The Election Commission of India on Wednesday asked media organisations not to telecast or publish exit polls under the garb of opinion polls.
The EC said no opinion polls could be conducted for constituencies that had already voted. So far, polling has been held in 111 seats in four phases of the nine-phase Lok Sabha elections.
“This dissemination of results of the opinion poll in effect becomes dissemination of results of exit polls in respect of the said constituencies,” the poll panel said. The news organistations can, however, show opinion polls for constituencies where polling has not yet been held.
While an opinion poll is conducted before balloting to gauge the intentions of voters, an exit survey is conducted after elections to find out who they actually voted for.
The commission wrote in a letter to chief editors of all television channels and the print media that it had noticed “the results of the aforesaid opinion poll indeed included the number of seats expected to be won by political parties where polls have already been held”.
NK Singh, member of the Broadcast Editors' Association, reacted: “We respect the EC's instructions. However, section 126 of the Representation of People Act needs to be much more categorical on opinion polls. This also begs the larger question of why only exit polls are thought to influence voters. Opinion polls too can influence voting.”
Akshay Rout, director-general in-charge of media at the poll body, insisted: “Our position is clear that wherever elections have been held, projection of results means exit polls.”
Section 126A says, “1[(1) No person shall conduct any exit poll and publish or publicise by means of the print or electronic media or disseminate in any other manner, whatsoever, the result of any exit poll during such period, as may be notified by the Election Commission in this regard.”
Without naming any television channel, the panel said the telecast and publishing of opinion polls by some news organisations amounted to violation of the provision that bans the exit polls.
“In consideration of the above, and in order to maintain level playing field and to ensure free and fair election, the commission advises all print and electronic media not to resort to the type of practice as mentioned above which for all practical purposes means publication of exit poll while claiming that the same is only an opinion poll,” the letter read.
Welcoming the EC’s order, the Congress said an opinion poll projecting a majority for the BJP-led NDA in Lok Sabha elections was “fixed and doctored”. Party spokesperson Anand Sharma said the opinion poll was carried out by people who were allegedly involved in campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi.
Spokesperson of the BJP, Nirmala Sitaraman, said her party respected the EC order, adding the commission had merely reiterated its earlier directions on opinion polls.
The poll panel had brought out an executive order in 1999 to ban opinion and exit polls but it was nullified by the Supreme Court. The apex court said such a ban could be imposed only through an amendment in the Representation of People Act.
The UPA government had amended the law, banning exit polls till end of last phase of polls before the 2009 general elections. The government, however, did not ban opinion polls then.