Ranjona Banerji: Survey results are not gospel

28 Feb,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The TV channel News Express did a sting operation on market research companies to discuss poll surveys. They posed as members of political parties and asked if polls could be tweaked to favour them. The channel approached several agencies, of which some refused to take on any jobs on the grounds that they were too busy while others agreed to varying degrees.

 

There is a serious need for market research companies and opinion poll companies to relook at their methodology and strategy. The fact that the last quarter results of the Indian Readership survey have been suspended points to some dire flaws in the system. It was apparent from the IRS results that either the surveys were faulty or that they were manipulated to favour some companies. Political surveys especially for election results have been so wrong for so long, that it is surprising that anyone pays attention to them at all.

 

Many have pointed fingers at the media over poll surveys saying since it is the media which commissions these surveys, the onus is on them to ensure that the results are clean and correct. But that is an impossible burden on the person paying the bill. The media in that case would be better off sending its own journalists to track popular moods – which many newsrooms do anyway.

 

The problem is – and this is especially true of television news – when the survey results are presented, they are done as gospel. Critical analysis is in short supply and empirical evidence, experience and sometimes common sense are abandoned in breathless declarations of these miraculous results. And when the surveys go wrong – as they most often do – no one takes responsibility.

 

However, saying all that, banning such surveys infringes on the idea of freedom expression. People have the right to be foolish and believe foolish things. All one can hope for is for newsrooms to look at survey results with a more stringent eye before broadcasting them.

 

Shivam Vij has done an analysis for scroll.in on this issue and it is well worth reading: http://scroll.in/article/the-case-for-banning-pre-election-opinion-polls?id=657211

 

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While on the subject, many congratulations are due to Naresh Fernandes, Sumana Ramanan and the team at Scroll.in for their research-filled journalism which covers a number of issues that mainstream publications, television news and other websites ignore or forget about. Scroll.in needs to become a must-read for media professionals especially.

 

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Pradyuman Maheshwari, editor-in-chief of mxmindia.com has started a column on primetime news for Mid-Day. I wish him all the best in this endeavour and welcome him to the horrendous task of watching the Yellers and Screamers on Indian news television, which some of us are forced to suffer. I keep an extra supply of blood pressure tablets, just in case, which I am willing to share.

 

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I almost felt sorry for the Karnataka MLA who went on a junket to Australia, New Zealand and the Fiji Islands and came back to file a report on how cows and sheep grazed on grass there which should be followed in India and how more public toilets were necessary. He was grilled incessantly by Shiv Aroor of Headlines Today, who could barely contain his own laughter at the inanity of the report.

 

The hapless MLA was seemingly unable to understand what he had done wrong. Sometimes Indian TV news can beat a comedy show.

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Survey results are not gospel”

  1. Guest says:

    Opinion polls on the imminent Lok Sabha elections are analysed on TV with the atmosphere of a war room, proceeding authoritatively from state to state, building up to a grand finale for all 543 seats, quite ignoring the fact that the entire edifice rests on a few thousand people having been questioned. They may well get the broad picture right, for the results of the recent Assembly polls reflect something bigger than the mood in individual states, but some humility would be in order. As for polls being doctored, traces of DDT have been found even in mother’s milk !

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