Friday, November 04, 2005

Horrible journalism?

The Indian Express reports on the Natwar Singh - Volcker controversy:

    Even before the government decides to ‘sacrifice’ External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, people across the globe have given their verdict.

    According to an opinion poll conducted by, 88.05 per cent of the Netizens have given their judgment in favour of Natwar Singh’s resignation. While 10.53 per cent have given him a clean chit, 1.42 per cent readers have reserved their view.

    The glaring question is, as the country’s External Affairs Minister, how can Singh continue to chair such a prestigious post. Being implicated in a UN report, he has lost the credibility to handle India’s relations with the outside world and has become more of a national embarrassment.

The Indian Express conducted an opinion poll? Where are the details of the poll? What was the sample size? There are certain basic things that go into the design of a poll, right? Where are those details?

It turns out that Expressindia is talking about the poll conducted at their website. See the results here. It's amazing that Expressindia doesn't bother much to spell it out clearly that this was an online poll with "self-selected" participants and not a scientific poll conducted with "randomly selected" participants. Obviously an online poll doesn't have much value as everyone understands that it reflects the biases of the visitors of that particular website.

Asking for a minister's resignation based on such a poll is very funny! In their earlier polls, 53% agreed with Shiv Sena that the page 3 culture resulted in an increase in rape incidents, 73% were against the state mourning for Pope John Paul II, and 59% thought the US shouldn't have denied Narendra Modi a visa. Did the Indian Express advocate their readers' opinion on these matters on their pages? 85% of the online poll participants supported the slum demolition drive in Mumbai. Now that says a lot about the disconnect between online poll outputs and what the public think. [Link.]

It's disgusting that a premier newspaper cheats its readers like this. Journalism of courage? Indeed!


At 11:29 AM, Blogger pennathur said...

Just in case your readers want to know what else The Express has written they could read it here

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous lod said...

Like you rightly said, this reflects the biases of both the newspaper and its readers. They tend towards this very nationalistic / (soft) Hindutva view.. I still like the Hindu, their biases match mine!

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Mridul Narayanan said...

rightly said. They most often do not publish your comments too if it does not match with their way of thinking.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger pennathur said...
Anand please save some of your disgust for those house journals that pass themselves off as 'newspapers'. What is the most disgusting of the following

-A state-sponsored mob ransacking a foreign mission
-The leaders of that state who take no action against this rabble and blame the leaders of that foreign nation
- A newspaper in a third country that makes light of the incident and advises the leadership of the second nation not to make a big fuss
- Well read people in this third country who act as if nothing happened

I can understand why the Express isn't popular with certain readers. It is one of the few widely read newspapers that presents India's disruptive clowns in the left for what they are. Their edit on the CPI(M) 'protest' against Cope India'05 yesterday was hilarious. And today's report is interesting too - note Buddhadeb's clarification!

At 9:40 PM, Blogger Rajagopal said...

Funny you should get so worked up about a poll done by IE. You sure didn't fell the same way back then. You used the poll results to draw your own conclusions, even the Express hadn't mentioned anything about their methodology back then too. So what has changed?.


At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anand said...

Pennathur, lod, Mridul, and Rajagopal -- Thanks for commenting.

Pennathur -- I understand your other concerns. My point is that this was a case of horrible reporting, passing off an online poll as an opinion poll. I would like to know what you specifically think about it.

Rajagopal -- I had replied to you there! And I repeat that! And please read the full thing.

At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anirudh said...

Good one, Anand.

At 11:47 PM, Blogger Rajagopal said...

Yes, you replied to me back then, but the reply didn't address my point back then and still it doesn't. I asked you why you would cite the results of a poll done on, with no information on the methodology. You claimed that "Looks like, at least for many of the Indian Express readers, Lalu bashing, Mumbai beautification, moral policing, all go together!". You didn't care about the details of the poll or the sample size of the pollor the "certain basic things that go into the design of a poll". You drew a conclusion without bothering about any of the basic things that go into the design of a poll.

