BJP may have lost its big gamble in Bihar, but many TV news channels may also be losers in the viewership stake of credibility.

With different channels showing such widely divergent numbers on assembly seats through the morning, viewers were left floundering on what to believe and who to trust. Even the broad trend lines were very different by 10 am, with some channels showing the BJP alliance far ahead and others showing the Mahagatbandhan in a clear lead. And then it all dramatically changed again.

While different channels have different sources on the ground, they are also in a commercial race to be first. In the absence of public clarity on their sources, even if everyone is totally scrupulous, many viewers would be justified to question just what is going on?
As political scientist and politician Yogendra Yadav pointed out on air, “This sort of discrepancy is a first.” It should make everyone look within and examine their own systems.
In the past, the system has been that News Broadcasters Association provides a common election feed to all news channels on subscription. For channels who take this, the leads are automatically updated through back-end software on their screens. Many channels add to this with their updates from the ground, through stringers and respondents in constituencies and this data is manually punched in to augment the automatic feed.

This is perfectly all right, but all channels should be transparent in terms of how they keep track of leads and what their back-end resources on the ground are.

It is also true that election leads keep fluctuating but how does one account for such mega-differences in the reporting of these. But without channels being transparent on the rigour with which they put out their data, such divergence will raise questions on how exactly do newsrooms make their calculations.

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