Mumbai - rumour and misinformation
We journalists often regard press officers and media managers as the opposition. But one of the most striking things about the Indian authorities' handling of the Mumbai terrorist attacks has been their inability to put together any sort of joined up media plan.
Those reeling from the possibility that loved ones might be caught up in the mayhem can hardly have been comforted by the constant flow of speculation, rumour and outright misinformation that has surrounded these events. Different security chiefs have claimed four or five times that the Taj Mahal hotel had been cleared of terrorists, only to have explosions shatter any confidence of this fact soon afterwards.
Similar uncertainty has surrounded events at the Jewish centre. In each case the bangs or 'shooting' going on inside may represent no more than commandos room clearing with explosive entry devices and stun grenades. The terrorists may all be dead and not firing back at all.
What has been lacking in all this is a press briefing, once or twice daily, featuring security chiefs and the chief minister. If all of the kingpins in the operation had gathered in this way there would at least have been the sense that all agencies were agreeing to a certain view (for example that the terrorists all arrived by sea) or all declined to comment for the record on a particular allegation. Instead there has been a welter of rumours, many of them harvested by local journalists ringing their mates in the police or army.
I never thought I'd be longing for a system of briefing of this kind, but like many features of our own democratic system, it's one of those things you don't necessarily appreciate until you see what life is like without it.