It seems you have a concern about the methodology with regard to the poll about Natwar Singh. Why shouldn't they (whoever wrote the article you cite) do what you did?. It sure is irresponsible. But when has that stopped you. I repeat my question - what has changed?.

At 5:58 AM, Blogger pennathur said...


The Express's case against Natwar Singh rests on other grounds. It is not demanding his resignation on the basis of its readers' opinions. That is very clear if one reads their editorial on the subject. The article titled "Netizens...." leaves no one in doubt that it is a poll conducted over the internet. The Express's views on the many events of recent times have been very different from the those of its 'netizens'. It hasn't advocated that women dress "demurely" so as to not draw the attention of rapists, nor is it cheering the eviction of slum dwellers. It features a wide range of opinion - not all its columnists are loons - some of them such as Saeed Naqvi and Ashok Malik write exceedingly well. Or is that the problem?

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Krish said...

What else can you expect from a right wing media. BJP is yet to digest their poll defeat. Indian express, an hard core right wing newspaper, is also feeling the same. Thatz why BJP and IE are making all sorts of noises. I wouldn't be surprised if BJP demands Manmohan Singh's resignation if someone pisses in Delhi streets. You can then see IE conducting a poll asking whether Manmohan Singh should resign for the piss incident.

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Rajagopal -- Indian Express says:

According to an opinion poll conducted by, 88.05 per cent of the Netizens have given their judgment in favour of Natwar Singh’s resignation.

I would have said, and I think it's okay to conclude:

Looks like, at least many Indian Express readers are in favour of Natwar Singh's resignation.

And there's a lot of difference between those two statements.

When I qouted their online poll figures, I made it a point to stress that online poll results like those do not count too much. I expected the Express to do the same as well.

Pennathur -- "Netizens" in the title (or in the text) do not make it clear that this was just a self selected online poll. Because you can have a proper opinion poll among netizens too. The right thing to do would have been to clearly say that this wasn't a scientifically designed opinion poll. That's good journalistic practice. See this for instance.

As for their edit, I have no problems with that stand. I think there should be an immediate, time-bound, thorough inquiry, and Natwar should go if found guilty.

We can be admirers of a newspaper (or anything) by criticising criticisable points too, right?

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Krish -- You surely don't think I have provoked the readers enough, do you? :))

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Vishnu said...

Yes, EI should have mentioned how they conducted the polls. I found no mention of that anywhere. It ls also strange that all comments on the news item you mention are full of hate.

We can be admirers of a newspaper (or anything) by criticising criticisable points too, right?

I believe that admirers should point out such things. After all, you want it to be better!

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Rajagopal said...

You "for many of IE's readers...". Could you kindly tell us how many readers felt that way. What percentage of IE's readers do you thought it represented at that time?. Without any details of the methodology, you were able to conclude something about for many of IE's readers. Doesn't seem very academically rigorous to me.

At 8:10 PM, Blogger pennathur said...

Reporting in the English press in India used to be an art form at one time until the edit page writers took over the entire paper. Hard reportage became a rare thing especially in a paper like The Hindu that began to employ vast armies of the robotic tie-and-die and beedi-jhola types (they have made some amends in recent years though), and you started to see edits on all pages with some particularly Larry King like interviewing by the likes of Malini Parthasarathy. Now as a rule India's intellectuals have a poor grasp of Indian languages and some of them are disdainful of any need to study Indic classics. One very popular liberal columnist and 'historian' unaffectedly says he has no aptitude for languages (other than English). City English journalists rely upon Indian language reporters in far flung places to learn what is happening on the ground.
But two newspapapers have kept themselves out of this rut by making it a point to cultivate reportorial talent. The Indian Express and The Statesman. While the former has lived through the demise of both BD and the senior Goenka and family squabbles and continues to do a fine job; I wonder what will happen to The Statesman aftr the passing away of that Lion of Calcutta CR Irani. The latest tamasha going on in WB is the 'protests' against IAF-USAF Cope India0'05 exercises. As always the Express tells us things that some would rather not talk about. So here is a report on how the left loons in WB are organising 'relief; operations in the flood-ravged areas.

