Friday, January 30, 2009

How clueless is NDTV?

So clueless that they failed to anticipate not just outrage and scorn, but serious professional ridicule; see the posts by Falstaff and Kuffir.

[Update: See also Rahul's fan letter to Ms. Barkha Dutt: "Keep going. ... I am sure you will continue to make more news than you report"].

* * *

Here's another example. Yesterday, Prem Panicker wrote a balanced post; while he emphasized bloggers' right to express their opinion freely, he also pointed out that they cannot play with facts, and when they do, they have to face the consequences. The specific example he cites is Chyetan's use of this quote from Wikipedia's entry on Ms. Barkha Dutt as of 30th November 2008 (pointed out by one of the commenters on Prem's blog):

During the Kargil conflict, Indian Army sources repeatedly complained to her channel that she was giving away locations in her broadcasts, thus causing Indian casualties.

This part of the entry wasn't backed up by a citation, and sure enough, it went away, probably as soon as someone raised this issue. I don't know when the next change took place, but this is what we find now in its place:

Her reporting of the Kargil conflict was criticized by Admiral Sureesh Mehta who insinuated that she may have compromised the security of the troops by giving away locations.[10].

It is essentially the same accusation ("criticism") as the previous one -- but (a) it cites to a newspaper, and (b) it names a high-ranking official who made that 'insinuation'. Click on that link, and you get this:

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.

Sure, this paragraph doesn't mention the woman reporter's name explicitly, but how many embedded women reporters in the war zone were involved in the 'famous shot' incident during the Kargil War? The context seems to point to Ms. Dutt as the reporter in question. Is this citation good enough for Wikipedia? It must be, because of the following.

In that entry on Ms. Dutt, the above quote is 'balanced' with the following sentence:

Ms Dutt refuted these charges in her response by citing Gen VP Malik's book that had opined otherwise. [11]

This sentence also has a citation. Clicking through, we find that it's an article by Ms. Dutt herself:

Finally, I would like to point out that the Navy Chief made a factually incorrect and wholly untrue comment on NDTV's coverage during the Kargil conflict of 1999, claiming that NDTV asked for a gun to be triggered for the benefit of the camera. I want to state for the record: no such incident ever took place and we have an official aknowledgment of that, including from then Army Chief, V.P Malik. I would urge Admiral Mehta to read General V.P Malik's book on Kargil for further clarity. General Malik was the Army Chief during the operations and puts to rest any such controversy in his book. In a formal letter, NDTV has also asked for an immediate retraction from the Navy and officially complained that the comments amount to defamation. Several writers have already pointed out how the Navy Chief has got his facts wrong. (DNA, Indian Express, Vir Sanghvi in The Hindustan Times, Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph). This, incidentally, was the same press conference where the Admiral threatened literally to "chop the heads off" of two other reporters who aired his interview ahead of schedule.

It's a solid defence by Ms. Dutt. But the fact remains that the Navy Chief has uttered those damaging words, and despite NDTV's letter asking "for an immediate retraction from the Navy" and "officially [complaining] that the comments amount to defamation," no such retraction appears to have been made by the Navy (at least to my knowledge).

It's going to be interesting, watching how Ms. Dutt and NDTV proceed with this stuff. Will they sue the Navy Chief, and extract an apology and a retraction? Will they demand that he display it prominently on his blog?

* * *

The "criticism" section of the Wikipedia entry on Ms. Dutt is only going to swell. What is worse, Chyetan's original observations about Ms. Dutt's live coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks will also be fact-checked, and documented in detail.

Did NDTV anticipate any of this?


  1. Anonymous said...

    See this comment,

    Why is nobody confronting Barkha's Kargil War bogey defense of "See General Malik's autobiography". I have read the book and all it says is that Barkha asked Malik if the Thuraya sat-phone she was using had given away troop positions and Gen. Malik replied in the negative saying that the Pakis did not have the technology to trace it.

    What she did NOT ask him was "Did the firing of the Pinaka rockets (and not Bofors Guns as the idiot Vir Sanghvi suggested) for my famous footage that I use in promos cause the loss of man and machine because the plume of smoke left by the firing was easily visible over mountain tops to the Pakis?"

    His (honest) answer would have been YES! Everyone in the fauj knows this incident but it was hushed up since they were so grateful for her rah-rah!

    Not having the read book, I can't say whether this is true or not but interesting nevertheless

  2. Biju Mathews said...

    And they say this is journalism. How sad!