Mumbai terror attack has many lessons for media- part 1

December 3rd, 2008 - 9:00 pm ICT by ANI  

RECOLLECTIONS OF A COMMUNICATOR:

By I. Ramamohan Rao

New Delhi, Dec 3 (ANI): The attack on Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, by terrorists who subjected the city to unprecedented violence for three days during the last week of November, has many lessons for the nation to learn.

The terrorists may not have been able to bring down the Taj Mahal, the Oberoi-Trident, Cafe Leopold and Nariman House, but they have been successful in achieving their main objectives — which was to kill as many people as possible and depict the city, and India, as an unsafe place.

The television networks in India gave wide coverage to the event from start to finish as if they were covering a cricket test match. The terrorists as also those who were masterminding their ”operations” were getting a bird’’s eye view of the events.

The media called the events in Mumbai as a war. But the way in which it was projected displayed indifference to the tasks confronting the forces fighting the terrorists.

In a war, the Armed Forces take every care that their adversary is not aware of the strength of the opposing forces, their locations, and the equipment at their disposal. As Public Relations Officer of the Army during the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars, I know how keenly India tried to keep the location of the Armoured formations and the strength of the armed forces in different sectors a secret.

All dispatches from the front did not give details of the infantry formations, the kind of artillery at their disposal and such other details. For example, the Pakistan Army was surprised when they encountered tanks in the Khem-Kharan Bhikiwind, Sialkot sectors in 1965 and the armoured regiments in Shakargarh sector in 1971.

If the happenings in Mumbai were a war, no effort was made to deny details of the forces that were trying to evict the terrorists from the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels or the Nariman house. The television coverage showed that initially the forces ranged against them were from the Maharashtra Police and the Anti Terrorist Squad, which were soon joined by the commandoes of the Army and the Navy and the National Security Guard.

The commentators of the Television channels were constantly ”breaking news” about the reinforcements and their details. The disclosure of the death of Hemant Karkare, the ATS Chief, the encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar, the Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte and Major Sandeep Unnikrishnana of the National Security Guard boosted the morale of the terrorists. In a war the casualties are not given till the end of the operations.

The arrival in Mumbai of the National Security Guard, pictures of the para-dropping of the forces on the Nariman House were shown live by the Television agencies. Details of the weapons of the forces were available to the terrorists through the visuals.

Many of those engaged in combating the terrorists were keen to present themselves before the cameras and take credit for their ”achievements”. And this included officials of the Armed Forces. The Army, the Air Force and the Naval commandos were doing their assigned tasks, but their senior officers were speaking to the media and giving details as to how they were ”fighting” the terrorists.

It was only towards the end that television channels were asked to restrain themselves and the local cable network was taken off the air for a few hours. But the damage was already done.

The monitoring of the conversation of the terrorists has shown that their leader was able to direct them to different locations in the Hotels in order to kill as many as possible by using guns and grenades.

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