New Delhi: India’s broadcast media has come under criticism from the public, the government, the police and the Armed Forces for the coverage of the attacks in Mumbai, with some saying this was insensitive and others saying the round-the-clock coverage gave terrorists information on the activity of the police and the Forces. In a telephone interview with Mint, Barkha Dutt, managing editor of NDTV 24x7, the English news of NDTV Ltd—both she, individually, and her channel have also been criticized—says the administrative agencies mismanaged the entire process and that the media is now being unfairly targeted. Edited excerpts:
There is public and administrative anger against the way media, especially news channels, went about covering Mumbai attacks.
I find the targeting of the media a bit misplaced—and more than unfair, it’s incorrect. Nobody is going to stand here and say that the media made no mistakes. But I think as we learn from our mistakes, the government also has to learn that in the information age, just having a coordinated point of contact and having a daily briefing with somebody who is able to cover all the different departments of the government—security, administrative and political—would have greatly reduced any problems that may have been thrown up by media inadvertently. There were no instructions for media persons on the site. The security cordon was determined by the police and we respected it at all times, and many times we didn’t go live with coverage. Also, during the time when the operation was still on, many people from Forces...stopped to speak with media. I am a little perplexed by the criticism.
Perplexed: NDTV’s Barkha Dutt. Rajeev Dabral / Mint
What about the police’s effort to black out channels?
Blacking out channels would have only led to more rumour- mongering...
What do you have to say on the growing trend of human angle stories, where reporters ask those effected insensitive questions?
Covering personal dimensions is a fragile balance to strike for any journalist. But I want to clarify that we didn’t interview anybody who was reluctant to speak. Most times, many of the relatives came up to us, they wanted to give away their side of the story, they wanted to be heard or just wanted to have a psychological outlet. If somebody wants to speak, how can a viewer determine that they should not be interviewed. That said, nobody supports forcing people to speak who don’t want to speak.
Your own reporting has drawn a lot of flak from the public and your peers this time.
One thing I have learnt in my journalistic life is that to be disliked is the flip side of being liked. I respect criticism but then...I have been congratulated by people like N.R. Narayana Murthy, Shashi Tharoor and Salman Rushdie, among many others, for my and my channel’s reporting.