“I am confirming once again, you are on the first floor of the old Taj building. There are two hundred people out there.”
The day – 26th November; the year -2008; the city in the spotlight – Mumbai.
The man on the other end of the line was a member of Parliament who was hiding from the armed terrorists who had taken over the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, and the Indian journalist, Arnab Goswami’s above statement, proclaimed in his signature booming voice, reverberated on several television screens across the world, including, possibly, that of the terrorists’ handlers.
Six years after the attacks, the events of the night still haunt the victims, their families, and the credibility and reputation of the Indian media.
Shockingly, frustratingly irresponsible reporting took place during the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, and the culprits were some of the most senior journalists in the country. The terrorists were inside the hotel, their handlers were outside the country, yet the Indian media supplied them with information that ensured distance made no difference.
Transparency is key for the media, and the Indian media had never been so transparent. Failing to to anticipate the trade-off between the ‘breaking’ news they were broadcasting and the safety of the hostages trapped in the hotel, all information was indiscriminately shared with the public, from the most recent strategies of the security forces to the hiding places of hostages. What was not told was shown on camera, which only made matters worse.
This media debacle clearly revealed the dangers of live news reporting. With no editing and no censorship, the journalists on screen had complete power, and “with great power comes great responsibility”, something the Indian media clearly forgot on the fateful night of November that year.
This, however, was not the first instance when journalists’ desire to fill up the hours after a crisis with content related to it, relevant or irrelevant, overtook the responsibilities that they had as members of their profession. The Indian media has a penchant for becoming a bit of a joke every time there is a crisis. It is well known that the public, after a terrorist attack, only wants information related to the same, and news channels know that, in order to keep up with their competitors, they must supply this information, first and fast.
It is essential for the media to learn from the mistakes made during the 26/11 attacks, and others like it, to wake up and realize the duties it has towards the people. Journalists need to be conscious of the fact that their reporting, in situations of crisis, has the ability to impact events and the resolution of the crisis. The media must also ensure, especially in such situations, that the profit motive doesn’t take over their ethics and responsibilities to the public. The consequences of what they reveal must be considered before the revelation is made, and reporting, above all things, must be smart and honest.