My blog for Tehelka, last week
It is impossible to look at 26/11 and not discuss the role of the Media – especially TV news channels. As important as discussing the role of broadcast news, is also to ask if they have really learnt the lessons from the way they covered the news then.
No matter what news channels say, to justify the way they covered and presented news, the fact remains they were, at best, irresponsible. To know the extent of damage caused by the media during the 26/11 operations, one has to just read the Supreme Court of India verdict on Kasab. The verdict quotes extensively from the transcripts between the terrorists and their handlers across the border. This is one except. Pg. 224)
Jis taraf aap mude ho aapka munh samudr ke paas hua. Wahan mod ke road ke upar ek building hai civil logon ki. Woh asal mein Navy ki hai. Woh civil ko di hai. Uskey taraf do jagah police waale khade hain. Woh position lekar aapke upar shisht lekar firing kar rahe hain. Jis tarah aap gaye hain. Uske peechey se aakar aapko fire karna padhega. Theek hai.
The way you have turned, you should be facing the sea. There, at the corner of the road, there is a building of civilian people. In reality that belongs to the Navy. It is given to the civilians. Over there, policemen are standing at two places. They have taken position and, taking aim at you, they are firing at you. The way you have gone you would have to come from behind and fire at them. You understand?
Aapki building ke upar fauji apni position bahut mazboot kar rahi hain. Number ek.
On the top of your building the soldiers are making their position very strong. Number one .
The reason why the handlers, sitting in another country, were able to pinpoint accurately – the position of policemen and soldiers sent to flush out the terrorists was because they were watching it live on Television. Indian News Television Channels.
The Honourable judges took cognisance of this. In their judgement they have a separate section that looks at the role of the news media. They list a number of occasions, in the verdict, and state that there are several more. (pg.247)
The reckless coverage of the terrorist attack by the channels thus gave rise to a situation where on the one hand the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces and they had no means to know their exact position or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed and on the other hand the positions of the security forces, their weapons and all their operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists.
The judges state that they cannot say
whether the security forces actually suffered any casualty or injuries on account of the way their operations were being displayed on the TV screen. But it is beyond doubt that the way their operations were freely shown made the task of the security forces not only exceedingly difficult but also dangerous and risky
This was an event that took place four years ago. The SC verdict was delivered in August of this year. Kasab has been hanged. But, the question that remains is what of the media? What of their sense of responsibility & discretion. Be it the Guwahati molestation, or the Mantralaya fire, or indeed, the coverage of Balasaheb Thackeray‘s death and live transmission of his funeral across channels, the media seems to have once again traded responsibility for ratings.
Self regulation is a promise that has been dangled for almost a decade. But, it is not working. While Government intervention is avoidable, there may be a via media. Since the media tends to be fond of Ombudsmen, let us have an independent one that is not made up of people who are currently engaged in the production and monetization of news. And let us do this, before media coverage ends up causing a riot, or costing lives.