Saturday, July 19, 2008

Voodoo Polls on Kenyan Television are Dangerous

These are results of an opinion poll conducted on the day Amos Kimunya invoked Raila’s name in his death wish. The opinion count was taken at a table where my three friends and I were enjoying an evening drink at our local. Clearly, the ‘poll’ was unscientific, unreliable, strongly biased and could not in any way represent the opinion of the public.

But it could very easily have been conducted by KTN or NTV who on the same day carried out polls phrased along similar lines of question. Indeed if they’d asked the same question and only the four of us participated, such may have been the broadcasted results. Though I doubt if they would have read out our accompanying comments on this one, as they sometimes gleefully do in celebration of ‘public’ vindication of editorial bias. In the scheme of political things, the above poll would obviously not be carried by KTN, seeing as they lean towards favorable coverage of the Right Honorable. NTV, after some soul searching, would probably do so but after rearranging it along the lines of “should Raila step aside?”

While the political bias of our broadcasters is clear and might even be professionally acceptable, I find the shameless exposition of their own prejudices by disguising them as public opinion to be unacceptable. Even dangerous. The pseudo-polls that have now become a permanent feature of the evening news on the major channels are manipulative and a distortion of incomplete information. I think it is reckless for the media houses to continue dishing out all manner of half-truths and even maligning individuals through false information and be able to avoid direct responsibility for it. They surely know that what they are conducting are not legitimate polls, so why do they persist?

Opinion polls are designed so as to indicate, predict or represent the opinions of the wider population. Unlike known scientific surveys, these prime-time polls are not supported by any statistical control tools to make them even a little credible. The poll questions, to start with, are so inherently biased as to make a mockery of the exercise. Probably because the media houses have a partisan interest in the result, they design questions that are so constrained as to elicit only results which justify their bias.

Some of the recent poll questions;

• Do you believe the Transparency International report?
• Do you believe the Kenya Police is the most corrupt institution in the country?
• Do you think the Cockar Commission of inquiry into the Grand Regency sale is really necessary?
• Is Narc-Kenya justified in rejecting calls to dissolve itself?
• Do you believe Kajwang’s defense?
• Has the PNU outlived its usefulness?

Striving for brevity is commendable, perhaps even necessary for the sake of focusing an issue. But these questions shamelessly lead you to predetermined points of view especially when you are asked to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the short span of an sms at news time. A little credibility would obviously be found if the participants were sizeable, let alone varied. But do they ever tell us how many people participate in these polls? “...the poll result is in…90 percent said Yes!” would acquire meaning if it wasn’t referring to four buddies sharing a Tusker at the corner pub.

How many people have read the TI report other than listening to a selective summary of its release? What was Kajwang’s defense other than the edited news clips from their reporters? Are we Narc-Kenya members? Are we PNU members? In short, these uncontrolled poll questions are stupid by themselves but useful in serving narrow and often disruptive political agenda. They are so quickly contrived with no pretense to even a little research or substantive knowledge but based on whim, innuendo and even rumor.

While public opinion is unlikely to be sensibly gauged by such polls, they could have a bandwagon effect which unnecessarily whips up emotions and entrenches animosities particularly amongst our gullible folks.

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