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Bishakha in Mumbai

On scene with a writer in Mumbai, criticising the media.

When I heard about the attacks on Mumbai, India my first thought was Bishakha! I only know one person in Mumbai and that's Bishakha Datta. I met her last spring on Whidbey Island when she was a writer in residence at Hedgebrook. Bishakha, who has a Master's in Communications from Stanford University, is a non-fiction writer and documentary filmmaker. She focuses on women's rights, sexuality, and marginal points of view.

She has also been the executive director of Point of View since its inception in 1996. The Mumbai-based organization promotes the points of view of women through media, art, culture. Concerned about her situation, I emailed Bishakha the night before Thanksgiving. She replied soon after, saying that she and her family were fine. But not her city. "There are still people and hostages stuck in the two biggest hotels in Mumbai and in a building 16 hours after it began," said Bishahka. "It's a nightmare."

Recently, Bishakha posted a note on her Facebook profile about the media's coverage of the attacks on Mumbai. I emailed her and asked if I could share it with others. Here are her thoughts:

10 problems with the 24-hour TV news reporting of the recent attacks on Mumbai

Speculative, not fact-based. The numbers of gunmen entering Bombay dropped from 20-25 to 10 across three days and from 5-7 at Taj to 4; 7-10 at Oberoi/Trident to 2. This causes needless panic; many of us still think there are gunmen out there. Ditto vis-a-vis boat routes to enter Bombay (one day Badhwar Park, next day Gateway of India). Don't report what is just said can't be verified — or at least question statements from politicians! Otherwise, it's like reporting rumour: which is what happened Fri aft when channels reported non-existent gunfire at several places.

Unquestioning. How many gunmen were there actually? How many people actually died? How many boats came into Mumbai? How did the Wadi Bandar and Vile Parle blasts take place? How could 2 gunmen hold up a 350-plus room twin hotel like the Trident/Oberoi? These are just the first five — most basic — questions off the top of my head. Never heard any of them asked. I'm not even going into the lack of qs around 'Pak' involvement.

Class-biased. Where was VT on our TV screens, even though that was attacked at the same time as the two hotels/Chabad House — and which 40 lakh Bombayites use? After the first night, VT station and all the hospitals where the injured were taken — Cama, JJ, St George, Bombay &mdsash; were taken off our radar (even though they are all in south Bombay, minutes from where the media was gathered in full force).

Opinionated, not fact-based. What does "Pakistani involvement" mean? No distinction between Pakistani elements and the Pakistani state: particularly given the complex political situ in Pakistan; I have yet to hear one anchor or reporter ask the question: what's the proof? (In a hypothetical case, if a cell phone with calls to India were found somewhere else in the world, does it indicate that "India was involved"?)

Simplistic. The coverage became a parable of good vs evil; bravehearts vs cowards, unsung heroes vs villains, which has now swung to "Pakistan vs India."

Stupid. What exactly are victims of gunmen supposed to say when asked how they feel? "Did you feel scared?" (No, I felt elated after spending 10 hours hearing bombs explode around me!) Many such stupid questions incl those asked to Ratan Tata on Thu eve.

Invasive. The NDTV interview with Sabina Sehgal Saikia's husband when all the facts pointed to her probable death is a case in point.

Dangerous. Giving away the locations of those stuck or hidden in rooms/halls at the two hotels. Ditto with jingoism masquerading as patriotism/nationalism in the "Pakistan vs India" tenor of reporting.


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