By Saeed Haider
Dear Ms. Barkha Dutt:
I have always been an admirer of your objective, fearless and purposeful reporting. You are among a very few Indian journalists who rekindled my hope and trust in the Indian Fourth Estate which otherwise has lost the direction and is rather motivated by vested interest and TRPs. The 24-hour news channels have not only ignored but bypassed all journalistic norms and ethics in all kind of reporting. As a fellow journalist, in you I saw hope for India and Indian journalism.
However, you not only betrayed all my hopes but also generated a kind of nervousness and fear with your reckless comments and opinions. Yes, terrorists scared me like hell, but your reporting scared me even more because you were doing exactly what these terror outfits wanted you to do.
Being a journalist who had covered two Gulf wars (1990-91 and 2003), I am fully aware of the sensitivities and limitations of covering such events and hence I don't have any problem as far as your factual reporting is concerned. What pained and disturbed me the most was your attempt to hit the very political structure of the country. The way you tried to shape the public opinion was extremely dangerous. It was you who initiated politician-bashing. I don't think you need any kind of experience to have a clear perception of the situation. It is a basic common sense that in an event like 26/11 a reporter's prime job is to report; report sensibly and accurately and not to indulge in rhetoric and jingoism and to ignite people's sentiment. What you were doing was exactly the opposite.
You were too melodramatic, igniting people's sentiment against politicians, challenging democracy and unintentionally, or may be intentionally, preaching anarchy. Your "Enough Is Enough" catchphrase was extremely sick. It was like a clarion call for anarchism. While reporting from Nariman House you very blatantly tried to create Politicians versus Armed Forces battle. What you failed to perceive was the fact that by drawing such parallel you were forcing public opinion to opt for military dictatorship instead of democracy. It may sound a bit ludicrous but if you will see your own footage with a cool and open mind you too will reach the same conclusion.
I fully agree that India's political structure needs a drastic revamping and the country is largely a victim of corrupt, inept, insensitive and illiterate politicians. But then we all have known this for ages. We do realize that drastic changes and reforms are required. But that was not the time to initiate such hate campaign against politicians.
You quoted Narayan Murthy and Salman Rushdie congratulating you for the NDTV coverage, I am sure you don't take such comments seriously nor will they ever shape the quality of your channel's coverage. These people have limited vision and narrow approach and could not see things in totality, as you can see.
On five different occasions you compared 26/11 with Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York. You went on to say that "despite some minor wrong decisions" US succeeded in preventing terror attack. I am sure, Barkha, an astute and seasoned journalist like you know that America achieved this at the cost of hundreds and thousands of lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and the regions bordering Pakistan. It put thousands of innocent people in Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Are you professing us to become a rogue fascist state like the United States? You literally pushed India on the brink of war. Do you realize that?
Do you realize that you essentially set the tone of other media coverage of 26/11. After your style and rhetoric, overnight all major news channels like Times Now, IBN-CNN, Headlines Today, Aaj Tak and Star News, changed their tone and began bashing politicians.
Your "We the People" in the backdrop of a burning Taj was another disaster when film actress Simi Garewal made an irresponsible and pathetic remark on Pakistani flags being hoisted at every dwelling in Mumbai slums. Instead of clarifying it then and there you allowed it to pass away and only on second or third day your channel gave a one-line clarification. Don't you agree that it was an extremely irresponsible omission on your part in such a volatile situation?
Despite all these, the fact remains that you are a fine journalist and I do respect your past work but certainly your work during 26/11 did not make me proud. I am sure you will look within, do serious introspection by watching your own footage and will bounce back once again as a fearless, objective and purposeful journalist. Just be a journalist. Please don't don the mantle of a savior or a messiah.
Saeed Haider is an Indian journalist based in Saudi Arabia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.