The Memories are Still Fresh…

The night of 26/11 brings back sad memories. I received a phone call from a friend late in the evening that “Mumbai had been attacked…again”. I was online and immediately logged on to the website of a news channel for the coverage. Having realized the gravity of the news, I decided to switch on my TV. I remained glued to it well into the wee hours of the morning. What I witnessed was horrific. I was shocked like the rest of India and perhaps the world.

The next day as part of my training I headed to work at one of India’s premier news networks that covered this tragic story. I was stationed at the International desk and all throughout the day news feeds of condolences and condemnation by world leaders poured in. India had become the biggest international news story at that time. The BBC and CNN International were relaying our news feed. Within a matter of a few hours the international media networks had gathered at the doorstep of the Taj Hotel, the scene of the ongoing action, this was unprecedented. We were as shell shocked as the common man, we were as curious as the rest of the world and unlike the state government, we were prepared to meet the challenge, be it reporting. It was our job to tell the story, the right story and the full story, which however was hard to come by.

If I recall correctly, the local correspondents in Mumbai began covering the story. Information was sketchy, every channel had its own version. There was no central information center for briefings nor was there one person whom we could approach for details. Every agency of the government was giving its own version. The Mumbai police on a number occasions said the counter-operations at the Taj Hotel would be over within a “few hours” or was nearing completion or had even been completed. However we know that the Taj complex was the last to be sanitized by the NSG. Inspite of that we chose to stick to basic facts, though we did air their statements.

Those three days or those ’60 hours of terror’ were busy days at the channel. Even though all days are busy at any channel, I noticed a sense of greater urgency in getting news quickly and getting it right. At the international desk we were cautious not to start pointing fingers though people had already started talking of a possible Pakistani link. Many of my colleagues had friends in Mumbai, some of them were caught in Leopold Cafe where as others had narrowly escaped. Those reporting the news were also in some way personally connected to it, hence it became increasingly difficult to be objective. The anger inside oneself remained hidden on camera but was evident in the backroom, objectivity went for a toss in one to one discussions and it was always India first, no matter what. The coffee machine was a life saver for those working overtime, everybody had some piece of information that the other did not.

Most of what was shown was Live and it would be difficult to say which part was delayed and which was not. However, the flak the media received post the attacks was a little harsh to say the least. The government had not set up a central information center, they themselves said different things on different occasions, there was no coordination between their own agencies as a result each one had a different story to tell. Having said that I do feel we the media at large did make some mistakes which may or may not have helped the terrorists. Not everyone across the spectrum played a responsible role, it seems they got caught up in the news of the hour. It is in these times that ones grounding in journalism really comes into play. Many journalists had not slept nor eaten, they were constantly on the air or on the phone when not reporting. It was “crazy” as a colleague described it. It was the closest one would get to reporting an actual war for years to come. This was intense and the burden of being on air and telling the viewer the right facts, was even greater. Being a responsible news broadcaster one could not afford to rant, ramble or speculate on air. We risked losing our credibility and in the news business that is everything. We could not give up, we could not stop, people depended on us perhaps more than the on the government for news. So we went on.

The weeks that followed after the attacks built up a case against Pakistan, most channels were quick to hype this up and speculate on possible strategic options for India. This was wrong. War cannot achieve what peace fails to do. At my desk we were constantly getting statements from members of both go