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Mumbai - rumour and misinformation

Mark Urban | 14:15 UK time, Friday, 28 November 2008

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.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Yes, well, on a day like today I can see how certain aspects of 'rumour and misinformation' may predominate more than others.

    Let's scoot away from the UK shall we?

    However, in so doing, I can't say that the lack of a good media briefing system is the most pressing aspect of the Mumbai horrors that troubles me (though I can see how it gets in the way of accurate reporting, and that can't be good, as 'some' do tend to speculate when they could just as easily say 'we don't know yet' or go and find out).

    In fact, I am rather concerned that, closer to home it is rather too well coordinated.

    In this democratic system.

  • Comment number 2.

    EDUCATE ENTERTAIN INFORM

    Mumbai is not entertaining (even to Big Brother watchers, one hopes) you have no hard information, so why not educate?

    Young men need little reason to kill. Any perceived difference will do. And there are always manipulative, power-mad, older men (even in Britain - remember?) who will egg them on to slaughter.

    Instead of the usual suspects talking vagaries, or praising heroism, why not get some human behaviourists in to explain what is REALLY going on, when the politics is stripped out? You could compare British aggression and British war-lust with that of those damned foreigners. That's education!

  • Comment number 3.

    The good thing is apparently they have taken some terrorists alive and so we will get the full truth in due course.

    Its speculation on my part but I can't believe that these people didn't show up on some intelligence agencies radar. Was there a breakdown in coordination and sharing?

    If they trained in Pakistan then the ISI will have some explaining.

    But I suppose the Horn of Africa would have been a good place and the move by sea difficult to detect.

    If they hired a ship or commandeered a ship that would mean a lot of logistics and cash I assume. Lots of witnesses though.

  • Comment number 4.

    The chronically castigated cops and the dangerously underpaid armed forces of India are the heroes of what will inevitably prove to be a mere moment after their recovery of Mumbai from the hands of terrorists. Even the television talking heads say so, which means that it must be true. But the biggest hero of them all, National Security Advisor Mayankote Kelath Narayanan (or MKN as he is known by those who would like to be known as close to him), has not taken his bow in public. In fact, this former spook who spent his initial post-retirement years as an "interface" between a corporate group run by his son-in-law and the government and who, in time, was rewarded by the Gandhi dynasty for his abiding allegiance to it with the post of National Security Advisor has, ever since the seige of Mumbai began, been shunning the media limelight, one of the few things that he does not do very well. Could he be in the political doghouse, much like Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, arguably the most inept to hold that position in post-Independence India? Or could it be that he does not have any insight of perceptible brilliance to share with the people of India -- such as his opus, much celebrated by a television channel which he uses, for all practical purposes, as his private public relations agency, about the investment of murky money, possibly terrorism-related, in stock markets? Come on, MKN! This is not the time to shuffle your feet and act shy. After all, we all know that that you were almost single-handedly responsible for closing the Indo-US deal even though we were never very clear as to why the National Security Advisor was addressing the problem of India's huge power deficit. Tell us, with your characteristic brilliance and lucidity, why Mumbai took a mauling on your watch. Was it because the terrorists who have invested in stocks were caught on the wrong foot in a plumetting market? We have the right to know, don't you think?

  • Comment number 5.

    Apart from the atrocities themselves, the most upsetting feature of the Mumbai attacks for me was the reaction of the Western media. I don't think it is good enough to blame the Indians for the lack of media briefings, the journos would have wanted to put their own spin on the info they were given anyway. "Our" media is obsessed with presenting any attack like this as an attack on the West. For a day all the news bulletins led with "an eyewitness reports that the terrorists are targetting US and British passport holders". Well if they did they made a bad job of it, as the casualty stats show. This was an attack on India, not "us". Then the media concentrated on more "reports" that many of the terrorists held British passports. Why is our media so desperate to believe any nonsense like this? No wonder that people are now terrified to visit India, with the unseemly posturing of the England cricket team, claiming to "not feel safe".

    At the height of the IRA bombings we hated the way Americans avoided Britain because they felt it was unsafe, not we adopt the same selfish and arrogant attitudes.

    Let's have less biased reporting and speculation until facts can be determined. 24 hour news is too often dominated by rumour and mis-information, which sadly most people swallow as though it was fact, and then use it to feed their own prejudices.

  • Comment number 6.

    There was many rumours and misinformation during the Mumbai situation....But, in most part--the media did a good job and the information had to work with.

 

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