04 February 2009

NDTV and Freedom of Speech

On 27 November 2008 an amateur blogger named Chyetanya Kunte wrote a post criticising NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt for her coverage of the Bombay terrorist attacks. The post later disappeared from the blog. On 26 January 2009 an unconditional apology to Barkha Dutt and NDTV appeared on the blog.

What happened? Did NDTV threaten Chyetanya Kunte with legal action? If the matter had gone to court I think the blogger would have won. But the last thing an 'aam aadmi' wants is a long and expensive law suit. So he did what he thought was best for him and his family (he is married with two kids).

Does this look like a case of arm-twisting and goondagiri? Did NDTV resort to the same tactics it accuses far-right groups of using? This is the channel that lectures the Right on freedom of speech.

I am reproducing in full Chyetanya Kunte's original blog post:
(No, I don't have written permission from him. But I doubt if he is in a position to give such a permission; so I'll go ahead anyway.)

Shoddy Journalism

Appalling journalism. Absolute blasphemy! As I watch the news from home, I am dumbfounded to see Barkha Dutt of NDTV break every rule of ethical journalism in reporting the Mumbai mayhem. Take a couple of instances for example:

In one instance she asks a husband about his wife being stuck, or held as a hostage. The poor guy adds in the end about where she was last hiding. Aired! My dear friends with AK-47s, our national news is helping you. Go get those still in. And be sure to thank NDTV for not censoring this bit of information.

In another instance, a General sort of suggests that there were no hostages in Oberoi Trident. (Clever) Then, our heroine of revelations calls the head of Oberoi, and the idiot confirms a possibility of 100 or more people still in the building. Hello! Guys with guns, you've got more goats to slay. But before you do, you've got to love NDTV and more precisely Ms Dutt. She's your official intelligence from ground zero.

You do not need to be a journalist to understand the basic premise of ethics, which starts with protecting victims first; and that is done by avoiding key information from being aired publicly — such as but not limited to revealing the number of possible people still in, the hideouts of hostages and people stuck in buildings.

Imagine you're one of those sorry souls holed-up in one of those bathrooms, or kitchens. A journalist pulls your kin outside and asks about your last contact on national television, and other prying details. In a bout of emotion, if they happen to reveal more details, you are sure going to hell. Remember these are hotels, where in all likelihood, every room has a television. All a terrorist needs to do is listen to Ms Barkha Dutt's latest achievement of extracting information from your relative, based on your last phone-call or SMS. And you're shafted — courtesy NDTV*. If the terrorists don't manage to shove you in to your private hell, the journalists on national television will certainly help you get there. One of the criticisms about Barkha Dutt on Wikipedia reads thus:

During the Kargil conflict, Indian Army sources repeatedly complained to her channel that she was giving away locations in her broadcasts, thus causing Indian casualties.

Looks like the idiot journalist has not learned anything since then. I join a number of bloggers pleading her to shut the f••• up.

Update: In fact, I am willing to believe that Hemant Karkare died because these channels showed him prepare (wear helmet, wear bullet-proof vest) in excruciating detail live on television. And they in turn targeted him where he was unprotected. The brave officer succumbed to bullets in the neck.

Update 2 [28.Nov.2300hrs]: Better sense appears to have prevailed in the latter half of today — either willfully, or by Government coercion**, and live broadcasts are now being limited to non-action zones. Telecast of action troops and strategy is now not being aired live. Thank goodness for that.

Update 3 [30.Nov.1900hrs]: DNA India reports about a UK couple asking media to report carefully:
The terrorists were watching CNN and they came down from where they were in a lift after hearing about us on TV. — Lynne Shaw in an interview.

*Oh, they have a lame excuse pronouncing that the television connections in the hotel has been cut, and therefore it is okay to broadcast. Like hell!

**I'm thinking coercion, since Government has just denied renewing CNN's rights to air video today; must've have surely worked as a rude warning to the Indian domestic channels.


kaushik Sudheendra said...

Good work bro ... i dream of future India where freedom of speech will have its rightful place.

Ravinder Makhaik said...

Other than the expletives used in the post, Thanks for digging out this one and keeping it alive on the internet.

It does take courage to tread in a territory, 'where the mind is without fear.'

Sure enough the incidents cited, do call for practitioners of free media and journalism to introspect about upholding ethics.

With some of the most gruesome footage of 9/11 is still withheld from public viewing, it does demonstrate that even in free societies, some self constraining ethics do override the much abused expression about 'freedom of speech.'