Ranjona Banerji: How half-baked reporting is dangerous to the citizenry

27 Nov,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ten years after the Mumbai Terror Attacks of November 26, 2008 and I have read some jaw-dropping reports and analyses of our security preparation. For instance, headlines that Mumbai’s coastline has been secured, that hovercrafts are on their way and a whole lot of other fancy stuff. For those who may not remember, 10 terrorists trained in Pakistan chugged into Indian waters, having hijacked a fishing boat. They landed in Colaba and proceeded to terrorist the city, the nation, indeed the world.

Since that day, giant promises were made about improving Mumbai’s coastline. Let us also remember the city is a naval base and that is situated in Colaba itself, not far from where MV Kuber landed. The Coast Guard was found to be deficient in equipment. So eight boats were ordered and arrived. But they were given no diesel allowance and by the time I quite working in a newsroom in 2010, the boats continued to lie there unused and depreciating in value and usability.

Magically now, 10 years later, Mumbai’s coastline is almost secure? The trouble with newsrooms remains lack of institutional memory and increasingly, lack of cynicism. There were also journalists who were credible, gullible and looking for bylines. But there always was a newsroom filled with hardened thick-skinned tough editors who could smell a PR pitch from reality from fathoms away.

Hovercrafts are coming, says The Hindu, two whole hovercrafts for Mumbai’s tiny coastline, quoting a police officer who had earlier been named for not doing enough on those terrible nights. Luckily, the Indian Express tell us that this secure coastline is a “work in progress”. Which is closer to the truth. After all the kneejerk reactions are over, whether by this party or that, this government or the last one, we are left with a 10-year-old promise to secure one city’s coastline still hanging.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/hovercraft-speed-boats-to-bolster-mumbais-coastal-security/article25591360.ece

https://indianexpress.com/article/26-11/security-stepped-up-but-securing-coastline-work-still-in-progress-5462047/

A Hindustan Times report from 2017 paints a far more realistic picture. Do read this quote carefully: “A senior official of the state police said that the actual implementation of the proposal (for training and adequate equipment, brackets are my intervention) could take years, and till then the coastal policing will remain with the state police. “The formalities over the jurisdiction and the powers of the central force could become tricky, with the state not wanting to give away power,” he said.”

https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/9-years-after-deadly-26-11-attacks-india-still-needs-a-foolproof-coastal-security/story-xu5lQit1okmq3Xlu8bTcpO.html

Read between the lines. It has taken us 10 years to do a half-baked job. So much for security and national pride.

As for Indian “news” television, well, it was so taken up with the prime minister’s various speeches, lies and amateur theatrics, that it could not really set adequate time aside for matters like the anniversary of a massive terrorist attack.

I have used the coastline security as just one example of how half-baked reporting is dangerous to the citizenry. Let’s look at the bulletproof vests and equipment with which the Mumbai Police fought the terrorists before NSG commandoes arrived. I am posting a December 3, 2008 story from The Telegraph, UK, because this was an international event with widespread international coverage.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/3543932/Mumbai-attacks-Indian-police-had-old-and-defective-equipment.html

And this is the situation today: over 30 per cent of bulletproof vests have been returned because they are faulty.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/over-30-of-bulletproof-vests-faulty/articleshow/62783033.cms

https://www.theweek.in/news/india/nearly-a-decade-after-26-11-maharashtra-cops-still-have-faulty-bulletproof-vests.html

Unless we look closely at government, we become PR mouthpieces. It does not matter who is in charge. Do the story.

**

I am reposting a piece which Sachin Kalbag, currently resident editor of Hindustan Times did for MxM in 2013. It explains not just how covering a situation like this affects one but also some integral differences between print and television.

Sachin Kalbag: No time for water, no time to blink

**

And looking at the “expert opinions on the reactions of Mumbai to the terror attacks, I wrote this, somewhat in rage, on Facebook. I am repeating it here because I am as mad as hell. So here’s my Howard Beale moment.

I see a massive difference in the way journalists outside Mumbai, some of them very respected, view the Mumbai terror attack of November 26, 2008, now 10 years later. Having watched TV coverage, that is all they appear to know. So they feel it was all about the rich people, who were somehow not connected enough to really feel any pain. While the “real” people were elsewhere suffering.
Of course, this could be a universal truth about anything.
However, for the average Mumbaikar, it was not about rich people versus poor people. Local newspaper coverage was not about rich versus poor. Yes, two targets were high profile hotels, The Taj and The Oberoi. But it was never only about that. There was CST, there were the lanes Kasab ran through, there was Cama Hospital, there was Mazagaon, there was Vile Parle, there was Marine Drive, there was Chabad House, there was Leopold Cafe. As newspapers, we covered all of that.
The public meeting a week later had citizens from all walks of life converging. It was not an “us” versus “them” meeting. It was collective anger and mourning, regardless of whether some people had candles or not.
I am sorry to be exclusionary but all too often Mumbai is most misunderstood by these passing visitors — some via television — who pontificate without understanding or good sense.

If you don’t know who Howard Beale is, please go watch Network.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

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