As I write this, India is still recovering from five bombs that snuffed out 30 lives in Delhi.
Terrorists have struck once again. With impunity.
Over the last 13 years I have put together more editions dominated by terror than I care to remember. It scares me that newsrooms now have the drill down pat. We no longer need to discuss what needs to be done every time a bomb goes off. We have a standard operating procedure.
Every time this happens, I also come away disturbed at how the media react. The shrill tone of the TV channels and their readiness to go on air with any scrap of unverified information is scary. I watched in horror as one Hindi channel said a young boy with a bomb strapped to his body had been found and that the police were taking him away to a safe spot to defuse the device, somewhere there wouldn’t be too much damage if it did go off.
The truth came out a little later – the boy was a poor balloon seller who had seen two men dressed in black deposit a packet into a dustbin. The bin exploded some time later and the packet those men had thrown in it was probably the bomb.
He was a witness, not a suicide bomber.
But was the print media above reproach? Did it not make any mistakes?
While it was a whole lot less alarmist, there is one question: Did we do the right thing by publishing the boy’s photograph?
Two things go against it. One, the boy’s a minor. Even witnesses in many court cases who are under 18 are granted anonymity in the media. Two, as somebody who could potentially identify the men behind a terrorist attack, his life could be in serious danger.
My paper published his name and picture too. And it was on my shift. I saw the page. I saw the picture on it. I saw the boy’s interview.
Yet, it never struck me that perhaps we weren’t doing right. That’s the problem with standard operating procedure. It’s more like an assembly line. Less like a newspaper.
I’d like to know what you think.