A sting operation by a Hindi news channel appeared to show opinion polling agencies willing to manipulate the results on behalf of political parties for a price.

The contents of the sting operation conducted by News Express and aired first at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon and then on the channel, could not be independently authenticated by The Hindu.

Undercover reporters for the channel approached 13 polling agencies and were turned down by two (AC Nielsen and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies). The remaining 11 offered to manipulate, to various degrees, their findings to suit the interests of a political party, the channel claimed.

C-Voter appeared to offer to raise the margin of error from 3 to 5 per cent to allow more seats to be shown for one political party or the other, the channel claimed. But, Yashwant Deshmukh, managing director and chief editor of C-Voter, told The Hindu that the channel had failed to show that he had repeatedly refused to manipulate the results.

“It’s quite clear that I am explaining what changes in the margin of error mean in statistical terms. There is absolutely nothing incriminating there,” he said.

The India Today group, which has in the past commissioned polls from C-Voter, announced on Tuesday evening that it was suspending all opinion polls by C-Voter for the group and had issued it a show-cause notice.

Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now, which also commissions C-Voter polls, told The Hindu that they would also send C-Voter a show-cause.

Another pollster featured in the sting, QRS (Quality Research and Services) appeared to be telling the undercover reporter that he had projected 200 seats for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh under one agency’s name and 200 for the Samajwadi Party under another agency’s name. The organisation’s managing director’s mobile phone was switched off.

The global market research company Ipsos’s Indian head too appeared to offer to use margins of error to favour a party and project “fence-sitting seats” as belonging to the party in the media, even while privately informing the party of the “real” situation. The India office asked for time to reply but was unavailable later.

Mid-stream Marketing Research’s director Sanjay Pandey offered in the clip to manipulate survey data, the channel said. However, Mr. Pandey said he had denied having said any such thing.

A Development and Research Services (DRS) representative appeared to offer to delete unfavourable data, but a company representative said the person had since resigned.

Lead Tech Management Consulting’s Vivek Singh Bagri said the undercover reporter had put words into his mouth, and while he had played along at the meeting, he subsequently sent an SMS refusing to do anything unethical.

Five other little-known pollsters could not be contacted for comment as no official representative was available on the phone on Tuesday evening.

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