Even as a shocked nation is still coming to terms with the Mumbai terror attacks of last week, the media has come in for some sharp rap for its coverage of one of India’s worst tragedies. While it is true that media has a very important role to play to keep the nation informed in such trying times, the often over-zealous coverage earned the ire of the Government and the police alike. From the police blacking out the channels, to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting summoning the news media owners and industry bodies, to issuing notices to channels like India TV, the Government and the police have taken quite a few steps against the media coverage already.
exchange4media spoke to some Indian media professionals to gauge how they viewed the coverage. Many in the industry have quoted various instances of coverage that had left them surprised.
Interviewing family of hostages giving out information of the location of the hostage; asking leading questions that bordered on communal allegations; politicising the attack; giving out information on police and military operations such as revealing locations, position and the number of commandoes and their actions; the false news of shooting at CST railway station are just some of the instances that were considered detrimental and setbacks to ‘Operation Cyclone’.
Many media heads also recalled how some channels used a sensitive issue like this to promote themselves and their channels by repeating words like ‘Exclusive’ and ‘For the first time with us...’.
At the same time, media observers also remembered that senior journalists worked consciously during the event to maintain communal harmony; not allow the event to become a political warfare; advise people to stay home instead of visiting the attack locations or even the on-air arguments amongst senior professionals on camera placements.
Comprehensive – yes; Sensitive - no
Media watchers mention instances like the 9/11 coverage and how international media refrained from showing any dead bodies, unlike what was seen in the coverage of the Mumbai terror attack. Most said that almost all channels didn’t show any sensitivity in covering the attack.
Mona Jain, Strategic Investments, India Head, IMX, commented, “Initially the coverage was free-for-all, and it was only after the restriction put up by I&B that things mellowed down. I was watching NDTV and Times Now and they were doing a good job. But I feel that Times Now was very aggressive and was at times campaigning for the channel by repeating 'Exclusively with Times Now' and so on.”
She added, “They revealed too much, and they could have been more sensitive; I don't know if international media would have allowed this.”
R Gowthaman, Leader, Mindshare India observed, “I was closely watching NDTV, Times Now and CNN. What I liked is that they did not carry any advertisement and they did a good job. Also, it is a little far-off to think that the terrorists were going to watch TV to plan their next move. From the look of it, they already had all their plans in place.”
Anita Nayyar CEO, Havas Media India added, “Comprehensive-yes, sensitive-no. The news and the coverage should have been handled a little more sensitively because of the operation that was going on there. I think Hindi news dramatised it too much, English news was more in sync with the catastrophe that had occurred.”
While Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME India elaborated, “I was watching Times Now, and think they were very responsible and sensitive in the kind of coverage that they were doing. They did not announce the number of casualties without confirmation, and at the time when there was a complete blackout they were the crusading aggressively to get the channels back on air. On the other hand, there were some channels that picked up political issues and India TV aired the interview with the terrorists; which was highly inappropriate.”
Nitin Desai, Economist and former Under Secretary General, United Nations, said, “I was surfing between channels and not watching any particular one. The news that the national news channels showed was very comprehensive but was not as sensitive as they should have been.”
Lack of a Code of Ethics
Tarun Nigam, Executive Director, Starcom Worldwide India (North), said, “Indian news channels need to follow some Code of Conduct. They have to think beyond numbers in times of such sensitive issues. There was no need for them to show details like they did, and I feel none of them did justice. Environmental sensitivity should be taken into account; all that they were showing made things easier for the terrorists.”
Prof Dipankar Gupta, well-known sociologist (JNU), added, “The news channels were sensational in their coverage. I don’t think they were thoughtful in what they were doing. I think it was unfortunate they said things that were not supposed to. I was flicking between NDTV, CNN, Headlines Today and Times Now. I feel CNN was the best amongst all. This kind of coverage needs a lot of sensitivity and media alone is not responsible, there were no guidelines that were given to them. There is no Code of Conduct.”
The Mumbai Terror Attack was most definitely one of the most testing coverage for the national news media. In a need to show as much as they could, and with speed, some channels were not even concerned on the editing of the footage and worked three to four days continuously. This also shows the passion with which media covered this event. There were those that worried about the ratings game too, but as the media heads put it, ‘is it fair to stand in judgement of whether that was right or not’.
Mixed Media: Don’t damn the news channels for the terror coverage