Slamming media for live coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack,the Supreme Court today said it was “totally wrong and unacceptable” as it made security forces’ fight with terrorists “exceedingly difficult.”
“Any attempt to justify the conduct of the TV channels by citing the right to freedom of speech and expression would be totally wrong and unacceptable in such a situation. The freedom of speech and expression,like all other freedoms under Article 19,is subject to reasonable restrictions.
“An action tending to violate another person’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting the national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression,” said a bench of justices Aftab Alam and C K Prasad in its verdict that upheld the death sentence awarded to terrorist Ajmal Kasab.
“It is beyond doubt that the way their (securioty forces’) operations were freely shown made the task of the security forces not only exceedingly difficult but also dangerous and risky,” it added.
The bench also questioned the media’s argument that the regulatory mechanism for it must come only from within.
“It is in such extreme cases that the credibility of an institution is tested. The coverage of the Mumbai terror attack by the mainstream electronic media has done much harm to the argument that any regulatory mechanism for the media must only come from within,” the bench said.
The bench said by covering live the terrorists attack on Mumbai in the way it was done,Indian TV channels were not serving any “national interest or the social cause”,but they were acting in their own commercial interests putting the national security in “jeopardy”.
“The shots and visuals that were shown live by the TV channels could have also been shown after all the terrorists were neutralised and the security operations were over.
“But,in that case the TV programmes would not have had the same shrill,scintillating and chilling effect and would not have shot up the TRP ratings of the channels,” it said.
Terming live coverage of the terror attack by channels as “reckless”,the bench said this had given rise to a situation where the terrorists,while remaining completely hidden from the security forces,stayed abreast of their movements and weaponry.
“While on one hand the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces,who had no means to know their exact position or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed,on the other hand 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,” the court said.
Referring to the transcripts of conversation among the terrorists and their collaborators sitting abroad,the bench said there are countless such instances to show that the collaborators were watching every movement of the security forces,which were trying to tackle the terrorists under relentless gun fire and throwing of grenades from their end.
“All the channels were competing with each other in showing the latest developments on a minute to minute basis,including the positions and the movements of the security forces engaged in flushing out the terrorists,” it said.
The court noted that “at one place in the transcript,the collaborators and the terrorists appear to be making fun of the speculative report in the media that the person whose dead body was found in Kuber was the leader of the terrorist group whom his colleagues had killed for some reason before leaving the boat”.