THE Government’s decision to order a punitive black-out of NDTV India, for disclosing allegedly sensitive information on the Pathankot airbase attack, pertains to a group of two terrorists who investigators are yet to conclude actually existed, records with The Indian Express show.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, on Wednesday, ordered NDTV India off-air through November 9, saying its broadcast “revealed strategically sensitive details”. The Government claims NDTV India correspondent had potentially compromised national security by saying, in a January 4 near-live broadcast, that “two terrorists are alive, and there is a weapons depot near where they are. The soldiers, the National Security Guard officers, who are exchanging fire with the terrorists, are concerned that if the terrorists reach the weapons depot, it will be difficult to eliminate them”.
The bodies of these terrorists were, however, not recovered from the burned-out building where they were suspected to be hiding. No weapons or ammunition were found in the building either. Four terrorists had been killed earlier during the attack.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh had, on March 16, 2016, told Parliament that forensics tests on charred material found in the building “makes it clear that those inside the building were two terrorists”. However, in its May 21 issue, this newspaper reported Indian and international forensics experts, who studied the forensic tests, obtained exclusively by The Indian Express, as saying the samples appeared to be inconclusive, and bearing signs of contamination.
The reports failed to corroborate government claims that the charred material recovered from the Pathankot base were the remains of two unidentified terrorists. They only showed that there was male DNA in the remains — but gave no indication of how many individuals the genetic material came from, nor that it came from two distinct males. The charred remains, tests showed, inexplicably contained genetic material from multiple individuals.
The National Investigations Agency had, on March 21 — five days after the Home Minister’s statement — issued a notice seeking information on the “terrorists who were killed inside Air Force Station Pathankot while they were carrying out terrorist attack on 2nd January 2016”. This document, though, only used four photographs.
NIA documents shared with Pakistani investigators who visited India to study the case also referred to only four terrorists, all killed before January 4.
Rule 6(1)(P) of the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act makes it illegal for Indian news broadcasters to transmit live coverage of an ongoing counter-terrorist operation, allowing them only to use statements of a designated official spokesperson during this period.
Neeti Sarkar, the Director of Broadcasting in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, contended in the November 2 order imposing punishment on NDTV India that the journalist’s comments amounted to live coverage of the operation.
Though NDTV India reporter’s somewhat vague reference to a “weapons depot” is not explained in the correspondence between the television station and the Ministry — there are, in fact, several weapons facilities inside the base, though none immediately proximate to the Airmen’s Billet, where NSG personnel apprehended the two suspected terrorists were holed up — several channels carried news not sourced from the official spokesperson.
News24’s show Sabsey Bada Sawaal’s reporter, for example, said in a January 4 broadcast that there were 22 combat aircraft and helicopters parked on the technical area, just short of the runway. Two days earlier, Aaj Tak’s morning news broadcast claimed to provide precise details on the location of the terrorists — “100 metres inside base” — and reported the presence of combat jets in the nearby technical area.
A reporter for ABP News on January 2, again reported that the two terrorists had been cornered in a residential building short of the air force’s technical area, unable to reach the area “where the fighters are”, information near-identical to that NDTV India was to provide two days later.
High-resolution images of the Pathankot Air Force base, showing the precise locations where aircraft were parked, were available prior to the attack on Google Maps, while multiple articles referring to aircraft types flown from there were available on the internet making it highly unlikely the terrorists would have had to rely on news broadcasts for this kind of information.