The Attacks of 26/11: A War Waged by Terrorists, Lost by the Media

For the city of Mumbai, the attacks of 26/11 will forever be a scar that no amount of time will heal. But it is often the case that certain important lessons are learnt only after a devastating tragedy– though this terrorist attack took a lot of lives, it gave this city a wake-up call on whether it was prepared to protect and secure the millions of lives who seek a future here. Fortunately for Mumbai, the past decade has been favorable, with almost no terrorist activities. But a decade after 26/11, has building parks and memorials to honor the martyrs of that day been enough? Or has this city– and some institutions in particular — yet to learn a lesson from the tragedy?

Apart from the legislature, executive and judiciary, a fourth estate forms the integral part of Indian democracy. The media acts as a fourth pillar– the watchdog of our democracy. However, this pillar was heavily criticized for its role during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai– most notably, the broadcast media who ran live coverage like it was reporting a war. As a democracy, our media strongly advocates for the freedom of speech and the liberty to function independently than by any government-controlled institution. But this liberty did more harm than good during the attack, ultimately compromising national security. This near exploitation of its rights for profit motives in the face of a national travesty could not be justified by the media houses, and they consequently lost their standing in the eyes of the public, along with their hopes of having an independent regulatory authority. Though there remains some ambiguity on how the media inadvertently aided the attacks, from the transcripts of the Taj Hotel and Nariman House, it is quite evident how the perpetrators could have easily masterminded the entire attacks from a remote location, aided by the live telecast from Indian TV channels.

As the phrase suggests, one needs to know when to stand back, but perhaps blinded by their capitalistic outlook, news channels crossed the line between the integrity of journalistic reporting and lewd sensationalism. The Supreme Court too, passed a critical judgement on the media’s irresponsibility. “They have served no national interest or any social cause.. reckless coverage gave rise to a situation where on the one hand the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces… but on the other, all operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists… the goriest details were shown live on Indian TV from beginning to end, almost non-stop.” the bench said.

Even if the constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression, hampering national security in the name of this right is unacceptable. This is what the broadcast media in particular, miserably failed to understand. In retrospect, journalists of this era do not have the kind of training or conscience needed in such scenarios. But what they have also lost is the basic human element of sensitivity, to the point where ‘being objective’ in news reporting is done at the cost of human lives.

Despite the damage it caused nearly a decade ago, it seems that growth is hard to come by for broadcast media. Even after endless debates, there are still no firm regulations in place against reporting that hampers national security. Fortunately, there haven’t been such grave terrorist activities in the past decade to test the integrity of the media, as television news channels still resort to this form of sensationalism when it comes to the live broadcast of news. Regulations might still be far from coming into play, but this should not give a license to the media to be irresponsible while reporting; journalists and broadcasting channels need to think of the repercussions that their reporting will have, and realise that there is more to journalism that TV ratings.

–Contributed by Sumedh

Picture Credits: Reuters

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