Agency hired by ANN7 to poll election caught in sting

2014-03-30 10:00

An agency hired by the ANN7 news station to conduct pre-election polling in South Africa is being investigated by the Indian government after it was caught in a sting operation there allegedly offering to manipulate polling results.

C-Voter, which is based in Noida, south-west of New Delhi, was one of 11 polling agencies exposed last month in a sting by a Hindi TV station Indian Express.

C-Voter’s managing director Yashwant Deshmukh was quoted in the newspaper telling journalists who were part of the sting that error margins could be manipulated to alter poll results.

Deshmukh subsequently told Indian media groups that the television news team had quoted him out of context.

But the scandal hasn’t cost C-Voter work here in South Africa.

City Press has a copy of a survey form, clearly headed “ANN7/C-Voter Opinion Poll”.

The questions range from whether the respondents intend voting, to which party they think is “more aligned towards the vision of Nelson Mandela”; whether they are happy with living conditions and infrastructure and which party leader “works in the best interests of the country”.

ANN7 this week released some of its poll results, which suggested that the ANC would take a knock in terms of overall support in the May 7 polls but would ultimately brush others aside to retain power.

The New Age, which like ANN7 is owned by the powerful Gupta family, reported that its polls showed “the ANC is projected to win a 64% vote share nationally, the opposition DA will get 19% and the EFF is projected to win 5%”.

“The IFP and Cope are tipped to win 4% of votes each,” the newspaper reported.

Deshmukh did not respond to a request for comment. On Thursday and Friday he retweeted several comments from people on Twitter praising ANN7’s Election Tracker.

Responding to someone who asked him a question, he replied: “Come over to Jo’burg; next two months I am busy with Elections here. Gr8 place & I have a big kitchen in guest house :)”

After the news of the sting broke in India, two of the country’s most prominent news organisations, the India Today Group and the Times of India ended their contract with C-Voter.

India Today Group was quoted as saying: “The credibility of what we publish is of paramount importance to our group and we will not accept any misconduct by any agency which has been contracted by our organisation.”

The Indian Congress Party complained to the country’s electoral commission, which wrote to the police, justice department and the ministry of information and broadcasting and asked them to investigate.

“The matter involves allegations of conspiracy to prepare false reports/polls for publishing misleading information on consideration of illegal payment of money in return,” K Ajay Kumar, the commission’s principal secretary, wrote to the police in a letter which City Press has seen. “Therefore, the Commission desires that the matter may be probed for urgent appropriate action.”

News Express editor-in-chief Vinod Kapri said in a phone interview from India that undercover reporters posing as political party representatives met two of C-Voter’s top officials who allegedly admitted to manipulating polls and agreed to do so for the reporters.

“We investigated 11 opinion poll companies because the electoral commission received complaints that they were involved in manipulation of data. The commission also wrote to all political parties to inform them that they had received reports of the manipulation,” Kapri said.

“After the sting, political parties approached the commission demanding that it bans opinion polls. The commission has not yet banned the polls.”

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