Did the detailed, real-time coverage of the 60-hour battle between commandos and terrorists by Indian TV channels endanger the operations and the safety of the hostages?
Sources close to the National Security Guard (NSG) said lack of restraint on the part of channels seriously undermined the commando operation. “Television channels airing live feed of commandoes being air-dropped on to a building captured by terrorists not only compromised our safety but also took away the element of surprise, critical in operations of this nature,” they said.
Veteran print and TV journalist and now Media Studies professor at the University of Bristol, Prasun Sonwalker, felt “the initial coverage soon collapsed into overkill of the channels’ infotainment practices, where sensation is king. Journalists were clearly unable to deal with the trauma that was unfolding, and went overboard”.
Not everyone is as critical, though. “This was a huge story, in a very competitive field,” said Somini Sengupta of the New York Times, who was among the journalists camping outside the Taj hotel, adding: “At the same time, reporters must observe some basic rules — you cannot touch evidence and you cannot walk around a crime scene.”
The criticism of the media’s conduct has already resulted in introspection. The News Broadcasters Association of India, which is a little over a year old, will meet this week to evolve a code of conduct for the industry to follow in such situations. It is long overdue, conceded Rajdeep Sardesai, president of the Editors’ Guild of India and editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN. “We need more restraint and higher ethical standards. And the challenge... will be to ensure we actually implement the code we frame.”
Dr Peter Lehr, senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism & Political Violence at St Andrews College, UK, pointed to the defence advisory in the UK that suggests a code of conduct for the media while reporting on security and intelligence issues. It advises the media to treat information of a sensitive nature carefully so as not to hamper any operation or give away information that helps terrorists.