Media coverage of Mumbai Terrorist attacks

On November 26, 2008, after a tiring day everyone switched on the ‘idiot box’ for some entertainment and to know about the day’s big stories at night. Most people were shocked and appalled by what they saw on TV and the coverage of which continued for more than three days. The entire country was glued to the TV set to keep track of every single detail. And why not? Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country was under the seizing. For the first time entire country was actually seeing the operations conducted by our brave National Security Guards (NSG). It was a spectacle for most viewers. Nine, out of ten terrorists were killed in the operation and one has been arrested alive, whose name and face has become so renowned that Bollywood has already announced a movie on the incident.


After every incident and the coverage of it, debate begins in our country on the appropriateness of it. How can the coverage of one of the most deadly terrorist attacks go without much discussion? So while the channels were busy blowing war bugle, a new argument started on the ‘coverage of conflicts’ by the media. People were busy pointing hundreds of things that the media should not have done or shown. And for a change, media was on the back foot.


Of course there were hundreds of things that media could have done in a much better way. To defeat one another in the horse race, Indian media seems willing to do anything, not realizing the kind of impact it could have on the masses. Did we all need to see those gory photographs of a six month old girl with her mouth smeared in blood; of a man who lad lost both his limbs; of hundreds of dead bodies; and do the TV reporter or the viewers need to be told ‘how it feels’ to be suffering. How it feels to lose your limbs, to lose your loved ones, to see your city taken as hostage by a hand full of crazy beings?


The media industry, especially the Electronic media, in our country is still in a premature stage and it needs to grow a lot to attain maturity. Media houses too have realized this and have initiated a self regulatory News Broadcasters Association last month. They have laid down guidelines of what to do and what not to do while covering conflicts, terrorist attacks, wars, victims of harassments, etc. But the government thinks it necessary to harness the broadcasters and is hence planning to bring 19 amendments to the Cable TV Act and to ‘censor’. Thus every news will now have to bypass the scrutiny of our ‘babus’ before they can go on air. As a student of media and as an aware citizen, however, I feel that this step by the government is a step backward for any democracy. I agree media needs to do a lot, but then the fourth estate of democracy can not be regulated by a ‘censor’ board. I firmly believe that in a democracy, media needs self-regulation but certainly not a regulation.


Arguing in favour of the Regulatory Board, the government and the critics of the media cite examples like how vital information about the operation were unintentionally passed to the perpetrators of the crime by broadcasting them on TV. And the example they cite is that at Nariman House when commandos were landing, channels covered it live. Right! Live coverage was not very necessary and perhaps the nation could have waited to see the action later. But how does that divulge the secret information? Even while sleeping we know when an airplane passes above our house and that was a big war hawk actually hovering over one house. Are the government or security personnel so lame that they think that if that was not shown on TV, militants would not have known about their arrival until they had seen them with their own eyes? Also, contrary to the general perception, the feed was delayed 15-40 minutes by the broadcasters.


In hurry to beat their competitors and run ahead of the rest, every channel wants to ‘break the story’ exclusively before others. In the rat race they often fail to check and cross check the information. This is irresponsible, unethical and totally uncalled for. Another very amusing as well as ridiculous thing that our media love is bashing up. So even before the incident was over, celebrities were invited to Newsrooms for their ‘expert’ opinions. Simi Garewal went on to say on a prime time program that she would like to see “Pakistan carpet bombed”. Initially Pakistani media appeared sympathetic towards what happened in Mumbai. But as a large section of the Indian media missed no opportunity of hitting out at Pakistan, they became a little defensive as how Pakistan can not be a party to it. But gradually the blame game began from both sides. As a student of media, I think the share of blame lies on both the countries but more on us. Yes Pakistani media is no better, but the onus of responsibility was on us. It was Indian media this time which started this.


And if you thought that the international media was any better, think again. The coverage on CNN or on other channels was also biased. Besides the political fall out of the incident what they concentrated on mostly were on Taj, Trident, Oberoi, Nariman House, as if people who died on CST station or in hospitals hardly mattered. When it comes to coverage of these not so rich people who lost their lives, even our media failed miserably.


All said and done, one can not deny the fact that if today there is a consensus in the country over terrorism, if the government has finally woken up from their slumber and getting their acts together, it is only because of the kind of media attention the tragic incidents have had.


Reyaz Mohammed

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