Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta on Tuesday mounted a frontal assault on the electronic media for its reckless coverage of the Mumbai attacks. In his annual press conference ahead of Navy Day on December 4, Mehta said the manner in which TV channels reported India’s worst terror strike had “tactical implications” and might have worked to the advantage of the terrorists.
“When operations were taking place, the channels were reporting that commandos were being airdropped. The terrorists were in live contact with their masters, who were keeping them informed. Such minute-by-minute coverage can be detrimental to conduct of operations. We are disturbed by such reporting.”
Mehta picked holes in the coverage of the 1999 Kargil war to prove that channels have traditionally not exercised restraint in their coverage of events that have a bearing on national security.
Singling out a lady journalist from an English news channel, Mehta, who is also the chairman of chiefs of staff committee, said irresponsible coverage of the war had compromised the safety of troops and led to the death of three soldiers. He said this particular journalist had cajoled an army colonel to demonstrate the firing of an artillery gun to capture a great shot on the camera. He said the colonel was later dismissed from service.
Prannoy Roy, president, NDTV, told HT: “What he said is completely untrue and malicious. We have asked for a retraction and a public apology as this amounts to defamation.” Surprisingly, a report aired by a little-known TV channel and content posted on a blog form the basis of Mehta’s allegations..
Mehta’s observations against the journalist run counter to the details given by General V.P. Malik (retd), who was the army chief during the Kargil war, in his memoirs Kargil — From Surprise to Victory. Malik has written in his book that after the war was over, he had invited the lady journalist to his office and lightheartedly mentioned that she had let out classified information in her professional enthusiasm by pointing out that the army’s next objective would be Tiger Hill.
The journalist asked Malik if she might have given away the location of Indian guns or troops and helped the enemy engage them with artillery, by speaking on the Iridium satellite phone. In a chapter devoted to the Information Battle, Malik clarifies, “When I told her we too were using such telephones and the enemy did not have such monitoring equipment, she appeared quite relieved.”
A senior general, who was part of Kargil operations, said Mehta’s observations about the Kargil war were inaccurate.