Slamming the electronic media for its live coverage of the 26/11 terrorist attacks, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said that by doing so the Indian TV channels did not serve the national interest or any social cause.
A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and C.K. Prasad, while confirming the death sentence on the prime accused, Ajmal Kasab, said the “reckless coverage… gave rise to a situation where, on the one hand, the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces and they had no means to know their exact positions or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed and, on the other, the positions of the security forces, their weapons and all their operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists.”
The Bench said: “Apart from the transcripts, we can take judicial notice of the fact that the terrorists’ attacks at all the places, in the goriest details, were shown live on Indian TV from beginning to end, almost non-stop. All the channels were competing with each other in showing the latest developments on a minute-to-minute basis, including the positions and the movements of the security forces engaged in flushing out the terrorists.
“In these appeals, it is not possible to find out whether the security forces actually suffered any casualty or injuries on account of the way their operations were being displayed on the TV screen. But it is beyond doubt that the way their operations were freely shown made the task of the security forces not only exceedingly difficult but also dangerous and risky.”
Holding that any attempt to justify the conduct of the TV channels by citing the right to freedom of speech and expression would be “totally wrong and unacceptable in such a situation,” the Bench said: “Freedom of expression, like all other freedoms under Article 19, is subject to reasonable restrictions. An action tending to violate another person’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting the national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression.”
“Expressing its anguish, the Bench said: “The shots and visuals could have been shown after all the terrorists were neutralised and the security operations were over. But, in that case, the TV programmes would not have had the same shrill, scintillating and chilling effect and would not have shot up the TRP ratings of the channels. It must, therefore, be held that by covering live the terrorists’ attack on Mumbai in the way it was done, the Indian TV channels were not serving any national interest or social cause. On the contrary, they were acting in their own commercial interests, putting the national security in jeopardy. It is in such extreme cases that the credibility of an institution is tested. The coverage of the Mumbai terror attack by the mainstream electronic media has done much harm to the argument that any regulatory mechanism for the media must come only from within.”