‘Do terrorists sit around watching television?’

Like night follows day, the media coverage of the terror attack on Bombay has resulted in the 21st century ritual of biting the hand that feeds the news. After lapping up the non-stop TV coverage for 72 hours, the tiresome game of shooting-the-messenger is being played with great glee by news consumers.

Weighty questions are now being asked about the media compromising the safety of commandos by getting too close to the action; giving out too many operations details; intruding into the grief of victims and relatives by heartlessly thrusting cameras into their faces; anchors hogging the limelight; etc.

The chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, facing flak for not reacting to intelligence warnings that warned of a “sea-borne” Bombay attack, has gone for the jugular. At a media conference, he threatened to “chop the heads off” two TV reporters who aired an embargoed Navy Day interview ahead of schedule.

The Indian media was not an “enabling instrument in the interests of the State”, the Navy chief said, and apropos of nothing, dredged up an old allegation of three people perishing in the high hills of Kargil because “a smart reporter” (of NDTV) got a “smart colonel” to fire the Bofors gun to show its fire power. (NDTV has termed the charge defamatory, and sought an apology.)

The Hindi channel, India TV, owned by Atal Behari Vajpayee‘s erstwhile media advisor Rajat Sharma, has come in for sharp criticism for airing an alleged interview with one of the Bombay bombers. And there are renewed calls for a code of conduct, etc, as there was after the Aarushi murder coverage.

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Sharma claims tried an interesting experiment last Saturday. He invited a former army chief to address the staff of India  TV “to understand, from a decorated war hero, whether news channels went overboard in their coverage”, if lives had been endangered, and what precautions, if any, producers, reporters and camerapersons should have taken while showing “live” action.

Writes Sharma in today’s Indian Express:

“To my surprise, the former army chief was emphatic: “News channels did nothing wrong. Your coverage didn’t do any harm whatsoever to the commandos! I’ve handled action as a major, then as a full colonel, and finally as an army commander in anti-terrorist operations, and there’s nothing I could make out from the news channel about the strategy of our commandos.

“Frankly, I expected him to echo what some have been saying—how terrorists got valuable clues on the commando plan by watching our channels. But sample what he said: “Do you think that terrorists holed up in a hotel facing commando fire had time to watch TV?”

“A young reporter persisted. He reminded the general of the “widespread belief” that the terrorists were being briefed on their Blackberrys by their bosses, watching our news channels. Promptly came the angry reply. “Anyone suggesting this must be mad. (Even) I could not get an idea about the action plan. Who has the time to look at TV and Blackberrys when you are in the midst of gunfire?”

Read the full article here: Reality, not television

Read Barkha Dutt’s defence here: ‘The media is not the message. The viewer is king’

Also read: ‘NDTV: Navy chief’s comment is defamatory’

NHRC decries Centre’s advisory to media