The media has been criticized for telecasting live the operations at the Taj, Oberoi & Nariman House. Barkha Dutt has responded by writing an extensive piece defending the role of media & applauding them on the way they gallantly covered the attack, the threat to their lives notwithstanding.
In addition, Rajdeep Sardesai has been quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t buy the logic that television coverage compromised security and the rescue operations. Everybody wanted to know how the events were unfolding. It was extremely tense. And, the security forces were dealing with fidayeens. They (fidayeens) wouldn’t time their actions by watching television. That’s a ridiculous thing to even suggest.”
While I do give credit to the media for reporting from the site of the siege with death staring them in the face, I think they should have acted more responsibly given what was going on. I agree terrorists would not have been watching television while inside the hotels, but anyone with even half a brain would know that people from their organization would have been following the news & would most probably be relaying it to the terrorists. As has now been proved, the terrorists were each carrying a cell phone & were in constant touch with both their Lashkar commanders in Pakistan & in India. And I am pretty sure they were constantly being updated on NSG’s moves!!
Had the media exercised some restraint, maybe - just maybe - the operation might have gotten over sooner & a few more lives would have been spared. After all, knowledge of the positions & plans of the NSG with the terrorists would definitely have put the NSG at a disadvantage, maybe even have cost them a few lives.
Rajdeep Sardesai’s reasoning above is demented at best. And Barkha Dutt’s piece is clearly an attempt to save her butt. Sample this : “In the 72 hours that we stood on reporting duty, not once were we asked to move further away. We often delayed live telecasting of images that we thought were sensitive so as to not compromise the ongoing operation. Not once, were we asked by anyone in authority, to switch our cameras off, or withhold images. When we did so, it was entirely our own assessment that perhaps it was safest to do so. Across the world, and as happened in the US after 9/11, there are daily, centralized briefings by officials to avoid any inadvertent confusion that media coverage may throw up. Not so in Mumbai. There was no central point of contact or information for journalists who were often left to their own devices to hunt down news that they felt had to be conveyed to their country. No do's and don'ts were provided by officials. While we understand that this situation was new for everyone involved, and so the government could not have been expected to have a full plan for media coverage, surely the same latitude should be shown to us?”
She further goes on to say, “Should there be an emergency code of dos and donts for the coverage of such crises? We in the media would welcome a framework for sensitive events and are happy to contribute to its construction. But it is important to understand that in the absence of any instructions on site and in the absence of any such framework we broke NO rules.”
I think her entire argument of “we broke NO rules because there were none” is simply an attempt to prevent any legal action against the media from any quarter. Our system isn’t even equipped to handle terror (after all, our police went to counter the terrorists who were armed with AK-47s & grenades with lathis!!) How can the government be expected to have a list of do’s & don’t’s for the media, and expected to brief the media on what they should & shouldn’t do on an everyday basis, given what was going on inside the hotels & Nariman House??
Secondly, guidelines or no guidelines, there is something called ‘morality’, ‘ethics’, ‘conscience’. Self-censorship is something which the media MUST exercise in situations like this, and especially when national security is at stake.
Barkha Dutt’s argument about delaying live telecasting of images is feeble as well. Very few will argue that a terrorist who has details of the offensive the forces are planning against him, the direction they are coming from etc., though delayed, is much better equipped to battle the forces than one who has no information whatsoever on the strategy of the forces or the direction of their approach!!
Halfway through the live telecast, the journalists also started saying things like "without giving away too much detail, we will tell you that…". But did they have to give away any detail at all to the terrorists?? Updates on the situation would have been enough. There was no need for the entire country to watch live what was going on at the Taj. I mean, we were in no way involved with the operations. There was no reason we needed to watch it live!
Talking of updates, the ticker at the bottom of the screen was often misleading. One instant, it would say ‘Operation over at the Taj. The other instant it would read, “2 terrorists still inside the Taj’. Or ‘No more hostages left inside the Taj’, followed by ’15 hostages still trapped inside Taj’. How ridiculous!!
The journalists, in the face of criticism, are going around saying “We showed live coverage because people wanted to know! The country wanted to know! The country has a right to know! You cannot deny them right to information!” etc. etc. To my mind, this is all crap. We are only too familiar with how journalists abuse the rights they enjoy in a democratic country. They use their ‘PRESS’ pass to gain access to anything & everything, where as the truth is they will go to any extent, break any barrier, just so they can grab more eyeballs & jack up their TRP ratings.
There is something called self-censorship which the media completely lacks today. Their favorite pastime is to invoke the ‘Freedom of the Press’ clause, which they are doing in this situation as well. But nothing – absolutely nothing – is more important than national security. I sincerely hope the courts in India understand & appreciate this, and issue a writ designating the IB Ministry to formulate a Code of Conduct for the media that they must abide by at all times.