suspending opinion polls conducted by C-Voter, pending an explanation from the agency.

Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party called for an investigation. Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal urged the Election Commission to urgently take up the matter. “This (the expose) is a very serious development. It shows these agencies are trying to manipulate public opinion. It is nothing but paidnews, manufactured to serve vested interests.

This is an extremely serious offense that warrants a full-fledged inquiry… I also call upon the Election Commission to take all effective steps to ensure such shady operators are not allowed to manipulate the public opinion in the run up to the elections.” In November last year, the Election Commission had written to the government asking that a law be passed to restrict release of opinion poll results after the notification of elections. Fourteen out of fifteen national parties had agreed to the proposal.

BJP opposed the proposal, saying such a move would impinge on freedom of expression. “We got the idea for the sting operation from the Election Commission letter. And then the fact that there seemed to be a new opinion poll almost every day now. Everybody is a pollster and a psephologist it seems,” said Vinod Kapri, editor in chief of News Express. 

He added that he was not calling into question any surveys aired or published so far. C-Voter CEO Yashwant Deshmukh said the conversations have been selectively edited.

“The very first thing I said is that C-Voter won’t do this, Yashwant Deshmukh is not available to do this. Why are they not showing that? I’m explaining the concept of margin of error and talking about the limitations of the poll. Am I anywhere saying that I’m ready to fudge the figures?”

A spokesperson for DRS said the executive who spoke with the undercover reporters is no longer with the company. “Manipulation is a term which is being used incorrectly here,” Ipsos said in a statement explaining the concept of margin of error. “We have no say in the data collection or analysis by any pollster. But we will ask C Voter for a clarification and till the time we are satisfied with their response, we have decided to suspend all opinion polls done by them in our channel,” Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami said.

The Economic Times is owned by the Times Group, which also owns Times Now. Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said the sting operation confirmed the party’s long-held position that the integrity of opinion polls was suspect. Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson Ashutosh said the tapes should be investigated and those found guilty should be prosecuted. “It is the channels which engage agencies and the agencies which conduct these  opinion polls.

It is up to them to go into the whys and wherefores. We haven’t yet demanded a ban because these are just opinion polls, and people vote on their own considerations,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said. Most recent opinion polls gave the BJP a significant lead for the elections due in a few months.

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