At 9:25 AM on Sunday as people remained glued to their TV sets waiting for the leads from the counting of the Bihar Assembly Elections to take some sort of shape to predict a winner, senior NDTV journalist Barkha Dutt tweeted "NDTV calls the election. BJP and allies all set to form the government in Bihar."
In Dutt's defense, the trends that were coming in since 8:30 AM were nothing if not confusing. The NDA was surging ahead of the grand alliance of RJD, JU(U) and LJP and the mood at the BJP headquarters was upbeat. Party workers had started bursting firecrackers and waving saffron flags. NDTV had already called the election in its newsroom and on its social apps and Dutt perhaps was simply referring to available data.
Times Now, which debated the NDA surge initially, was forced to change the tone of its coverage once the trends reversed.
NDTV calls the election. BJP and allies all set to form the government in bihar with 145 to 149 seats #BiharBlockbuster— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) November 8, 2015
But within half an hour of the NDTV predictions, an interesting thing started happening. The trends reversed and slowly and steadily JD(U), led by former Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and its partners pulled through. In another half an hour it was clear that JD(U) combine was definitely coming back to power in Bihar.
However, the initial tweet of Dutt, who has a prominent voice on Twitter, was by then retweeted over 300 times and was being analyzed by poll pundits. How did NDTV, a leading channel and an expert in election coverage over the years, jump the gun and make such a rookie mistake?
CNN-IBN meanwhile, backed by ETV Bihar's solid predictions from the ground, maintained that the alliance was coming back to power.
It's clear now that the exit polls, with perhaps the exception of Axis, have got the data wrong. There was no 'neck-and-neck' competition. It was a landslide for the alliance.
Absolutely confused! Different channels showing different numbers in Bihar. Now several channels forecasting @NitishKumar govt !— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) November 8, 2015
To her credit, Dutt readily accepted that her channel was proved wrong.
But as in routine on Twitter, the tweet came up for much scrutiny. Some users pointed out, rightly, that it was too early to call the election.
@BDUTT Too early Barkha. It is neck to neck at the moment.— Brumby گوشت خور (@brownbrumby) November 8, 2015
One even offered to buy Dutt a beer if NDTV's predictions were wrong.
@gsurya am not a pollster !! Reporting what's on the channel :)— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) November 8, 2015
But by then NDTV's debacle was being discussed widely on online platforms and later in the day, Prannoy Roy, the co-founder and executive co-chairperson of the channel, pitched in with an apology for the confusion.
"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," Roy said in a video message on the website.
The Exit Polls were carried out by Hansa Research for NDTV. Roy said the channel has written to the agency for an explanation.
"We showed the BJP ahead - that's what the data showed. 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.
Here's the full text:
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.
This year, for example, all across the world, polls have had a very bad year. Greece – they got it wrong, United Kingdom - they got it wrong, Turkey - they've got it wrong. And in the last US presidential elections, the great Gallup Poll got it wrong.
The last time we made an error as big as this was about 32 years ago when NT Rama Rao won with a landslide. Since then we've never made such a big - we've made errors - but not as big as this one.
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 apologize.
Secondly, on every Counting Day, like today, 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.
We showed the BJP ahead - that's what the data showed. 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.
So we apologize to you, our viewers, for the confusion that was caused. For NDTV, and for me, our aim is always to try to bring you the most objective and accurate news as quickly as possible. So, thank you for trusting us and staying with us.
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