Mixed Media: Any lessons learnt a year after 26/11?

November 26 marks the first anniversary of the Mumbai terror siege. While there was outrage over what the terrorists did, after the crisis blew over, much venom was directed at the media coverage. Pradyuman Maheshwari reviews the points of discord.

e4m by Pradyuman Maheshwari
Updated: Nov 24, 2009 9:08 AM
Mixed Media:  Any lessons learnt a year after 26/11?

Phew! It’s a year since terror struck India. As loads is written to mark the first anniversary of the act, it makes sense to relook at the issues raised on the coverage. We are living in times when ratings rule our lives. Scoring high in the weekly roster sent by TAM is of paramount importance. However, while GRPs may have been at the back of one’s mind, I don’t think ratings and readership were what led the media to overdo it.

The charges:

Sensationalism: It was a sensational act, especially in the way it was carried out by the terrorists. The coverage was hence bound to be sensational, with a sense of amazement. Also, there was no fixed pattern that the perpetrators were expected to follow. The news channels simply reported what was happening.

Pak-bashing: There is a charge that that media has indulged in too much of Pakistan-bashing. Well, what else do you expect the media to do when you get to know that the terrorists were trained there? Even the Pakistani media reported it.

Revealing armed forces’ position: As it happened, the terrorists got to know the positions of the armed forces thanks to the television coverage. The point that I have made in the past is – why was the media allowed to cover it in the first place. The Government and the police goofed up in their dealings with the press. I’m sure no one would have ventured to show the armed forces position if they were not allowed to do so. But then it was a first for everyone and I am sure the law-enforcers too were grappling with a situation that they hadn’t been in before.

Insensitive reporting: The atmosphere was charged, and there’s bound to be a surge of emotions amongst everyone. Quite like a commentator in a cricket stadium. This charge was against most of the top-flight TV editors – Barkha Dutt specifically with a hate group against her on Facebook. Unfortunate though, NDTV retaliated and got a blogger to purge his posts and apologise.

Terror TV: Remember the terrorist interviewed live on India TV? Should India TV have carried the interview? There are many who say he shouldn’t have, but put yourself in the shoes of Rajat Sharma…

If the terrorists had an entire nation in shock and awe, soon the television media was being terrorised by the threat of regulation. Part-time minister of state Anand Sharma insisted that regulation was the way to go. With elections round the corner, the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi didn’t allow it to happen, else Sharma would’ve got television news under constant vigil.

I have been particularly impressed with the way Minister of Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni has handled the issue. By not toeing the aggressive line by her predecessors – Sharma, and earlier Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi – Soni has achieved the impossible: keeping the media under check by impressing upon the biggies that there is a huge demand for regulation and successfully silencing the media conservatives, saying regulation will be construed as a clampdown on freedom.

So, has the media learnt from its coverage of the terror strike? I spoke to a cross-section of talent from across channels, and their reply is in the affirmative. Frankly, I am not sure. However, more than the media, it’s the Government and the police who need a quick dose on how to handle a crisis.

(The views expressed here are my own. Post your comments below or email mixedmedia@exchange4media.com.)

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