Sandeep Dikshit

Mumbai coverage reminded him of ‘famous’ Kargil War shot

NEW DELHI: The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, has expressed anger at the electronic media’s coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks.

Addressing a press conference on the eve of Navy Day, he also pulled up the media for casting aspersions on the Navy’s sinking of a pirate vessel in the Gulf of Aden by “going all the way to the house of the vessel’s Thai owner” to interview him.

“All for brownie points”

The competition among news channels to score brownie points reminded him of the “famous shot” during the Kargil War that led to the destruction of an ultra-powerful artillery gun of the Army. Three soldiers died and the Colonel, who yielded to a woman reporter’s entreaty to fire the gun for the camera’s benefit was dismissed from service.

Senior government officials have been chafing at the “intrusive coverage” by the electronic media.

Admiral Mehta said he was disturbed by the “extra heavy reporting” on the attacks. “When operations are taking place, you are reporting that two commandos are going inside. They [terrorists] were in live contact with their masters, who were telling them what the channels were reporting. I think it requires a certain amount of restraint in ongoing operations. Do you really have to give minute-by-minute coverage? Media is an enabling instrument. Today it is a disenabling instrument.”

On the media’s coverage of the INS Tabar’s anti-piracy operations off the Gulf of Aden when the warship intercepted and sank a pirated Thai trawler, the Navy chief said he was disappointed. For the media, more “eye catching” was the owner’s claim that was unquestionably accepted.

“The Thai vessel was a pirated trawler. The ship was operating there for a long time. The ship was doing what it should not be doing. You went to his house to interview him. Those reports are now floating worldwide. The media should have asked what the trawler was transporting between Yemen and Oman for such a long time. What cargo was it carrying? If it was low on fuel, how come the fireball was so bright? It was because of all the ammunition that was lying on the ship. There is nothing wrong your Navy has done,” asserted Admiral Mehta.

Referring to frequent reports where he was said to have been pulled up by Ministers, Admiral Mehta said: “You have put my reputation in the dock. By the amount of pulling up I am subjected to, I should have been taller by a couple of feet. I don’t know if that is why I meet Ministers. The press has a responsibility. Be more cautious. I am not asking you to be more careful but you must be more cautious. Are you working for some masters? I leave it to your conscience.”

The Navy chief also criticised two TV correspondents for “breaking their assurance” not to air his interview which was recorded in advance for Navy Day (December 4).

“It was a breach of privilege by these two gentlemen. Just as well that they are not there.” Finding that one was present, he asked the “offender” to tell what was promised. As the journalist sought to give excuses, the Navy chief shot back, “Don’t tell me what happened. The interview was not to be played till day after tomorrow. But both went on air to score brownie points.”

Systemic failure

He said the entry of terrorists into Mumbai by a trawler appeared to indicate a “systemic failure” by the law enforcement agencies. “It needs to be taken care of.”

The Navy, he said, was reviving a seven-year-old proposal to ensure better coordination among security agencies and establish a system for identifying Indian fishermen.

“We are looking at creating a proper infrastructure, where all the information we get is exchanged. We had prepared the proposal seven to eight years earlier. We are now pushing it up once again to bring about greater synergy among different forces,” he said.

Admiral Mehta said the present arrangement of naval ships taking care of the security of 200 nautical miles from the coast and the Coast Guard being responsible for the inner layer would continue. The territorial waters would also continue to be looked after by the coastal police.

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