Vajpayee govt was forced to release Masood Azhar because of hysterical media coverage, former AAP leader Ashutosh says

Journalist-turned-politician-turned-journalist-again Ashutosh has revealed that Vajpayee government in 1999 had to release three terrorists, including the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad Maulana Masood Azhar because the journalists at that time created too much pressure on the government due to their hysterical coverage of the IC 814 hijacking.

Ashutosh was responding to a tweet by fellow journalist Rohit Sardana of Aaj Tak, who had argued that if a journalist or television anchor appears angered and agitated over some incident, it is because that journalist is reflecting the anger and frustration of a common citizen. Rohit had made the original argument in wake of the Pulwama terror attack that happened on Thursday.

Arguing in favour of restrained response and behaviour by journalists, Ashutosh cited the example of hijacking of the IC 814 flight, where the then union government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to release three terrorists from Indian captivity to secure the safety of 176 passengers who were aboard the flight.

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The veteran journalist, who is currently running his own news portal in Hindi after having left the Aam Aadmi Party earlier, revealed that the media coverage of the hijack incident back in 1999 created undue pressure on the central government and they had to accept the demands of the hijackers, which included the release of three terrorists.

Indian Airlines Flight 814, commonly known as IC 814 was en route from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal to Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on Friday, 24 December 1999, when it was hijacked and flown to several locations before landing in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen was accused of the hijacking with the support and active assistance from Pakistan’s ISI.

The hijacking lasted seven days and ended after India released three militants – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar in exchange for the release of 177 passengers. The terrorists killed one passenger. Masood Azhar then went on to found Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has claimed the Pulwama terror attack.

Interestingly, Ajit Doval, who was the chief negotiator during the hijack crisis, while delivering a speech had also spoken regarding the negative role played by the Indian media during the IC-814 hijacking incident. Media coverage resulted in mounting tremendous pressure on the government to arrive at a solution, he had said.

“The electronic media hyped the hijack by continuously showing the suffering of the hostages. With the world watching, the pressure to end the crisis at the earliest mounted from every quarter,” Doval had said.

It’s not for the first time that someone has pointed out irresponsible media coverage related to an incident involving terror. The behaviour of the mainstream media was widely criticised, including by the Supreme Court, during the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. Even during the Pathankot attack of 2016, NDTV was found violating guidelines and was awarded a one-day token ban, which however was never imposed.

In the aftermath of current attack in Pulwama too, some sections of media have attracted criticism. Times of India received severe criticism as they reduced Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists to just ‘local youth’. Many other journalists were seen issuing ridiculous statements on social media, which aimed to take potshots at Narendra Modi government than exposing those who support and enable Islamic terrorism.


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