New Delhi: The Indian broadcast media’s reporting of last week’s terror attacks in Mumbai and their incessant post-mortem using details gleaned from so-called intelligence sources, have both come in for sharp criticism from the Pakistan media and the Indian security establishment.
The attack marked a watershed moment in television reporting in India, where journalists were often perilously close to the line of fire and reported from within striking distance of terrorists still in action. The channels broadcast some of the most disturbing pictures seen live in India—from terrorists firing indiscriminately into a crowd of cameras to commandos descending from a helicopter.
Amid the attacks, Mumbai police did try to enforce a blackout of live coverage because they claimed it was interfering with their work, but the home ministry intervened and said the broadcast could go on.
On Tuesday, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the naval chief, said in a press conference that media was a “disabling force”, adding “we have all been disturbed about the extremely heavy reporting that you all have done in Mumbai recently. Please understand that it has got tactical implications… All over the world, media is an enabling instrument. In India, it’s a disabling instrument”.
Watershed moment? During the Mumbai terror attacks that began on the night of 26 November, broadcast journalists often were perilously close to the line of fire, reporting from within striking distance of terrorists. Gurinder Osan / AP
Another vociferous critic of Indian media was its counterpart across the border, in Pakistan.
“The Indian media itself was putting out contradictory details, which made it clear that there was a lot of emotional reporting at work. When the media in Pakistan saw that kind of hysteria, they were also forced to match it,” said Zahid Hussain, senior editor of Newsline, a monthly magazine published from Karachi. “One channel reported that there was Indian troop movement along the border, which of course the Indian government denied. How can such a thing be said on air? Did they understand the implication of what they were saying?”
Meanwhile, The Times of India reported on Wednesday that in a Pakistani talk show, a “self-styled security expert”, Zaid Hamid, claimed the attacks were part of a Hindu conspiracy. His claims have been rubbished by Hamid Mir, a prominent columnist and TV anchor in Pakistan. Mir said Hamid is “a mad person who used to work for the ISI (Pakistan’s external intelligence agency) and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) in the 1980s. Nobody in Pakistan takes him seriously.”
Mir said much of what is being said in the Pakistani media is a reaction to Indian media’s unverified allegations during the early days. “India TV reported that there was troop movement along the Indian border. Zee News reported on the exact number of bullets, grenades and explosives the terrorists carried with them and said we have exacting evidence of Pakistan’s involvement, and Star News claimed to have solved the case, saying one Rahman Chacha was the mastermind. They showed visuals of this man speaking on the phone and said Rahman Chacha lives in Karachi. This Rahman Chacha has now become a national joke in Pakistan.”
Rajat Sharma, editor-in-chief of India TV, responded strongly to the remarks. “Actions of the Pakistani leadership and their media are beneath contempt. We in the Indian media don’t need certificates from this collusive entity. The Pakistani media acts as a force multiplier of the ISI. Its state of denial on what this rogue agency has set out to do against India is no secret,” he said in a text message.
A senior Star News editor said the channel stands by all the stories it aired. “Whatever we have reported during the attacks in Mumbai, have come from multiple sources, which we aired after reasonable verification. The Mumbai police commissioner’s reconstruction during a briefing yesterday (Tuesday), matches what we have been saying from Day 1,” said Milind Khandekar, managing editor, Star News.
Zee News did not respond to a request for comment.
Mir said many channels in Pakistan had recorded all that was said by Indian channels, and aired clips of outlandish claims and hysterical reporting pointing fingers at Pakistan during news bulletins without any commentary. “This alone is creating tremendous outrage among the people of Pakistan.”
Reacting to comments coming in from Pakistani media, Arnab Goswami, editor-in- chief of news channel Times Now, said: “There is a sense of denial in the Pak media, which was admitted by senior Pak journalists on our channel earlier. The overwhelming feedback we are receiving from the people of India is testimony to the strength of our reporting.”
Admitting that Indian media may have faltered on occasion, Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of IBN Network that runs English and Hindi news channels CNN-IBN and IBN-7, said: “In every incident of this magnitude, there will always be some aberrations that need introspection. Problem is not the media. The lack of information systems on the side of the government is the problem.” Sardesai’s English news channel CNN-IBN misreported on 27 November that terrorists in a white ambassador were firing indiscriminately at passers by. This later turned out to be a rumour. “Yes, it was a rumour and I immediately apologized on air. It is the one mistake I regret in those 60 hours,” Sardesai said.
B.G. Verghese, columnist and a former editor of the Hindustan Times and The Indian Express, said pressures of competition may have led to some misreporting. “In the race for competitive edge, reporters sometimes said rather more than what may have been necessary. Somethings are not done—rushing to get bytes from just rescued hostages, for instance.” He, however, said the authorities faltered more than the media. “It was all compounded by the failure of the system to provide proper information.”