Yes, exit polls are banned and TV channels are flouting rules by conducting, airing them
New Delhi, Dec 15: Who wants to follow rules when it comes to elections? From politicians, voters to the media, everyone wants to cash in on poll fever.
This Gujarat Assembly election season has witnessed some of the most outrageous ways in which politicians and political parties bend the rules openly for their own convenience.
Right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing his predecessor Manmohan Singh of conspiring with the Pakistan government to influence the Gujarat elections without furnishing any evidence to Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi giving his "controversial" television interview on the eve of the second and final phase of polling for the Gujarat Assembly elections on Wednesday, everyone is guilty of breaking the law of the land.
Ban on exit polls since 2009
Amid all these "crimes" committed by our political heavyweights, it is the media, the fourth pillar of a democracy, which has been caught on the wrong foot as several news outlets conducted, telecasted and printed results of exit polls which have been banned under the Representation of People Act 2009.
How TV channels are blatantly flouting rules
Almost all popular TV news channels like Republic TV, India Today, ABP and Times Now on Thursday, immediately after the polling for the Gujarat elections got over, started telecasting their in-house exit poll results.
The exit polls were conducted by TV news channels along with political research organisations like CVoter, Today's Chanakya and Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), to name a few.
Those media houses, including TV channels, newspapers and online portals, which did not conduct their own polls decided to telecast and publish four to five exit polls that were broadcasted on TV channels on Thursday night.
While there has always been a confusion regarding the "legitimacy" of opinion and exit polls, TV channels have never stopped airing them. On Thursday, again they aired exit poll results of both the Gujarat Assembly elections and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections with great excitement.
All the polls predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would win elections in both the states, thus leaving the Congress utterly distressed.
Former CEC raises questions to TV channels over airing exit polls
Immediately after the exit poll results were announced by news channels, it is former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) SY Quraishi who pinpointed the fact that actually such polls have been banned.
"Do you know exit polls are illegal ! Under the Representation of People Act 'conduct' and 'dissemination' of exit polls are banned. How were these CONDUCTED in the first place?," tweeted Quraishi.
Do you know exit polls are illegal ! Under the Representation of People Act “conduct” and “dissemination” of exit polls are banned. How were these CONDUCTED in the first place?— Dr. S.Y. Quraishi (@DrSYQuraishi) December 14, 2017
When popular TV anchor Nidhi Razdan of NDTV asked the former CEC on Twitter whether exit polls could be aired after polling gets over, Quraishi repeated that both the conduct and dissemination of exit polls have been banned.
Sec 126 of the The RP Act was amended in 2008 by Parliament ( not EC). It banned both the conduct and dissemination of exit polls. When were these conducted? When the voters were coming out of polling booths when the elections were in full swing. https://t.co/aJOJwwUnCU— Dr. S.Y. Quraishi (@DrSYQuraishi) December 14, 2017
The former CEC added, "I have always said (even when in office!) that opinion and exit polls should be shown only on entertainment channels!."
I have always said (even when in office !) that opinion and exit polls should be shown only on entertainment channels! https://t.co/lnGMVTqadJ— Dr. S.Y. Quraishi (@DrSYQuraishi) December 14, 2017
Read the rules on exit polls
He also tweeted the gazette notification regarding the ban on exit polls to dispel all doubts.
Why EC opposes opinion, exit polls
In an old article for The Quint, Quraishi wrote, "Opinion and exit polls during elections in India have been a matter of public debate for nearly two decades. All political parties, at different points in time, have opposed such polls and demanded a ban on them except when they are shown as winning."
"Opinion and exit polls by themselves, like all research, are useful to gain insight into what people think of the policies, programmes and products. But the Election Commission opposes these polls because it strongly suspects their integrity having encountered the ugly reality of 'paid news'," he added.
Does ban on exit poll attack freedom of speech?
The former CEC stated that "the opposition to the ban on exit polls in India is mainly on the ground that freedom of speech and expression is granted by the Constitution (Article 19)."
"One must remember that this freedom is not absolute and allows for 'reasonable restrictions'," he added.
Now, it has to be seen whether the EC would take action against the media houses after a former CEC raised questions over conduct and dissemination of exit polls by TV channels in spite of them being "banned".