Six Problems With TV’s Exit Poll Coverage
Screen grab from Times Now coverage of the exit polls.
The media has its day, after the Gujarat poll. Television anchors, with maybe a rare exception or two, chewed over the exit polls through a hysterical evening where every journalistic norm was violated. One, the anchors projected the widely differing exit polls (BJP projections varied from 99 to 135) as if it was the final result. In their eagerness to out do the other, even the warnings that these was not the peoples tally, but the pollsters predictions, were virtually dispensed with as anchors out screamed each other, and their guests, to drive home the point that the BJP was going to form the government in Gujarat.
Two, some went into an overdrive against the Congress party. To the point of insisting---as if by calling themselves journalists they automatically have this authority---that Rahul Gandhi should not become the party President on December 16. “Exit Polls One Result: Modi Wins” declared RepublicTV in a coverage that tore into journalistic ethics, in a black and white evening where the anchor used hashtags, and frivolous and biased canards, to question the Congress leader and the journalists who reported his campaign as well. The effort and the focus remained---in increasingly strident decibels---on the Congress, on the basis of exit polls that have been so wrong so many times, that self respecting journalists regard these as an interesting interlude, without substance or significance.
Three, while there was plenty of what Rahul Gandhi has done, or should and should not do, there was no word about the BJP and the Prime Minister’s campaign. Barely any mention of PM Narendra Modi’s road show, on polling day, where he violated EC norms without a murmur from the supposedly autonomous body. In fact, even if the exit poll figures were being accepted as ‘real’ by the television channels, these could have been used to study the campaigns of both parties, the issues that were raised, what the guests and the anchors thought might have worked on the ground. In short, valuable political analysis that was instead replaced by the almost abusive discussions.
Four, the anchors projected it as a foregone conclusion that the Congress had lost because it had not won the numbers to form the government. There was nary a voice to point out that the increase in the number of seats as indicated by several exit polls did suggest an interesting break from the post 2002 past, and was indicative of a come back for a party that had lost its organisation and its leadership in Gujarat. What could the party do to take this forward, would have been an interesting discussion for all.
Five, one would have expected a discussion on exit polls per se and how wrong these have been in the past. Right too of course, but not that often. The anchors could have brought out the reasons why the exit polls are little more than a side show in such an election. But then how can they? The importance of their hysterical shows would then be drastically reduced.
Six, around the future of the BJP and PM Modi. Despite the #ModiInvincible hashtag, a discussion on how the BJP is left with no other leader but the Prime Minister, the kind of campaign he ran, the shift from development issues to personal etc would have made the debate significant, and journalistic, without the anchors appearing as shrill spokespersons for the ruling dispensation. And how is winning 100 plus seats for the BJP in Gujarat, as the exit polls claim, a decisive moment for the ruling party? Political ignorance of the anchors was on full display.
Instead, we were witness to what was just plain hysteria, and nasty finger pointing of a kind that has no place in good and responsible journalism. It was embarrassing and shameful to see some news anchors use language and arguments that went against the grain of journalistic ethics and in the process hit a new low, even for television.