In Gurdaspur, Did the Indian Media Repeat Its 26/11 Mistakes?

Ill-equipped, under-trained, and under-pressure: the travails of reporting a terror attack on Live TV. 

Published
India
4 min read
Police personnel take positions during an encounter with armed militants in Dinanagar town in Gurdaspur District of Punjab. (Photo: PTI)

I think a squad has been air dropped on the roof.

Babar informs Wasi, his handler sitting in Karachi. Wasi is watching the news and tells him:

About 15 men have been dropped on the roof of your building.

At 7:22 am on November 28, 2008 NSG commandos were being lowered on to the roof of Mumbai’s Nariman House to end the three-day-long siege on Mumbai.

In Gurdaspur, Did the Indian Media Repeat Its 26/11 Mistakes?

Abu Jundal and his company of ISI handlers who allegedly directed the killing spree that left 164 people dead in Mumbai did not need his protégés to report back via satellite phones. The talkback was redundant because Indian news channels were offering a ringside view of the theatre of terror.

Senior journalist Mahrukh Inayet was at the centre of it all. Face down, mic in hand, she was reporting from outside the Taj Hotel during 26/11.

There was no concept of deferred Live. We couldn’t see what was happening inside the Taj hotel but the kind of footage that was being streamed Live from outside the Chabad House gave a bird’s eye view of the counter measures that were being deployed to the handlers in Pakistan.

In 2008, the Supreme Court slammed the “reckless coverage” by the  electronic media that had “made the task of the security forces not only exceedingly difficult but also dangerous and risky.”

But the scramble for TRPs, and the pressure of surviving in a 24x7 news environment appeared to have got the better of editorial caution that morning.

Security forces in Gurdaspur on Monday morning. (Photo: PTI)
Security forces in Gurdaspur on Monday morning. (Photo: PTI)

This morning, Dinanagar in Gurdaspur District of Punjab woke up to the sounds of gunfire at 5 am when terrorists attacked a bus, a health centre, and a police station. The news broke at 7 am and initial live reports suggested we were getting minute-by-minute updates.

The I&B Ministry issued an advisory to news networks to desist from violating the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2015 which state that:

No programme shall be carried in the cable service which contains live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces... media coverage shall be restricted to periodic briefing by an officer designated by the appropriate government till such operation concludes.

Does Self-Regulation Work?

The Indian media has rightly and staunchly resisted any move towards government control.

Journalists take cover during a gunfight between terrorists and NSG commandos outside Taj Hotel on November 28, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)
Journalists take cover during a gunfight between terrorists and NSG commandos outside Taj Hotel on November 28, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

Even as the 26/11 attack was on, the National Broadcasters’ Association had issued a guideline that very few networks appeared to have adhered to.

But Managing Editor of India Today TV, Vinay Tewari believes the media has got its act together after 26/11.

By and large, most media houses follow NBA and government guidelines, but the same cannot be said about social media which is virtually impossible to regulate or monitor.

In Gurdaspur, Did the Indian Media Repeat Its 26/11 Mistakes?

A senior correspondent with an English news channel who doesn’t wish to be identified says government-issued guidelines or self-regulated protocols will do little to solve the problem, when the reporters who are being sent to cover such events don’t know how to conduct themselves in a hostile/conflict zone.

In February 2010, for the first time, the authorities in Pune cordoned off the German Bakery Blast site. Reporters were made to stand at a safe distance from the spot. But in September the same year, just a few months before the CWG, the media converged at Jama Masjid’s Gate #3 where two bike-borne gunmen opened fire at some tourists. Three hours later, at the same spot, a vehicle caught fire because of a minor blast. Basically, no one teaches you to how to report a terror attack. You learn on the job.
– A Senior Correspondent with a leading news channel, who does not wish to be identified, to The Quint

International news agencies like Reuters are known to not allow a reporter in a hostile or conflict zone unless they’ve undergone a rigorous training that involves simulated situations. During 26/11, Reuters is believed to have allowed only a single photo-journalist who had undergone the training out in the field.

Security forces prepare for the final assault against the terrorists in Gurdaspur. (Photo: PTI)
Security forces prepare for the final assault against the terrorists in Gurdaspur. (Photo: PTI)

While expensive training programs may be a tall order for most Indian media houses, editorial discretion should be a given for both on-field reporters and newsroom editors.

India Today’s Shiv Aroor was reporting from outside Nariman House and the Trident Hotel during the terror attack advocates restraint when lives are at stake.

The priority is never to forget that there are people fighting those terrorists while you report or deliver the news. There is nothing more important than that. A terror attack is the worst thing to pick at for ‘exclusives’ and ‘we were here first’.
— Shiv Aroor to The Quint

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