Television

Bihar Elections: NDTV's Prannoy Roy apologises for misguiding viewers

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MUMBAI: With something as big as the Bihar elections taking place in the Indian political scenario, the masses are glued to their television screens on counting day.

From being a reliable source of news to predicting trends, designing the cabinet to declaring a mandate before it actually happens, is what orchestrates the programming on news channels on the big day. It was the usual work flow, which followed in the newsroom this time too on 8 November.

 
But minutes into the coverage, every dynamic was shattered as most news channels committed journalistic harakiri and had to reverse what they had been hurrahing about  merely half an hour into their coverage.
 
In the initial stages psephologists' announced that trends were pointing to a saffron wave and to a washout of the Grand Alliance led by Nitish Kumar, which led to ecstatic celebration at Amit Shah's residence and BJP party headquarters.
 
However, the celebrations did not last long and turned into agony when the actual results were announced.   The Grand Alliance emerged triumphant with the larger vote share of nearly 46 per cent compared to NDA's 34 per cent.
 
On a mission to provide exclusive and quick information to grab a pie of the massive viewership on counting day, news channels seemed highly confused half way through the day. The media went on to declare BJP and its allies as sweeping the election battle in Bihar... but alas... the counting sang a totally different tune. With confusion in the press rooms across the board, viewers were none the wiser.
 
The father figure of Indian  television news broadcasting - NDTV chairman Dr Prannoy Roy felt that the Indian audiences and the diaspora that remained loyal to the news fraternity deserved an apology and explanation about the mayhem that took place.
 
"Let me start with an explanation and an apology. Now, for over more than 30 years, NDTV has tried to be the hallmark of election news and analysis. With exit polls and opinion polls, we always made the point – even when we get it spot on – that there are statistical errors that shouldn't make them be taken too seriously. You get it right, you get it wrong sometimes – that's the life of a pollster," explained Roy.
 
The last time an error as big as this was made was about 32 years ago when NT Rama Rao won with a landslide. "Since then we've never made such a big error- we've made errors - but not as big as this one," asserted Roy.
 
So what was different this time? Why was there so much chaos? "This time, like before, we tried our best with a large sample size and we went to every single constituency - which meant we didn't have to convert votes into seats. The sample, the poll was just taken directly. But the data from the fieldwork agency, normally a very reliable agency, was incorrect and this happens. And we are looking into why this went wrong. In any case, we take responsibility and we sincerely apologise," is the answer that Roy gave to his viewers during his bulletin.
 
Further explaining he asserted, "Secondly, on every Counting Day, all news channels get data from one agency. Again, a very globally respected agency. This morning, the first data that came in to all news channels was completely wrong. Our trend analysis was based on this data like it has been for 35 years - it's never been wrong so far."
 
The data showed BJP ahead and that's what the channel mirrored, confessed Roy. "The data, unfortunately, turned out to be incorrect. All news channels had to change their data half-way. Now, this has never happened before. And we've asked the agency for an explanation and we've heard from them that they are going to write and explain what went wrong once they look into the errors," he said.
 
Not just NDTV, almost every English national news channel got it wrong early on... from Times Now to even India Today. However, the Network18 group's ETV and CNN-IBN clearly stated that the Grand Alliance was going to romp home.
 
Will this abysmal show wake up the television news boys? Though there are many high decibel debates that have successfully managed to grab viewers' and hence advertisers' attention, election coverage still remains the largest source of revenue generation for news channels. So will this performance change those dynamics too? Questions are aplenty and only time will tell if new highs or lows are in the offing.

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