TV’s hits and misses of terror attacks

If you follow the Internet, you will know that the middle class anger against politicians has now been transformed into anger against television channels for their coverage of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, writes Poonam Saxena.
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Updated on Dec 05, 2008 11:03 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

If you follow the Internet, you will know that the middle class anger against politicians has now been transformed into anger against television channels for their coverage of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. News channels are being accused of all manners of sin: they endangered the operation, they capitalised on the human tragedy, they thrust microphones into the faces of traumatised survivors and their coverage was often hysterical.

Some of these charges are valid. I don’t know if the operation was compromised but I do know that the channels acted as though it was all right to broadcast everything even though the terrorists may well have been watching. For instance, it can’t have been a great idea to afford live coverage of the spectacle of NSG commandos being lowered onto the roof of Nariman House from a helicopter. That ruined any element of surprise that the commandos may have had.

Part of the problem is that news channels had no guidelines. They showed what they liked, nobody told them off. Such is the competitive pressure of Indian television that even if a single channel shows a visual, the others will immediately switch to it. I don’t know what the solution is but I have one suggestion: why not have a 10-minute delay in coverage of such situations? That gives authorities time to stop something from being telecast if it compromises the operation and denies the terrorist the advantage of information in real time.

Some of the other criticisms are also accurate. The media showed little decorum or sensitivity in covering this crisis. Human tragedy was shamelessly exploited and TV reporters who should know better seemed to go out of their way to make people cry on camera. There was also a fair amount of needless hysteria — Barkha Dutt’s walking tour of the Taj, all the while hyper-ventilating, for instance.

For the record though, I don’t think the coverage was elitist. The reason CST got less airtime than the Taj and Oberoi was because the firing there was over while the two hotels were subjects of a sustained siege. Nariman House, which was also under siege, is hardly upmarket but it got as much coverage as the hotels.

And the coverage did have its strengths. It can’t have been easy for reporters to camp out for days on end, without any sleep and barely out of range of the terrorists. Among the anchors, Arnab Goswami held his channel’s coverage together with unflagging energy. Some of the credit should also go to Rahul Shivshankar who co-anchored ably with Arnab, but the real stars were Marukh Inayet at the Taj and Bhavtosh Singh at Nariman House. They covered the crisis with authority and calmness. In the case of Inayet, this is probably her Kargil moment.

Other surprising successes were Shivnath Thukral and Shaili Chopra who saved NDTV’s bacon on the first night with the quality of their reporting outside the Taj. And after that, whenever NDTV Profit, which Thukral runs, did its own programming (as distinct from taking the 24x7 feed), it outshone the mother channel.

Some criticisms of all channels (except Times Now): was it really necessary to parade Page 3 people again and again? Many of these so-called Mumbai celebrities moved effortlessly from channel to channel, spouting the same inanities about civil disobedience and non-payment of taxes. This process reached its height on We The People when Simi Garewal made outrageously communal comments that were completely unwarranted.

And finally. I am getting very tired of seeing the same Pakistani ‘experts’ being given time on Indian television to tell obvious lies. For God’s sake, can we get some sane voices from across the border instead of the usual humbugs who blame the mayhem on Hindu extremism or Mossad?


    Poonam Saxena is the national weekend editor of the Hindustan Times. She writes on cinema, television, culture and books

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