A sting operation by news and current affairs channel News Express claims to have exposed malpractices of 11 opinion poll agencies.
The channel claimed these pollsters were willing to manipulate data and provide “misleading results”.
Following the exposé, the India Today group suspended the services of an agency implicated in the operation.
The sting, titled Operation Prime Minister, does not offer any evidence to show that any media-commissioned survey in the past year has been deliberately manipulated. The aim, according to the channel, is to “expose mindset and intent”.
Transcripts provided by the channel reveal that when approached as lobbyists on behalf of political parties, heads of such agencies were willing to provide two sets of data — original and manipulated — for different rates.
Also on offer were increasing the margin of error to show a spike in seats; showing contradictory results projecting rival parties as leading the electoral race by creating separate companies; deleting negative data; and manipulating data to any extent at the behest of the client.
At a press meet on Tuesday, News Express editor-in-chief Vinod Kapri said the sting was motivated by the Election Commission’s letter to parties inviting their views on opinion polls and the mushrooming of such polls.
In one instance, pollster Yashwant Deshmukh of CVoter, told the channel’s undercover reporter that while 3% was the standard margin of error, “at best, we can put it to 5%”.
Responding on Twitter, Deshmukh said, “I hope dear old friend Vinod Kapdi (sic) also shows me denying all his efforts and saying clearly that CVoter and Yashwant can’t do such things.”
Following the sting, India Today said they were suspending the services of CVoter.
Representatives of Quality Research and Services allegedly told undercover reporters they first did a survey projecting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as winning 200 seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections and then created a fictitious company to project the Samajwadi Party (SP) getting as many seats.
Asked if News Express had any evidence to suggest that a media-commissioned survey had been manipulated, Ravikant Mittal, the channel’s managing editor, told HT, “No, we have no proof to show that. Our intention was only to show data can be manipulated in return for money.”
Mittal, however, added these agencies had said they could get the surveys broadcast on channels.
Following the sting, Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that the “truth and fraud” of opinion polls had been exposed and it was “shocking”.