On 26th November 2008, ten terrorists from Pakistan wrecked havoc in Mumbai. They held the country on ransom for almost three days as some of them holed up inside star hotels in Mumbai, holding hostages, many of them foreign nationals, as the ghastly scenes were telecast live in our living rooms.
The Supreme Court, in its judgement in Md. Ajmal Md. Amir Kasab vs the State Of Maharashtra on 29 August 2012, had dedicated an entire section and several pages to the conduct of the media and how it endangered operations during 26/11. In a 2012 interview with leftist media outlet Newslaundry, controversial journalist Barkha Dutt had admitted television channels’ role in endangering lives of civilians as well as security personnel by not restraining themselves during telecast.
In the video, Newslaundry co-founder Madhu Trehan quizzes Barkha on the allegations levelled against her for the role she along with NDTV where she was associated with back then, played on endangering lives of people. Barkha is being asked about her bullying of blogger Chaitanya Kunte who had questioned her journalistic ethics. Barkha says she does not regret sending Kute a legal notice (following which he was strongarmed by the media house to apologise) as the blog accused her of being complicit in death of someone in Mumbai during that terror attack.
Trehan asks Dutt about allegations that the latter called up someone whose relative was held hostage who inadvertently ended up disclosing location which was used by the terrorists after it was telecast on TV. Barkha denies the allegations by saying that she wasn’t the one who reported it. Another allegation was about her calling up the Oberoi hotel management which was under siege by the terrorists who confirmed that there were hostages in the hotel the terrorists weren’t aware of.
In her defence, Barkha says that like in Kargil war, during Mumbai attack, she became the ‘symbol’ for something every other journalist was doing. Barkha adds, “Chaitanya Kunte said I was responsible for Hemant Karkare’s death. Hemant Karkare died the first night, I was in Delhi. The Chambers’ conversation that you report, that happened with other set of journalists as well. There were other reporters. I know who they were, I am not going to name them. The Oberoi story, I do remember having said at some point… not the exact number but when they was confusion over the fact that the hotel has been cleared, I did say that no, we still have reasons to believe that there are people who are trapped as hostages. That I did say. I don’t believe I was the only one who said it. Journalists across the board said that.”
Barkha admits that perhaps in hindsight did journalists made mistakes during the Mumbai siege. However, she does add quickly that when they ‘realised’, from the second day they started deferring visuals of live coverage of the attacks by 15 minutes. She ups her defence by saying that media wasn’t aware that the handlers of the terrorists were monitoring news channels.