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A billion hearts broke on 26 November 2011. The day remembered as 26/11 was a bloody Wednesday that no Indian can ever forget. The Islamic terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out massive shootouts and bombings on prime locations in the city of Mumbai- The Taj Hotel, The Oberoi Trident, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Cama Hospital, Metro Cinema, Leopold Cafe and Nariman House. According to Wikipedia statistics, around 166 people (including civilians and nine attackers) were killed and more than 300 were injured during the attacks.
However, more gruesome than the attack was the live coverage shown on televisions. It was as if all the news channels and dailies were in a rat race to win TRPs by brutally broadcasting every gory detail regarding the attack. This was a major downside that not only instilled nerve- wrecking fear in the minds of the country’s citizens but also made it convenient for the attackers to retaliate. The live coverage of the happenings within The Taj and the other places compromised national security. The continued broadcasts gave minute-by-minute updates of the operations to the handlers who were sitting in a control room in Karachi, Pakistan. Because they were well aware of what was going on the other side of the border, these operative had an edge over our police officers and NSG commandos. In fact, Abu Jundal (the man who taught Hindi to the team of terrorists) was in the control room during the attack. When Abu was captured, he said that the television reports were a huge help to all of them as they kept on advising the terrorists on how to hamper the security operations.
Sixty-seven channels were ruthlessly broadcasting the same content with added masala to out do one another. A peculiar incident took place on the second day of the attack. Shots were being fired inside the Taj Hotel. Journalists were actively capturing everything on their video cameras. One such journalist was shot on the back. A bullet flew out of the window and bounced back, hitting the reporter’s back with force.
Luckily, the injury was not very serious. In the excitement to report another case of injury, reporters gathered around the injured man and started clicking pictures of the wound. Without paying slightest bit of attention to the pain that man was evidently in, they kept on taking snaps. After a while, he was forgotten and left to fend for himself. The worst part about this incident was the lack of humanity shown by the journalists to one of their own. Even in the midst of tragedy, these news channels did not care for national security. They just made desperate attempts to mint money and increase viewership.
Many civilian deaths were collateral damages at the hands of media. For instance, the NSG commandos first rescued the hostages and then went after the terrorists. When they brought a hostage to safety, a group of journalists immediately surrounded the man. He informed that a group of innocent civilians was still hiding in the dining hall. This information was beamed live and those people were shot down in the blink of an eye. The NSG felt cheated due to this. Not only were the media personnel hampering the safety operations of the NSG commandos, they were also making it almost impossible for them to safeguard the public. Nonetheless, the NSG did a praiseworthy job.
The public heaved a sigh of relief when the waves calmed down for a while. Unfortunately, they were yet to see sensationalism at its highest level. In the middle of the night, a loud sound broke the silence at VT station. Without thinking, the journalists concluded that it was another attack. They spread a rumour stating that firing had started at the station. People started calling each other and their panic was restored. Though the police commissioner, Hassan Gafoor said that the sound had been caused due to the falling down of a huge scanning machine, people still went to the site of the supposed firing. It was evident that the civilians blindly trusted TV. According to sources, a reporter was trying to tell his boss about the misunderstanding. However, his boss snubbed him.
Other types of media also played a huge role during these attacks. The newspapers were flooded with news stories about death counts and explosions. Social media was filled with uncountable number of tweets and comments in relation to the bombings. During an interrogation, an attacker committed that they had used Google Earth to memorize the locations. An over exaggerated portrayal of the attacks created a sense of insecurity among the people. According to a study, 78% people were experiencing inner fear due to the sensationalized reporting of the attacks. They became agitated by the actions of journalists and political heads.
Furthermore, the public decided to voice their opinions and highlighted their displeasure through letters to the editor. They used media to explain their concerns. They wrote about wanting better internal intelligence and demanded for political reforms. People asked for federal commando forces that were autonomous like the chief justice of India or the army chief. They expressed their desire for stringent anti-terrorism laws.
Many people wrote about media coverage. They wrote that media had been over intrusive and had aggravated the matter. They believed that the live coverage had caused unnecessary chaos. One of the readers of The Hindu wrote,” For more than two days, we were witness to one- upmanship with television channels making claims such as ‘our reporter was the first…’, ‘these are exclusive pictures…’ and so on.” Newspaper companies were ridiculed because of lack of accuracy in their news stories. The actual names of the attackers were never told. Each newspaper told a different name. One of the attackers was Ajmal Kasab. Some called him Kasam, others said that his name was Kasab and a few newspapers called him Ajmal Amir Iman. Readers believed that mature and evidence-based reporting had been replaced by callous and emotional reporting. They were not in favour of the unbridled freedom that was given to media. Very few readers came out in support of media.
