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Media has no right to pontificate about 26/11 after SC’s observations on their irresponsible coverage

Supreme Court had noted that live coverage of security operations against 26/11 terrorists had helped the terrorists

Today marks 10 years of the gruesome terror attack of 26/11, one of the most brutal and sordid episodes in Indian history. While the NSG commandos were the heroes who freed the city from the clutches of the Pakistani terrorists, Tukaram Omble sacrificed his life to capture Kasab alive. Omble didn’t know back then while doing his duty, that he had actually managed to save generations of Hindus from crushing humiliation of vilification, considering Congress wanted to paint 26/11 as an “RSS conspiracy”.

Apart from the Pakistani terrorists, the blood-soaked saga revealed another enemy that had endangered the lives of several Indians. The Media. While the Media shamelessly telecasts day-long programs on a day which is nothing but an occasion to garner viewership for them, none of them will delve into how they themselves endangered the lives of those taken hostage by the Pakistani terrorists.

It is thus only fair that on this harrowed day, we recall the conduct of the media and how, not much else matters to this ilk other than their bottom line – even if it means sacrificing the lives of innocents.

The Supreme Court had dedicated an entire section and several pages in its judgement in Md. Ajmal Md. Amir Kasab vs the State Of Maharashtra on 29 August 2012 to the conduct of the media and how it endangered operations during 26/11.

When SC starts opining on the role of the media, at the very onset, it observes:

From the transcripts, especially those from Taj Hotel and Nariman House, it is evident that the terrorists who were entrenched at those places and more than them, their collaborators across the border were watching the full show on TV. In the transcripts, there are many references to the media reports and the visuals being shown on the TV screen. The collaborators sitting in their hideouts across the border came to know about the appellant being caught alive from Indian TV: they came to know about the killing of high ranking police officers also from Indian TV. … At another place in the transcript, the collaborators tell the terrorists in Taj Hotel that the dome at the top (of the building) had caught fire. The terrorists holed up in some room were not aware of this. The collaborators further advise the terrorists that the stronger they make the fire the better it would be for them. … At yet another place the collaborators tell the terrorists at Taj Hotel the exact position taken by the policemen (close to a building that belonged to the navy but was given to the civilians) and from where they were taking aim and firing at them (the terrorists) and advised them the best position for them to hit back at those policemen. 

The Supreme Court judgement cited many such incidents where the terrorists were helped by the live telecast of the events. The court notes that the handlers of the terrorists were practically monitoring every movement of Indian security forces and guiding the terrorists on ground based on such information.

The court judgement says that the entire terrorist attack and the counter-attack by security forces were shown live on television channels non-stop. The coverage of the channels included the positions and the movements of the security forces engaged in flushing out the terrorists. Such reckless coverage by the channels had meant that while security forces had no knowledge of the location of the terrorists and what kind of weapons and explosives they were having, collaborators in Pakistan had full knowledge on the position and weapons of the security forces and their operational movements, which were being communicated to the terrorists.

The judgement concludes that although it can’t be determined whether the security forces actually suffered any casualty or injury due to the telecast, “it is beyond doubt that the way their operations were freely shown made the task of the security forces not only exceedingly difficult but also dangerous and risky.”

Coming down heavily on the TV channels, the judgement says “Any attempt to justify the conduct of the TV channels by citing the right to freedom of speech and expression would be totally wrong and unacceptable in such a situation. The freedom of expression, like all other freedoms under Article 19, is subject to reasonable restrictions. An action tending to violate another person’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting the national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression.” The court made it clear that the role of media cannot be defended using the pretext of freedom of expression, as media was endangering the lives of security forces.

The court notes the visuals of the action could have been shown after all the terrorists were neutralised and the operations were over. But “in that case, the TV programmes would not have had the same shrill, scintillating and chilling effect and would not have shot up the TRP ratings of the channels.” In the most scathing comment on media, the judgement concludes that “by covering live the terrorists attack Mumbai in the way it was done, the Indian TV channels were not serving any national interest or social cause. On the contrary, they were acting in their own commercial interests putting the national security in jeopardy”.

The Supreme Court judgement on 26/11 Mumbai attack containing the comments on media came in the year 2012. Six years later, there is no proof that media has mended its ways. Today, the media will flood their shows with stories from the horrific terror attack, however, none of them will hold up the mirror to themselves. None of them will introspect. And none of them will admit how they went horribly wrong in 2008. The media is above scrutiny for these people and the Supreme Court judgement a distant memory, never to be discussed.

The Supreme Court judgement can be accessed here [PDF].

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Raju Das
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator

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