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Here is why India needs to start fact-checking its election ‘experts’

We the people have the power to disband this circus. To put these ‘experts’ out of a job. By becoming informed consumers of the news.

Elections are in full swing and everybody wants to know what is going to happen, especially in Uttar Pradesh. This leads to a great demand for ‘experts’, mostly senior journalists who are supposed to have feedback from the ground and possibly contacts and sources within political parties.

So somebody sent me a link to watch a typical debate over the political situation in Uttar Pradesh. Typical TV debate panel with senior journalists posing as ‘experts’, presenting their analysis and predictions. Tired and/or retired leftists talking about the supposed rural distress and supposed jobs crisis. Data-free. Anecdote and ‘mahaul’ based conclusions. In other words, pretty standard fare.

Take, for example, this snippet that I cut out of the video where ‘senior journalist’ Shesh Narayan Singh explains why BJP is in trouble in UP this time (you can see the full video here).

He claims that his analysis is credible because he had correctly predicted the last time that there is a Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh.

This bothered me. Because I happened to remember Shesh Narayan Singh’s name and his face from 2014 shows. And I remember that he did not seem optimistic at all about BJP’s prospects at the time. So all I did was a Youtube search for his name and for 2014 elections. And guess what?

I found this other snippet of him speaking on Rajya Sabha TV (full video here) in 2014, explaining that there is no wave for Modi! And that nobody is sure if BJP will be able to win even 3 out of the 32 seats in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

In a delicious bit of irony, both videos I found were from Apr 29: one from Apr 29, 2014 and the other from April 29, 2019. Same man. Exactly five years apart. Claiming the exact opposite of what he said five years ago.

And getting away with it.

This is not about Shesh Narayan Singh in particular. This is not about an individual. I suspect you can find numerous similar examples of ‘senior patrakars’ doing such stuff and getting away with it on a routine basis.

This is about a larger problem of a certain caravan of ‘election astrologers’ : journalists posing as ‘experts’, speaking with little regard for the truth and getting away with it. No competence and no professionalism necessary. And certainly zero accountability.

This would be funny if such analysis by ‘experts’ did not have the potential to influence public opinion. The Election Commission has repeatedly expressed concerns about ‘fake news’ in the election season. Well, nonsensical narratives spread by alleged experts peddling their anecdotes from channel to channel are doing just as much damage, if not more.

Additionally, we should note that sometimes these ‘experts’ make their way to platforms such as Rajya Sabha TV. I do not have information about any specific individuals, but we know that many such ‘experts’ get paid for sharing their ‘expertise’. In case of Rajya Sabha TV, that would be public money. The public has a right to know what makes certain people into election experts and channels such as RSTV and LSTV are duty bound to clarify.

Everybody wants to know the future and nobody actually does. When public curiosity peaks before an election, news channels fill the vacuum with alleged experts and opinion polls. There is a lot of money for a lot of people in this. A veritable industry of bullsh*tters has come up around this. And accountability is practically non-existent.

These are the actual seat predictions for Uttar Pradesh and Punjab by CSDS in Jan 2017, barely more than a month before the election.

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CSDS finds BJP in 2nd place in UP with just 129-139 seats. Miraculously, CSDS also finds SAD+BJP alliance at first place in Punjab and Congress at 2nd place. This is supposed to be from a real agency, one of the most respected in fact. The BJP’s vote share is estimated at just 33%, about 9% short of the correct number of 42%! Most surveys have a 3% margin of error. How does a survey get a voting percentage number wrong by 9%?

The shocking thing seems to be that despite embarrassing failures over and over again, the caravan of election astrologers : experts and pollsters, carries on with their business as if nothing has happened at all. The same faces with the same agendas surface on our TV screens before every election. No ethical standards and no professional consequences for past failures.

We the people have the power to disband this circus. To put these ‘experts’ out of a job. By becoming informed consumers of the news. Ironically, the “news” was supposed to inform people, but that changed a long time ago, didn’t it?

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Abhishek Banerjeehttps://dynastycrooks.wordpress.com/
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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