Nobody can say that the media did not cover the murderous jehadi attacks on Mumbai inadequately. Actually the charge is that the media covered it too extensively and often with total disregard to unwritten norms that endangered the safety of hostages. One suspects that the media?especially the television media?never learns. Some of the better-known reporters?we don'thave to mention names?have come in for severe criticism and, alas, with sound reason. They may live, but seldom learn.
The coverage in the leading weeklies such as Frontline, Outlook, India Today and Tehelka has been more than adequate with Tehelka besting them all. But they had all the time to collect their thoughts. Significantly, most of the media while deeply moved by anger have not let it get the better of their emotions to demand instant punishment of Pakistan. India Today noted that ?nothing unites Pakistan more than the prospect of fighting India? but added that ?it is playing a dangerous game? torn as it is between intra-religious warfare between Shias and Sunnis with two of Pakistan'sfour provinces wrecked by insurgencies and the economy in shambles. Wrote India Today: ?India must move in a planned and cautious manner in spite of public anger and war cries. Any kind of military action will be playing right into General Kiyani'shands?. A failed Pakistan is of no benefit to us. We have to build international pressure on Pakistan to put terror groups out of business?.? Outlook (December 22) gave some seven pages to Arundhati Roy'sdiatribe against the BJP. What her credentials are to write on political issues is anybody'sguess. Her understanding of political issues leaves much to be desired, and her comments on them betrays her total ignorance of history. Do we need Arundhari Roy, an ignoramus, to teach us what right action is? She doesn'tlike anti-terrorist laws since, according to her, they ?are not meant for terrorists (but) for people that governments don't like?. She has nothing but condemnation for the country which she dismisses as one with ?a shadowy history of suspicious terror attacks, murkey investigations and fake ?encounters? that boasts of the highest number of custodial deaths in the world?. Outlook readers deserve better than the vicious outpourings of the ignoramus.
In contrast, the cover story in Frontline (December 19) by Parveen Swami has much background to provide that any journalist can be proud of. In fact, of all the reporters who covered the event, Parveen Swami stands head and shoulders above them. It is clear that he has access to information that no one else has. His interpretation of events is that ?despite the mass of credible intelligence that was available, no system was put in its place to guard against the attacks? because ?Mumbai simply did not have the resources to do so?. According to him, with just 147 policemen for every 100,000 population, Mumbai fell well short of global norms. Worse, as he put it ?hotels and businesses, for their part failed to enhance their own internal security systems? and ?neither the Trident Hotel nor the Taj, for example, had access control systems?. Adds Praveen Swami: ?Even if police personnel had been stationed near the terrorist targets, it is improbable that they could have intervened effectively.? Something to ponder over. What comes as a shock is Swami'srevelation that Faisal Haroun, a top Lashkar operative who commanded the terror groups India-focussed operations out of Bangladesh had been using a complex shipping network, with merchant ships and small fishing boats to move explosives to Lashkar units operating in India. Where in India? That is not stated. But according to Swami again, Haroun has been attempting to set up an Indian Ocean base for the Lashkar.
Tehelka (December 13) carries a whole lot of articles that confirms the journal'sreputation as an investigating media. We learn a whole lot of things, like, for example, that the intelligence set-up is beset with rivalry, and agencies often do not share their inputs, that as part of the Gujral Doctrine aimed at better ties with Pakistan, Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral had called a halt to all covert operations in Pakistan, that a coastal security scheme had been announced a long time ago with an outlay of Rs 550 crore but Maharashtra had got only Rs 2 crore of its share of Rs 40 crore, that there is something suspicious about the captain of the shipping trawller Al Kuber in which the Pakistani terrorists had travelled from Karachi to Mumbai, who had entered into Pakistani waters, only to be captured by the terrorists, that a report crafted by a former Home Secretary on internal security was only on paper?and a whole lot of things. It is unbelievable. How come? Are our political leaders insensitive to gathered intelligence? Are they just inefficient or downright stupid? The more acceptable answer is that they are stupid.
Among foreign journals Time (December 15) carried an article by its New Delhi correspondent Jyoti Thottam. Her findings also merit notice. One is that the intelligence infrastructure in India is a hornets? nest of competing interests and gaps in coordination. She charges Mumbai police with no following-up of information it had received of possible terrorist attacks, which is not true. The police had indeed many talks with hotel managements and other bodies which the latter had not taken seriously. Jyoti'scharge against Indians is that they are victims of the chalta hai mindset. Can it really be true? Jyoti concedes that India had overcome this culture in the past. But like all commentators she too has her own theories. One is that the targets noted by the terrorists were chosen not just because they were Mumbai landmarks but because they were symbols ?of India'sdeepening connections to the global economy?. Jyoti is just as anti-Indian as some other commentators. To her, Kashmir is not part to India, but territory occupied by Indian troops who have ?turned the state into a swamp of resentment?. She quotes Ramachandra Guha as saying disaffection among Muslims is because of ?the failures of the Indian States?. The Information Ministry must arrange for classes to teach the likes of Arundhati Roy and Jyoti Thottam the basics of Indian history. Their writing can poison the minds of innocent foreigners. That they get away with all sorts of half-truths indicates the depth of ignorance among our so-called ?intellectuals? and media-persons. In India the freedom of the press is not just violated: it is despised.