The callous attitude of media during 26/11 made the public’s blood boil. They considered it an act of anti-nationalism. Yes, it is necessary to convey information to the public. That is the whole purpose of journalism. However, this time Indian media had gone too far. They faced backlash from all sides- from the public, the political parties and the Supreme Court.
When the Supreme Court was confirming the death of Ajmal Kasab, it also showcased intense displeasure at the role played by the Indian media. According to the court, media should have come up with some means to regulate what was being shown on television. After the attack, some transcripts were collected from the Taj Hotel and Nariman House. They are major evidences of the fact that the terrorists and the handlers were making full use of the coverage that was being broadcasted. The transcripts contain various references to media reports and the TV coverage. Because of the coverage, the handlers knew when the appellant was caught alive. They also had complete information about the killings of high ranking police officers. They knew where the police was hiding. The court said that in one of the transcripts, the terrorists and the collaborators were seen making fun of the highly abstract reports that were being spread around in the media.
Furthermore, the dome of the hotel had caught fire. Handlers from across the border passed on the message to the attackers who decided to make the fire even stronger for maximum damage. Through the coverage, the collaborators came to know that naval helicopters were about to land on the terrace of Nariman House. This time too the terrorists had an edge over the security operatives and were successful in killing a couple of Jews.
There is a limit to the freedom of expression that can be exercised by the media personnel. Breach of the restrictions mentioned in the
constitution is not justified. In Supreme Court’s opinion, “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.”
To justify their actions, many television journalists argued that they had not made any mistake during the coverage. They felt that it was the government’s or the security force’s responsibility to create a set of guidelines for them to follow during the attacks. Really? How is that justified? It is a blatant excuse. The nation was under attack, it was in shock. The armed forces were doing what they ought to do- save their country. Journalists with years of experience should have known that the exposure of every minute detail was against national safety. It is ironic how the nation’s fourth pillar, the voice of the country’s public, had become the biggest harbinger to national security.
Indian media has always exploited the excessive amount of freedom it has been provided. What saddens me the most is the inhuman nature of Indian journalism. Even in the midst of brutal killings and bloodshed, all they could think about was their TRP. While other countries do have some stringent checks on media, India still hasn’t learnt from its past mistakes. When terrorist attacks were occurring in Manchester, the entire media was under scrutiny. No live coverage was shown on television. Even during the French bombings, proper reportage was done only after the attacks subsided. We want responsible media. We do not want a sensationalized account of grave events. We do not want acts of antinationalism. Alas! Indian media continues to remain incorrigible.
Media committed the same mistake during the Gurdaspur attacks of 2015. The attacks started at 5 am in the morning and the news came out at 7 am. Once again, news channels started reporting live coverage. They gave minute-by-minute details of the attacks. Following this incident, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry recommended the news channels to abide by the Cable Television Networks Rules, 2015 which state: No programme shall be carried in the cable service which contains live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces…Media coverage shall be restricted to periodic briefing by an officer designated by the appropriate government till such operation concludes.
It is time to catch the bull by its horns. A set of guidelines should be developed to counter such problems. Journalists should exercise ethics and professionalism while reporting. Media should be liable for the consequences of its reportage. Media needs to take responsibility for its actions. Frankly, the media needs to grow up. It should not put human life in peril and should learn to co-operate with the government and the security forces. It is imperative that there be a mutual understanding between the governmental agencies and the media.
Media should refrain from glorifying such horrendous acts of terrorism. Reporters and editors should not use appalling and panic-inducing headlines and photographs. Media should condemn such gruesome acts of terror. Over exaggeration of the news story should be avoided. Media needs to be sensitive towards the victims and their families.
Media must not report any information that might cause distress to the victims’ families.
Moreover, it should recognise the loss that the country goes through in such dark times. Media should not interview terrorists. The area in which the attack takes place should not be easily accessible. People should not be allowed to enter under the pretext of being a journalist. Only experienced and senior reporters should be allowed to go in and witness the incident. Reporters who lack experience should be taught how to act during such complex situations. To conclude, if our country has a combination of good governance, efficient security forces and responsible media, no enemy can dare jeopardize its harmony. It is time for us to join hands and work towards the betterment of our media. Let’s save our fourth pillar from falling.
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