India's media blasted for sensational Mumbai coverage
With tensions running high between India and Pakistan, the press is being urged to quit fanning the flames.
Emerging from decades of government control and regulations, India's media are quickly evolving into a boisterous, zealous fourth estate, most observers agree. But coverage of the 67-hour Mumbai (Bombay) terrorist attacks has caused unprecedented condemnation, especially toward 24-hour television news channels. Critics describe it as "TV terror" for showing gory scenes, being too aggressive, and often reporting incorrect information as fact.Skip to next paragraph
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"They don't need to apologize as much as they need to introspect – figure out how to operate in a time of crisis," says Dipankar Gupta, sociology professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
On the evening of Nov. 26, well-coordinated attacks against two five-star hotels, a hospital, a popular cafe, a railway station, and a Jewish center brought the financial capital of India to its knees, leaving at least 171 dead and more than 230 injured.
In the following days, critics say, many Indian journalists were overly dramatic, sensationalist, and quick to report live "exclusives" of unconfirmed rumors. Many say TV anchors, who are minor celebrities in India, were overwrought with emotion and were quick to blame Pakistan for the attacks.
"It's high time we realize and accept that we are at fault," said Shishir Joshi, editorial director of Mid-Day, a Mumbai newspaper. "We did well getting into the line of fire, but from an ethical point of view we screwed up big-time."
Recognizing the missteps in coverage, the recently created National Broadcaster Association revealed a new set of rules for the industry last week. The guidelines ban broadcasting of footage that could reveal security operations and live contact with hostages or attackers.
The association, which represents many of the country's top news channels, hammered out the new regulations after several meetings with government officials. At the same time, India's Parliament is considering the creation of a broadcasting regulatory agency for private news channels.
Meanwhile, the story continues to develop, as tensions run high and add urgency to calls for media regulation. On Monday, India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherje insisted that Pakistan take aggressive action against those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. The Indian government is ready to "take all measures necessary as we deem fit to deal with the situation," Mr. Mukherje told a group of diplomats in Delhi.
For several weeks, India has been asking Pakistan to hand over insurgents involved with militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is suspected of masterminding the attacks. Pakistan has yet to confirm that the surviving gunman of the Mumbai attacks is Pakistani, despite reports Monday that Ajmal Amir Kasab made a statement, sent to Pakistan officials, claiming to be from Pakistan.
Television coverage of the attacks showed dead bodies and hostages trapped in rooms, revealed commando operations and positions, and reported the location of hostages at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Senior news editors are accused of playing martial music between updates and providing airtime to Bollywood actors and other members of Mumbai's chatterati. One station even aired a telephone conversation with one of the 10 gunmen.
"One of the ill effects of unrestrained coverage is that of provoking anger amongst the masses," said K.G. Balakrishnan, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, during a recent conference on terrorism in New Delhi.