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How India TV scooped the Osama tapes story

04-November-2004
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How India TV scooped the Osama tapes story

15, 480 seconds. That’s a lot of time really in the world of television news. And that’s the extent of time lead that India TV clocked over rival channels in putting out the Osama bin Laden tapes in the wee hours of Saturday last. Enough reason to put out a special mailer with Osama staring out of the screen. The mailer claimed very simply: “At 2 a.m., India TV viewers started seeing the Osama tapes and our expert analysis. Our nearest competitor woke up 4.5 hours later! We don’t blame them for going over the top over trivial news breaks…”

Recounting how it happened, Rajat Sharma, Chairman, India TV, says, “At the risk of sounding like insomniacs, at 1.30 am our top team was finishing one of our regular planning meetings when we received the alert from Doha. Some tapes had being dropped off at Al Jazeera's Islamabad office. We knew we'll have to break the meeting. When we stepped out, our Al Jazeera desk seemed to be in a state of heightened activity. They were busy reading alerts from the channel's Arabic ticker, the visuals were on their way."

According to India TV senior editors, tape ingests started at 1.50 a.m. and specially recruited Arabic translators began the process of interpretation. The newsroom sought web updates from Al Jazeera. By 2 a.m., the channel’s ticker began sending out first details of the tape to Indian viewers. And at 2.05 a.m. the first news scripts rolled out.

Explained Sharma, “Watching our Al Jazeera monitors, we didn’t lose much time to realize that that tapes were probably genuine. Before long our tickers were up with special alerts, and our team began to ingest the tapes and write out the scripts, and an anchor began his pieces from the newsroom.”

By 4.30 a.m., the “job well done”, the top team at India TV started returning home. All along every Indian news channel was being monitored. Says Sharma, “Our nearest competitor started informing their viewers at 6.30 a.m. Others started a little later. In a business where every second counts, we had been ahead by 15,480 seconds!”

But wasn’t it a pity that not many may have been awake at that late hour to see this event unfolding on the screen? Says Sharma, “It was a journalistic triumph. Even if one viewer saw it, it was worth it. That is what television news is all about.”

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