Media must learn how not to report during terror attacks

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During the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, a few TV News Channels in India were broadcasting live feeds of commando operation. This live coverage of commando action was actually helping the terrorists who had access to news channel feeds. (Representational image)
During the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, a few TV News Channels in India were broadcasting live feeds of commando operation. This live coverage of commando action was actually helping the terrorists who had access to news channel feeds. (Representational image)

As India remembered the horrors of deadly terrorist attacks on November 26, 2008 that left more than 160 people dead and 300 injured, there is one area which, the country’s newsrooms, have conveniently chosen to ignore. Yes, the role of the media and the basic principles of reporting!

The terror attacks in Mumbai brought out a rather ugly side of the media.

It was officially documented that the terrorists could easily access television broadcasts and other news feeds, which helped them. Not just that, we also know that a few lives could have been saved if the media had exercised restrain in dissemination of information.  

The manner in which unfolding of 26/11 terror attacks and the response of our security forces was covered by media should be a lesson for all journalists to understand how not to report events during times of crises or emergency. While the media and public at large have the right to know in a democratic set up, it also comes with a great amount of responsibility, which we need to uphold.

Many of us know how the reportage of 26/11 made things extremely difficult for the National Security Guards (NSG) commandos.

In our journalism classes we were taught how to exercise restraint in reporting despite having critical pieces of information – if that helped in saving lives or maintaining peace. It seems somewhere down the line, the rule books have been re-written and these principles have been given a quiet burial by the media houses.

A few years after the unfortunate 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina slammed the media for its reportage in the middle of the terrorist attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka. In fact without mincing words she even said how the coverage helped the terrorists.

While providing 24×7 coverage on the Mumbai terror attacks, many of us in our urge to “break” news and increase our viewership, ignored the basic principles of journalism. Yes, challenges are rising for news organisations—whether print through their online presence or the television channels going in for 24×7 coverage. But equally important is to fiercely uphold the principles of journalism, especially when we seek full freedom.

Freedom of press is critical, especially at a time when we have been unanimous in raising the pitch for maintaining transparency in dissemination and sharing of information.

Bottom line —We, in the media industry, need to act responsibly too. Newsrooms must ensure that.

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