Flix Friday, January 16, 2015 - 05:30
By Akash Banerjee When it comes to brickbats news channels have never been short of compliments; #paidmedia #sickularmedia, #elitistmedia, #partialmedia, etc. etc. The J&K result day perhaps cemented added another feather in this notorious cap of infamy; #fraudmedia. News channels have never been the paragons of virtue (or of factual accuracy); also editors are blamed for driving their own political agendas or that of their corporate / business masters who often own these organizations. However these are issues are more perceptive, rather than purely factual, some of it – just inescapable aspects of journalism. Well before 10am, an English channel had most the leads - before reworking most of them over the next 2 hours! But inaccuracy or agenda driven journalism pales in comparison to the willful fraud that was conducted by many channels in the name of Election Day results on Tuesday morning. For close to two hours (8am – 10am) most of the news channels (both English and Hindi) went on a kite flying spree, churning out ‘leads’ from thin air and jacking up the projections within 45 minutes to show that they were ‘first’ with the numbers. The rush to be ‘first’ and the overriding desire for ‘TRPs’ can be understood – but broadcasting numbers that would take even the Election Commission of India by surprise, is certainly a new low in Indian Journalism. Keeping the viewer engaged is fine – but playing with results of our democratic process – is twisted to say the least. Of course this is not the first time that news channels have manufactured ‘leads’, they often get away with it too (if the results are largely unidirectional) For example in Jharkhand, it was easy to call that BJP would be the majority party – faking projections was a safe bet, while showing that the channel was ahead on the number crunching. (Never mind that the Election Commission itself or data companies like Nielsen would be stunned with the speed with which nonexistent data had been processed!) Perhaps a hangover from the exit polls, early morning 'leads' for the PDP would have shocked the party itself. Where channels tripped on Tuesday was the complicated J&K elections. Going by the exit polls results and gut sense, the numbers began to be projected that BJP would have massive gains and PDP would end up as the largest party. To accommodate this ‘thought’ Congress and NC would have to be written off….that was the script that was followed in the first two hours…but when the real trends began to come in around 10am, the picture changed dramatically. While significantly dented, the NC and Congress were NOT decimated. “The numbers have changed now!” – gasped a veteran anchor (who was till then writing obituaries for the NC and Congress) The leads then swung to show NC coming close to PDP in numbers (before finally settling down at half of PDP numbers) but leads – unlike stock markets – don’t go haywire like that. Till 10AM, many channels were almost done announcing ALL the ‘leads’ – but then suddenly there was a recalibration post that. Real data was incorporated, Congress and NC numbers increased and BJP brought down to realistic levels. Perhaps a unique win in the history of elections in India when Omar won due to the last minute surge!!!!! Ironically the only broadcast journalist to call this blatant play of numbers was Times Now’s Arnab Goswami; an editor who’s otherwise seen as ‘TRP conscious’.  It’s a pity that despite being made aware of this malpractice earlier – the EC never took action or even censured channels for putting out numbers that it didn’t have access to itself. Playing with leads is just the beginning – the next step is calling seat results based on ‘perception’ and not hard data…like in the case of Omar Abdullah. News channels had apologize to the NC leader for having declared him a looser from the Beerwah constituency – others had a more creative approach – make him win due to a last minute ‘surge’. Duh???? While every news channel tracks its competition on a minute to minute basis – such blind following of each other numbers on the election ticker -– will only bring further disrepute to already embattled news channels. With a few notable exceptions, counting Day leads (specially the first two hours) are fraudulent – no two ways about it.  It’s a practice that must stop, because just like the Indian voter, the Indian TV viewer is no one’s fool. Akash Banerjee – is a former television journalist and author of Tales from Shining and Sinking India. Tweet

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