Telescope: How to cover a terrorist attack

Telescope: How to cover a terrorist attack

Indian channels have a lot to learn from the international coverage of 13/11.

Paris attacks, Paris attack arrests, Paris terror attack, Paris massacre, Paris suicide bomber, Paris terrorists, World news
French police are currently raiding a neighbourhood in Saint Denis, Northern Paris. (Source: AP)

Suppose Paris had happened in Delhi? Think of the mayhem — on TV 24×7, “exclusive, premiere” carpet coverage.

Since the terrorist attacks occurred at super primetime, all celebrity news anchors would have interrupted their nightly inquisitions. Within minutes, hundreds of OB vans would have set off in the same direction for the blast sites. Eager anchors — many had abandoned the studio — and camerapersons would have rushed out for a “bloody” good look at the crime scene.

Unfortunately, the government has barred live coverage of terrorist attacks, so they would’ve had to keep their distance and provide delayed coverage. They would have stood apart, in a line, preferably close together with one ear on each other’s reporting: “There are chaotic scenes here…”

The nearest paanwala, shopkeeper, any bystander would have been pestered for immediate “aankhon dekhi”. Or better still, mobile-phone video grabs of the attacks instantly transmitted for “First pictures of dastardly attack…”


Stunned survivors, relatives trapped by TV paraphernalia would’ve been pelted with questions: How did you feel during the attack? At hospitals, the peons would have given colourful accounts of the injured. Every comment by any of the above would have been flashed as “Breaking News”.

The number of dead, injured, terrorists caught, killed, escaped would have differed from channel to channel — each one had an “official spokesman” of its own. Headlines bleeding red — the Hindi channels are the most crimson and inventive — would fill the screens with World War III sound effects: “PM declares war on terrorism”, “India is at war, says PM”…

Meanwhile, back in the studio, the 9 pm panelists-for-all-issues would now comment on the attacks. Sambit Patra, Houdini-like, would have appeared everywhere making soothing noises; Congressman Randeep Surjewala would say the BJP cannot counter terrorism because the PM is never here long enough to counter it; Patra would drag in Rahul Gandhi (subject of earlier debate) — Congress VP has no time for anything but his British subjects, sorry, business interests.

On a Pakistani TV show, Mani Shankar Aiyar says Narendra Modi must be thrown out, and the Congress returned to power to fight the IS. Reminded that 26/11 took place under the Congress, he makes a witty remark which enrages Indian TV anchors, and all hell breaks loose — in the studios.

General V.K. Singh soundbytes that the “dogs” of war have been unleashed and should be killed, indeed all dogs should be eliminated. TV channels rush to colleague Maneka Gandhi, while BJP spokesperson Shaina NC, still in a studio, explains that Singh meant dogs of war, not all dogs. And Yogi Adityanath suggests that all terrorists should go to Pakistan where they can join Hafiz Saeed.

This will continue for days, at least.

Hindi news channels will provide graphic reconstructions, everyone will visit the victims, weeping relatives of the victims, the injured, the hospitals and post huge photos of the terrorists, a replay of the attacks. Anyone remotely unconnected with the events will be interviewed; the nightly debates will thunder: “Who is to blame for this monster called terrorism?”

Many viewers may find this more to their tastes than the tasteful coverage on France 24, BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera, which at all times remained at a respectful distance from the action. There were genteel, endless conversations with terrorism experts, French journalists, survivors. For hours, we saw only the facade of the Comptoir Voltaire Cafe, which had been attacked, or else, armed policemen standing around as though sunning themselves (especially at St Denis on Wednesday morning). Everything was so civilised, sanitised — no videos of the dead, little mobile footage of the attacks and all information properly sourced: Paris mayor, French police, AP.

Are these civilisational differences or do we need to learn something from each other?