At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anand said...

Thanks Vishnu.

Rajagopal -- Is that what you wanted to say? If you had said that the first time, we wouldn't have disagreed at all! Not just that post, my blog posts are never "academically rigorous". Whatever I write rigorously, I try to get those published in peer reviewed journals!

Pennathur -- Fine! You have your biases, I have mine. I consider The Hindu the best Indian newspaper. But that doesn't stop me from criticising The Hindu either! As for the beedi-jhola types, well, I have nothing against them. In fact many people say that I'm one such. I do not know.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Qalandar said...

Good post!

(though I do think Natwar Singh should resign)...

At 10:56 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

One of the important virtues of a news paper is to convey the opinion of the people to the government. So conducting a poll is a very legitimate way of gauging the public mood. All the talk of sample size etc makes very little sense. Afterall they do say that its an online poll and what sample size is good enough? A billion? Besides people who vote on these polls are likely to be more informed about the issue than the guy on the street who would blissfully say whatever he wants. I'm not a flag-bearer for Indian Express, but by coming out strongly against a source of national embarassment (aka Natwar), Indian Express has indeed displayed "Journalism of Courage".

At 2:26 AM, Blogger shaun said...

This is not horrible journalism. It is not journalism at all.

At 2:32 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Thanks Qalandar.

Balaji Ganesan -- people who vote on these polls are likely to be more informed about the issue than the guy on the street who would blissfully say whatever he wants. What makes you think so? It's not clear to me at all.

Shivam -- You are right!

At 7:41 AM, Blogger pennathur said...

You seem to be stuck with analyzing the Express based on just one article. There is a lot in that paper that makes one extremely uncomfortable especially in a time such as this where we are full of public euphoria and private fear. The Express and the Statesman (and to a lesser extent The Telegraph) provide a good dose of reality in these times.

At 7:29 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

Balaji Ganesan -- people who vote on these polls are likely to be more informed about the issue than the guy on the street who would blissfully say whatever he wants. What makes you think so? It's not clear to me at all.

Well, if you do a random sampling, it might as well represent the opinion of the people. Vast majority of the people ofcourse are likely to know very little about the issue at hand. So if you put a question like "Should Natwar resign because of this scandal?", a common man who is disgusted with the politicians anyway is likely to say "Yes". But a person who has bothered to come online and check out the polls section may as well have read a couple of articles on the story and hence can give an informed opinion.

At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Anand said...

Balaji -- There's a valid point in what you say. But it's equally plausible that the common man says "No" because the common man is facing a thousand other problems (which never make it to most of our newspapers) and he is not bothered about the minister's resignation. In any case my point wasn't whether or not the minister should go. He should, if it's proved that he is guilty. My point was about simple journalistic ethics. And I hope you see that as well.

At 5:32 AM, Anonymous Frontier India said...

Indian Express has been better newspaper compared to the commercial rag like TOI. The Tribune, The Hindu and the Indian Express the core of good newspapers in India.

At 11:35 PM, Blogger Moon Rays said...

A part of my blog commenting on this post
technical complain is that voters were self selected and not randomly sampled. Incidentally, if this complain were to be accepted, then most of the elections held anywhere in the world should have been invalid, afterall, the voters who come out to vote are not randomly drawn from the population. It is the people who are motivated enough to come out to vote, who decide the fate of nations.

But that makes logical sense, there is a difference between conducting surveys for soaps and opinion polls, people who cannot read can use soaps, but they are scarcely likely to know Mr. Volcker or Mr. Natwar. Conducting random surveys means you have to ask people who possible have absolutely no idea of the subject on hand. OTOH in an online newspaper poll you can be atleast sure that voters have some background knowledge of the subject matter and are more transparent, hence less likely to be rigged. Anand further says "Did the Indian Express advocate their readers' opinion on these matters on their pages? " No did not, which means some of these opinions were not in line with IE's editorial policy and hence we can safely presume that these polls are not rigged. Ofcourse the sample contained only online IE readers (not subscribers, they said Netizens, please note), who might be communally minded and hence have no right to click on online polls.


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