I’m sure most of you dread the cacophony of hundreds of news channels in every conceivable language as they begin their exit polls announcement once the polling process comes to an end. In their quest to beat competition and obvious eyes on viewers’ eyeballs, they all jump the gun.
While all channels collect a panel to discuss the findings of the exit polls threadbare, barring a few, the criteria for selection of panellists often seems to be their lung power and little else. It has
entertainment value for sure.
True, in this instant result age, no one can afford to ignore these polls, howsoever dicey their outcome or unscientific their methodology. Also, while some channels actually commission their own polls, others rely on freelance pollsters, but one particular channel did the best.
It started aggregating all results, from freelancers to other channels and asked viewers not to switch channels, as it was showing all of them together. Smart!
However, what came as a huge surprise to me as I watched recent polls and interview of former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Dr. SY Quraishi, that these are against the law.
When the channels repeatedly said they would come out with their exit polls predictions post 17:30, it made it seem that the election commission, in an attempt to not influence voters, would want you to wait for half an hour after polling comes to an end. However, as Dr. Quraishi pointed out, the law is different.
As per the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2009, even the CONDUCT of an exit poll is prohibited till half an hour after the polling comes to an end.
Seems bizarre, but that is what the Act is after it was amended and a section 126A was inserted after section 126 of the principal Act.
This is what the concerned section says: Restriction on publication and dissemination of result of exit polls, etc:
(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 the regard.
Clearly, none could be conducting exit polls half an hour after the polling is over and be sharing results with you right then. In any case, exit polls, as the name itself suggests, is poll of a random sample of voters who have just come out of the polling booth after casting their vote. It goes on during the entire period that polling is on. So, if you were to follow the exit polls as per law, only the last few voters would be in the sample, ignoring the majority who voted during the day.
Mind you, I am not discussing the merits or demerits of exit polls, which is a different debate altogether, but the legality of what is openly carried out by almost every media house in the country.
Prima facie, it is a violation of the Act.
It’s a different matter that whoever in his wisdom used the word ‘CONDUCT’ while making the amendment, needs to be examined. As Dr. Quraishi himself admitted to me, what goes on in the media now for exit polls, for it to be legal, the Act needs to be amended.
And why not? In its present form, it makes a mockery of the exit polls. Also, it makes the law makers look like a bunch of jokers.
At Delhi assembly polls recently, in some booths, voting went on till well past 8 pm. This is because as per law, all those who are in the queue by 5 pm have to be given the right to exercise their franchise. So, even the 1730 hrs embargo does not really hold.