The Georgian Public Broadcaster refuses to pay TNS for conducting exit poll - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

The Georgian Public Broadcaster refuses to pay TNS for conducting exit poll

24 November, 2016

The results of the exit poll commissioned by the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) greatly diverge from the official results published by the Central Election Commission (CEC). Even though the exit poll was jointly commissioned by the GPB and three private TV companies, this article focuses on the former, as a citizen-funded institution.

According to exit poll results, the Georgian Dream gathered 53.8% of votes through the proportional system (CEC - 48.68%), while the United National Movement received 19.5% (CEC - 27.11%). The agreement signed between the GPB and TNS was unable to prevent this significant difference with the official results.

The difference in results has placed the credibility and reputation of the GPB at risk. For this reason, the public broadcaster has refused to pay TNS, which believes that it has faithfully fulfilled its contractual obligations. Currently, the contract is being examined by the GPB lawyers.

The GPB believed that exit polls, as a ‘show’, would increase its rating on the election day. However, post-election analysis showed that the public broadcaster had failed to attract viewers by covering the exit poll results.

At 8:00 pm, during the announcement of exit poll results, the GPB had a rating of only 0.46%, while Imedi led with a rating of 10.6%. The public broadcaster has never been able to compete with leading TV stations in ratings, which raises questions about the arguments behind the GPB’s assumption that exit poll coverage would increase the channel’s ratings on election day.

The public broadcaster dismissed the recommendation issued by civil society organizations to cover both exit polls. TV company Pirveli, which did just that, eventually came out slightly ahead of GPB. In the end, purchasing the services to conduct an exit poll did not achieve the intended goal. On the contrary, this move damaged the public broadcaster’s reputation and once again placed it under the risk of being perceived as politically affiliated.

Shortly after the election, the GPB Board of Trustees issued a statement explaining that the exit poll results far exceeded the 2% margin of error mentioned in the contract, and that therefore TNS had failed to fulfill its contractual obligations.

Speaking to Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia), chairman of Board Grigol Gogelia explained that at this point the public broadcaster does not plan to reimburse TNS with EUR 76.339 for its services.

In his interview with TI Georgia, GPB director Giorgi Baratashvili stated that, considering the significant difference between the exit poll and official results, the extent to which the company duly fulfilled its duties is debatable. Therefore, at this moment, the public broadcaster is refusing to sign the acceptance act.

According to Article 6.7 of the contract signed with TNS, “the company warrants that surveys (polls) shall be based on the acknowledged scientific methodology of representative random selection that provides 95% credibility of results with a margin of error not exceeding 2%.”

The contract does not mention that the exit poll results must be in line with those of the CEC. However, according to GPB, during the contract preparation period, the 2% margin of error was defined by TNS as being in relation to the final election results published by the CEC.

In written correspondence with TI Georgia, head of Kantar Group (owner of TNS) stated that the contract does not mention compliance with official results:

“the above statements relate to the statistical calculation of interval of confidence under which the results of a random survey should be understood. This does in no way relates to the accuracy of a sample compared to a population results (i.e. the official results).  The definition above is a standard definition used when conducting a random face-to-face survey.”

According to the head of Kantar Group, the public broadcaster received data that was weighted by demographic parameters. The GPB had the opportunity to supervise the whole process. Fieldwork was conducted by a research company Gorbi, which was selected by TNS.

Based on this answer, as well as the fact that the GPB had postponed the signing of the contract for the purpose of studying it in greater detail, it is unclear why the public broadcaster ended up with a different understanding of the 2% margin of error.

It is also unclear on what basis the GPB is considering the possibility of fully withholding reimbursement. Article 10.1 of the contract clearly states that “unless otherwise agreed, the company's liability for any claims, demands, damages, costs (including legal costs) and expenses resulting from any tortious act, and/or breach of the terms and conditions set out in the contract is strictly limited to the greater of EUR 50,000”. Therefore, the contract does not allow the public broadcaster to fully withhold reimbursement.

According to Article 11.7 of the contract, the agreement shall be governed by the Laws of England and Wales and each party shall be subject to the courts of England. Any dispute between the parties shall be resolved by the courts of England. This means that in case of a legal dispute the GPB will have to defend its position in the UK, which may result in additional expenses.

Transparency International Georgia and other non-governmental organizations have repeatedly called on the GPB to refrain from commissioning an exit poll together with three private TV companies: Imedi, Maestro and GDS, in order to avoid questions about the public broadcaster’s trustworthiness. The arguments presented by the civil society proved insufficient for most of the GPB Management and the Board of Trustees. Instead, the Management and the Board chose to rely primarily on TNS’s reputation and their past experience with this company.

Author: TI Georgia