26/11 Mumbai Terror attack: More horrifying than the attack was the TV coverage

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Mumbai, Nov 26: It is always good to be on top of the news. Having said that, one should also follow what BBC would also say, " the art is knowing when to stand back."

What was equally horrifying on November 26 2008 other than the attack of course was watching the scores of television journalists trying to outdo each other in terms of BREAKING NEWS, knowing very little that they were doing nothing but compromising national security. The handlers in Pakistan who were in the control room at Karachi got live updates of the operations and they kept improvising as a result of which the operation dragged on for hours together.

Mumbai terror attack

Careless updates by television journalists on the arrival of the NSG or even the delay in their arrival were lapped up by the men in the control room.

Abu Jundal the Hindi tutor of the ten terrorists who was also in the control room in Pakistan told his interrogators in India that live television reports of the operations were a boon to them and they kept advising the terrorists to act in a manner which would hamper the operations.

The NSG in particular, which finally went on to finish the operation. Television journalists who screamed about their arrival tipped the terrorists off. J K Dutt who headed the NSG at that time said that the operation was particularly challenging at the Taj.

The terrorists were constantly updated and used a secret stairway to escape from the commandoes.

Anti National:

Many have termed the coverage on television as an anti-national exercise. They acted irresponsibly? Come on! all of us have information and most of the time much faster than you, but then there is a limit to how much you should put out. Television channels refused to draw that thin line of difference between breaking news and national interest.

Their irresponsible act had come under the scanner of the Supreme Court too.

This is what the court had said, " they have served no national interest or any social cause. Reckless coverage gave rise to a situation where on the one hand the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces. All operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists. The goriest details, were shown live on Indian TV from beginning to end, almost non-stop."

It further said," All the channels were competing with each other in showing the latest developments on a minute-to-minute basis, including the positions and the movements of the security forces engaged in flushing out the terrorists, is what the Supreme Court had also observed. Freedom of expression, like all other freedoms under Article 19, is subject to reasonable restrictions."

"An action tending to violate another person's right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting the national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression. The television channels aiming to shoot up their TRP ratings were not serving any national interest. Instead they put their commercial interests above national security."

67 horror screens:

On that fateful day for 60 long hours the people of India and also the handlers in Pakistan watched 67 channels fighting it out to out do one another. Here, I would like to quote one particular incident that occurred on day two of the attack. There was heavy exchange of fire inside the Taj.

One of the bullets flew out of the window, ricocheted and hit one journalist on the back. The injury was minor, but the man was obviously in shock. Instead of giving him medical help, I watched with horror four television journalists grabbing him, lifting his shirt and telling their camera persons to focus on the wound. Once this was done that man was left to fend for himself.

It would be safe to assume here that not one channel acted in national interest. What worsened it was the absolute arrogance that they displayed and despite being repeatedly requested by the security forces, they continued to do what they wanted.

The NSG felt cheated:

When the NSG came on to the scene, their first priority was to rescue the hostages within the building. Their brief was clear and that was to first rescue and then go after the terrorists. The NSG did a commendable job. The rescue began and when one of the hostages came out, he was pounced upon by some of the TV journalists.

That persons said there were a couple of people hiding in the dining room of the Taj. This was beamed live and in just a matter of minutes those persons were gunned down by terrorists.

The panic outside VT:

Just when some sanity was being restored, these journalists from TV went on to send across panic waves. This was a very shocking show of so called journalism being played out. There was a loud sound at the VT station which had been attacked the previous night. Without bothering to confirm anything they played out a news saying, "Terrorists had returned and firing has commenced at VT station." I remember a cub reporter with a channel trying to tell his boss who donned the mike in his hand that there was nothing of this sort. Very arrogantly he shunned the reporter away.

In reality what had happened was the scanning unit at the entry of the station had fallen down causing a loud sound. This had led to panic. I remember precisely a colleague of mine calling me and telling me to rush to the VT station. When I asked her why, she told me TV reports say there has been firing. I just thought to myself, why do people including journalists always think TV is right, when I had a quote from Hassan Gafoor, the commissioner that it was only a sound caused to the falling down of a scanning machine.

Arguments galore:

Several journalists from television went on to argue that they had not erred during the coverage. Some felt that a coordination point ought to have been created to brief the journalists. Seriously? The nation was in shock, none of us had seen anything of this sort. The NSG was stranded in Delhi. There is no need for any such coordination point. Just speak to your sources collect the information and decide what is in national interest and what is not. I am sure experience would have taught us that much.

Conflicting views:

Some have gone on to blame conflicting views by the government of India. The problem of conflicting views was not just a problem for the media. There were conflicting views which were given to the security forces as well. The government was in absolute confusion at that time. The local police was beaten down badly by ten men.

The union government was wondering what was to be done. There are several aspects attached to such an attack which has been launched from your enemy nation. There is international positioning, saving of hostages, beating down the terrorists, securing your nation against another attack. One must understand the confusion in the highest ranks too. These are times not to get the better of the system, but to help them. The least that could have been done was take up the mantle of an Indian citizen and act responsibly.

Nothing has changed:

Television continues to be an extremely loud medium and as the Supreme Court had pointed out a medium which put commercial interest above national interest. Breaking live without thinking responsibly continues to be the order of the day.

There are still no regulations in place by the government regarding coverage of news live which could compromise national interest. But then, do we need to wait for a regulation? When it comes to national interest, you don't wait for a regulation, you just act responsibly- PERIOD.

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