News television channels may be coming up with a protocol to self-regulate in crisis situations like 26/11 in the future, in the wake of widespread criticism from various sections for arguably “sensationalising” the terror coverage and “divulging too much information irresponsibly”.
“We are coming up with a protocol for coverage of emergency situations. The media needs it because it was clear during the coverage of the Mumbai attacks that everything was in disarray, right from the official process of informing the public about the crisis to the official handling of the press,” said Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-chief of the IBN Network, on Friday.
Sardesai was speaking in a debate on the role of television media during the 60-odd hours of the continuous coverage of the Mumbai attacks. Sections of the intelligentsia and the public have accused news channels of divulging information on live TV that arguably “helped terorists and jeopardised chances of hostage rescue”.
“World over, governments filter information distributes among media during crisis situations, unlike 26/11. Through a protocol, the media could have been kept 500 meters away from action spots. I do not know if all channels will follow our protocol. We are sending it to the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry and will follow them,” said Sardesai.
The subject of self-censorship came up when Editor of Outlook, Vinod Mehta, said the Mumbai coverage increased the possibilities of government censorship on media.
“All these years, the media fought the government and even the Supreme Court against any official censorship because we had public support. But after 26/11, we seem to have lost it. And that gives politicians a chance to zero in with censorship laws,” he said.
While columnist Anil Dharkar accused TV channels of being the “eyes and ears of terrorists” during rescue operations, sociologist Dipankar Gupta said an “unintended consequence” of TV coverage was that the holes in the crisis management system were exposed. “We got to see commandos being brought in public buses. The coverage showed how sloppy we are, and that is good outcome, albeit at the cost of many lives.”
Several prominent journalists particpated in the debate, organised by Federation for Media Professionals.