Opinion polls - a report card for news channels as well?

Given the keen interest in opinion polls & their impact on people’s lives as well as market sentiments, the accuracy of the numbers are under the scanner. How much do incorrect

e4m by Abid Hasan
Updated: May 15, 2014 8:26 AM
Opinion polls - a report card for news channels as well?

With the counting day for the Lok Sabha Elections 2014 just a day away, news channels of all hues have been busy with their own calculations and predictions about various parties’ performance in the polls. Quite a few of the channels have tied up with different research agencies to come out with their opinion polls.

As per the opinion polls across various news channels, Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plus NDA have got an upper hand over other political parties and most likely to form the next government.

While opinion polls have been surrounded by controversies for long, with various political parties and experts questioning the numbers thrown up, it has not prevented survey agencies such as AC Nielsen, Hansa Research, Cicero, ORG, C Voter and Today’s Chanakya from associating with various news channels to churn out the seat tallies for different parties and their allies.

News channels confidently present the numbers in the opinion polls and even get various psephologists, opinion leaders and politicians to support the seats tally that their surveys have predicted. However, it is not unusual for the numbers to be off the mark. We spoke to some leading news broadcasters and asked them whether incorrect opinion poll figures impact credibility of the news channels. This is what they had to say...

Sharing his views, Vikram Chandra, CEO, NDTV Group highlighted, “Everybody works very hard to get the exit polls correct, and that the reason why we came with our opinion after everyone else did, because we want to be very sure that we spend enough time analysing the numbers.” At the same time, he admitted, “In a country like India, it is difficult to get the prediction. It is a tough thing to do.”

Though channels are not solely responsible for the correct numbers, but it is the channel that comes under the scanner if something goes wrong.

Sudhir Chaudhary, Editor-in-Chief, Zee News doesn’t feel that incorrect numbers affect the channel’s credibility. He opined, “I don’t think it hampers the credibility of the media and everybody knows it. Exit polls or opinion polls are like weather forecast, it may or may not happen. It gives you a direction and indication what results may lead to and they are supposed to be seen in that light.”

He further said that at Zee News, whenever they do such polls, they advise their viewers that it may be right or wrong and that there are lots of ifs and buts.

According to Ritu Dhawan, MD and CEO, India TV, it is the agency that carries out the survey, while the news channel provides them with a platform.

She further said, “We do not think that exit polls impact the credibility of a news channel. The primary reason for the indifference is that the exit polls are conducted by professional research agencies, that in turn deploy accepted statistical techniques and research designs that have been in practice widely.”

“News channels only provide the window to air findings of such initiatives and have nothing to do with whatever comes up as conclusions. Viewers are kept abreast on the statistical aspects and the error potential at all times,” Dhawan added.

Commenting on the viewers’ habits, RK Arora, CEO, ITV Network said, “I don’t think it affects much as viewers immediately forget the numbers. The second reason is that exit polls are not totally incorrect, they are almost correct.”

He further pointed out that this time all the research agencies didn’t differ on the numbers. “More or less it’s the same and doesn’t impact much,” he added.

Talking to exchange4media, Ashok Venkatramani, CEO, ABP News said, “Opinion polls or exit polls, if done by reputed agencies, do carry with them the credibility of the agency, as they use time tested process and research techniques. Having said that, the polls are finally estimations made about the universe based on a representative sample, and all such estimations carry with them some level of tolerance. No poll can ever be accurate, but they give within a narrow band, the projections.”

He further remarked, “When channels air them, they are clear that they are estimations and no one claims they are accurate – they only say these are indicative of the likelihood. As long as the final results are within the tolerance band of the estimates, I would say it is a good exercise. In such a situation, I don’t think the channel’s name is tarnished. Only if the projections are way off from the reality does it affect the reliability of the point made.”

Should new channels apologise for incorrect numbers?
There have been debates in the past about news channels tendering apologies in case the opinion poll numbers are incorrect.

Anurradha Prasad, Chairperson & Managing Director, B.A.G. Films & Media felt that incorrect numbers do hamper a channel’s credibility. She remarked, “Of course, it will impact the credibility because ultimately many people will be impacted by the numbers. News channels should have the sense on what they are showing and also need to have the courage to except the blame if their numbers are wrong.”

Agreeing with her, Vinod Kapri, Editor-in-Chief and CEO, News Express said, “Yes, it will reflect badly on the news channel’s credibility.” He further said, “News channels can’t get away with wrong opinion polls and should apologise. My only concern is that if anything on my channel is correct or incorrect, it is my responsibility. We can’t get away by saying it was the research agency’s fault.”

Regardless of whether the opinion polls are accurate or not, news channels have been airing them ever since the last phase of voting ended on May 12. Viewers too have lapping up these numbers, and given the keen viewer interest in these polls, advertisers too have been making a beeline for various news channels. Thus, it has been a win-win for all.

As for the accuracy of the opinion poll numbers, the entire nation will know by the end of tomorrow, May 16.

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