The Indian media has seen immense development over the years. Apart from the evolution in platforms, media has also seen a paradigm shift in its structure and editorial practices. The privatization and conglomeration of media have changed the definition of news. The existence and ethos of journalistic virtues like credibility, objectivity, truth, fairness, etc are often questioned the Tiger hill to Galway valley. There are all types of journalists; some truly uphold the edifice of democracy, while some strain the social fabric. The Indian media has come a long way from the Doordarshan era to the 24-hour-news format to the latest news webcasts. It is often said that Operation Desert Storm was not won by smart weaponry, alone. The Gulf war of 1991 was known as the “Computer War,” as it offered, laser guidance systems on precision-guided munitions (PGMs), like cruise missiles—18-foot-computer-guided flying bombs launched from warships.
Evolution of Defence News Coverage
In terms of conflict reporting, defence journalism and war reportage, the Indian media is seen as biased, inexperienced and propagandous in many respects. Political affiliation, editorial policies and yellow journalism are often denounced especially when it comes to national security and India’s integrity.
Speaking to the Wonk, (Retd) Brigadier Sandeep Thapar said that, Media during the Kargil war was a little inexperienced in some respects. There has been a tremendous change in the media since then. Operation Vijay was the first media war. There were a limited number of channels back then as compared to the influx of TV channels today. The interest in the Afghanistan conflict drew many people towards defense matters and war-related news. Very little knowledge of defense-related issues was seen, it is still lacking but today journalists have come a long way.
Security Breach and Bias
There have been instances in the past where the media has disseminated much more information than required, especially to the undesirable audience. The leak of sensitive information and misreporting of facts has been a cause of concern, but there are many government guidelines in place. The media during the older days had limited experience of reporting conflict and it reported because it had to report something. Today, the media has become quite mature compared to the past; there are beat-specific reporters, defence correspondents, and defence journalists today.
Politicising the Defence Establishment
Brigadier (R) Thapar went on to say, “The editorial policy of various media houses stumble upon the political aspect of war and then try to politicise defence-related matters, which we don’t appreciate. Media reporting should be fair and objective. Any kind of political affiliation should not be reflected in journalism. Sensationalism is another practice that needs to be curbed because blowing any matter out of proportion is not fruitful.”
26/11 Security Breach
A time when the nation was stunned and deeply hurt by the visuals they saw on their TV screens. The financial capital of Mumbai was down on its knees, owing to the terrorist attacks. At that time, the Indian media pulled off the live streaming of terrorist activity and hostage situations while the armed forces were carrying out a special security operation to combat the terrorists. The terrorists could defy the moves and security measures as their heads and commanders sitting miles away were guiding them with the help of live visuals on TV channels. This was a shameful instance of a national security breach.
Senior journalist Maya Mirchandani writes “In times of crisis, all over the world — journalists face a demanding audience while navigating difficult reporting environments. Terror strikes, or unfolding hostage crises make their role even more complex. Everyone looks to news media for information and updates and journalists struggle to find balance between preserving National (State) interest and Public (Citizen’s) interests. This is naturally easier for State owned media that follow only one stream of information. But for the rest, the line is often a fine one, and an absence of crisis protocols for news coverage make things even more difficult.”
Condemnation From Higher Authorities
Condemning the electronic media for its live coverage of the 26/11 terrorist attacks, the Supreme Court said that by doing so the Indian TV channels did not serve the national interest or any social cause.
Brigadier (Retd.) Sandeep Thapar added that the defence is a serious beat to cover and therefore credibility and careful reporting should be in check. During the 26/11 attacks, the terrorists executed their plans better as they could see the live news coverage by Indian news channels. This was massively condemned by various experts and the law.
According to a report by The Hindu, a Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and C.K. Prasad, while confirming the death sentence on the prime accused, Ajmal Kasab, said the “reckless coverage… gave rise to a situation where, on the one hand, the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces and they had no means to know their exact positions or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed and, on the other, the positions of the security forces, their weapons and all their operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists.”
By Kunjan Ahluwalia