Media Management and India’s Mismanagement
by Himanshu Jain on 08 Dec 2008 0 Comment

26/11 will be remembered as one of the darkest days of Independent India. The country has faced many tragedies and fought many wars, yet 26/11 has left a legacy of searing pain and anger. The people are angry, desperate, and helpless.

As the tragedy unfolded before our eyes, news channels played a crucial role, bringing the attacks, the bullets, and explosions to us live, continuously for 59 hours. During this coverage, there were often times when the channels had little information and had little new news. Yet the Anchors continued to cover the event.

Often the coverage lacked intelligence and even facts. Odd questions were put to survivors coming out of hotels. One victim who came out of a hotel was asked by a TV anchor what she first thought of when she heard the gun shots. Even before she could reply, another pointed question was asked about who was the first person she remembered when she realized she was surrounded by terrorists. As if that was not enough, the anchor went on to ask the victim how she felt when she realized that she might die? I decided to change the channel.

The next channel had a split screen with four cameras to cover the Nariman House shoot-out from four angles. It was proud of its camera angles and the fact that it could bring these pictures live from the war zone. I decided to change the channel.

Here, a very famous Anchor was lying on the ground, very excited as he had been asked by NSG to lie down to take cover from bullets. He continued to cover the event live, repeating constantly that he has been asked to lie down by the NSG so no bullets hit him; he gave no new information but we kept watching him in anticipation of a exciting event.

In this coverage I could see sniper positions of NSG commandos on the roofs around Nariman House. Each sniper had a cameraman with him; I could see the sniper rifles of the NSG commandos also. Suddenly I was scared.

I thought - if the commandos are being exposed with the kind of equipment they have, the local supporters of the terrorists could easily give away the positions of these NSG commandos to the terrorists. The trainers of these terrorists could also be studying the kind of equipment NSG uses. If the snipers had not been shown from the rooftops, it would have made no difference to the ordinary citizen; but the media continued its relentless coverage, often excited, often unintelligent, but definitely without any rules.

The air dropping of the commandos, the exchange between a terrorist and a news channel, the faces of NSG officers and terrorists, could easily have been hidden.

After the 62-hour ordeal of the nation ended, some serious questions kept worrying me. During the operation, many facts had been given by the media again and again.

There was a talk of a trainee chef in a kitchen, of British origin, who was supposed to be part of the terrorist group which took over the Taj. This terrorist killed a colleague who managed to telephone his family before dying; he told them he had been shot by a colleague who had been working with him for the last 10 months!

There was talk of a terrorist having infiltrated the house-keeping of Taj (now being strenuously denied by the government and the Taj management). Room 603 was supposedly used to stockpile weapons and hand grenades. A foreigner who escaped from the hotel told on waiting television crews that there were 16-17 terrorist at least, and they kept on fighting among themselves.

There was talk of terrorists having rented a flat at Nariman House; it was said to have been rented by three boys who had ordered 100 kgs. of chicken on the day of the operations. News channels suddenly went silent on these stories after 59 hours of coverage. Why? There was also talk of some demands by the terrorists and some negotiations with them; here again the media suddenly clammed up. Who procured this silence?

Then we started getting stories of how the terrorist were only 10 in number, and all were killed or arrested. The other points raised were never addressed and we waited for answers in vain.

Then a new chapter started. Barkha Dutt of NDTV started attacking Raj Thackeray and interviewing bystanders about North Indian commandos saving Mumbai. This was atrocious. How could one even raise the issue of Raj Thackeray at a time when India was injured and limping? It was like adding fuel to a fire, besides giving huge importance to a man whose status is equal to city garbage.

By evening Barkha had come out with her talk show on the spirit of Mumbai and how it lives on. She started unfolding her agenda of channelizing the confused and angry sentiments of the audience into a hate campaign against the political class. Arnab Goswami of Times Now and Rajdeep Sardesai of IBN 7 had by then caught the same bandwagon.

Soon some SMS campaigns, internet polls, candlelight vigils and statements like “Enough is Enough,” along with a few strategic interviews, developed into a campaign against politicians. Congress was sought to be saved from the consequences of its incompetence and shoddy governance, by making all politicians scapegoats.

The BJP has always been at the receiving end of the secular media. Now even when it is not in power, it is being abused. In power, it was criticized and help responsible for the attack on Parliament, Red Fort, Kargil… Now it is under fire in opposition as well. The political manoeuverings of Barkha Dutt have already won her a Padma Shri; now she may be on her way to a Bharat Ratna.

In all this, the nation is the biggest loser. The shoddy governance, Muslim appeasement, politics of votebank at cost of nationhood, and the Congress’ soft approach to terror are the core issues facing us, but have all been lost. Will we ever know about the local support bases of the terrorists, the source of their accurate information, and the total number of terrorist in the operation? Will our NSG and Army be exposed to another live coverage in the event of a similar attack?

These are the questions we have lost in the light of the candlelight vigils and unnecessary attack on the political leadership. Ordinary people are being confused by the secular and cynical media as part of a big cover-up to save the Congress. What people need is leaders with the boldness to act firmly and lead them out of present morass. The lesson the Mumbai Massacre is that India lacks such a leadership, and that it lacks a media that can seek accountability on behalf of the real people of India.

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