Some hard questions

BY DUJ| IN Media Practice | 04/10/2008
Although all newspapers and TV channels used the same source, the police, they differed in the basic facts reported about the police encounter in Jamia Nagar.
THE DELHI UNION OF JOURNALISTS presents a critique of media reporting of the Batla House Police Operation.

                                  Extracts from the DUJ report






The Delhi Union of Journalists and its Ethics Council are concerned at the falling standards of reporting as evident in the manner in which the police operation at Batla House on September 19, 2008 was reported by various newspapers and TV channels in the Capital.


We wish to underline that accuracy in reporting facts is the first responsibility of the media. Where facts are disputed, the discrepancies should be pointed out and the sources questioned. Presenting several versions of incidents and using multiple sources of information is an inalienable part of credible reporting.


We also emphasise that uncovering the truth may not always be the job of the media. The media is not equipped to investigate and uncover the truth in severely complicated cases like the incident being examined in the report.


But presenting different facets of events as they emerge is part of the professional responsibility of the media.


In this report we have analysed the reporting of the Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express (Delhi editions of September 20 and 21, 2008).  Among the Hindi newspapers we have examined Dainik Jagaran, Amar Ujala, Dainik Hindustan, Jansatta, Punjab Kesari and Rashtriya Sahara; the Urdu newspaper we looked at is Rashtriya Sahara.


We wish to make it clear that we hold no brief for either the police or the suspects, two of whom have been killed and several rounded up.  We are not passing a judgment on whether it was a planned encounter or a fake encounter or a police operation gone wrong. We do not know the truth. We are only examining the professional conduct of our co-professionals with a view to pointing out the casual manner in which serious issues have been handled right from the day of the serial bomb blasts in Delhi.


A research team of the DUJ decided to examine the way in which the print media reported the police operation on September 19, 2008, at L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar in Delhi in which two alleged terrorists and one inspector of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police were killed. We have attempted in this report to first state the facts as they were reported and then analyse the language employed and the views expressed while reporting and commenting on this highly sensitive and contentious incident. 



Analysis of Newspaper Reports dated September 20, 2008


The facts first.


1. Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police killed.


2. Two young boys, Atif Amin and Mohammed Sajid, killed.


3. Mohammed Saif arrested.


The rest of the facts regarding the police operation at L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar, Delhi on Sept. 19, 2008 are uncertain. Although the incident took place in the capital of India and all the newspapers and TV channels used the same source, the Police, even the basic facts are not in place. Every daily newspaper and television channel seems to have its own set of ¿facts¿ and often these contradict each other. Accuracy seems to have been sacrificed in the rush to be first with the news and provide the more sensational coverage. Let us examine how the incident was reported in the Delhi editions of the dailies.


The Time of the Shootout:


The Hindustan Times and Dainik Jagran have given the time as 11 a.m. The Indian Express, quoting a resident, says the first shot was fired around 9.45 a.m. The Times of India report does not mention any time. Mail Today says it began at 11a.m. The Hindi Hindustan report would have us believe that it all began at 10.30 a.m. Amar Ujala says firing began around 10.45 a.m. and lasted till 11 a.m.


The Duration of the Shootout:  


The Hindustan Times says the shootout lasted 15 minutes whereas its Hindi publication, Dainik Hindustan,  says it lasted 90 minutes. According to the TOI, the entire encounter took 25 minutes. Mail Today says the operation lasted 30 minutes. The Veer Arjun says the shootout lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. Rashtriya Sahara, Urdu, claims that the shooting lasted nearly two hours. Amar Ujala says the encounter lasted  1 hour and 15 minutes. Punjab Kesari claims that  the encounter lasted one hour.


Rounds fired:


According to the TOI, 25 rounds were fired by the police and 8 by the ¿terrorists¿. The Indian Express, the Hindu, Dainik Hindustan, Punjab Kesari and Rashtriya Sahara, Urdu say the police fired 22 rounds. They are all silent about the rounds fired by the suspects. Rashtriya Sahara, Hindi and Amar Ujala say the police fired 22 rounds and the ¿terrorists¿ fired 8 rounds.


Interestingly, the Navbharat Times claims that both the police and the suspects were armed with AK 47s but did not use them!


¿Explosive¿ stuff:


All the dailies reported the police claim that those shot at Batla House were terrorists responsible for several bomb blasts.


The HT quoted Police Commissioner Y S Dadwal as saying that "explosives made by him (Atif – our clarification) and his team bore their signature – two detonators, wooden frame, ammonium nitrate and analog quartz clocks."


In the light of this claim, the list of explosives claimed to have been recovered from the flat occupied by the suspects is interesting. 


Dainik Hindustan says one AK 47, two pistols, one computer and important papers were recovered.


Veer Arjun reports one AK 47, .30 bore pistols, cartridges and 21 country pistols were found.


Navbharat Times says one AK 47, two .30 imported pistols, 20 live cartridges, magazine, two laptops, mobile phones and other items were recovered. 


Rashtriya Sahara, Hindi says police recovered one AK 47 and two .32 bore pistols, one computer and books.


Punjab Kesari says police found one AK 47, two pistols  and one computer.


Amar Ujala says the police  seized one AK 47, .30 bore revolver, two laptops, half a dozen mobiles and six pen drives.


None of the dailies report the recovery of any ammonium nitrate and analog quartz clocks. No question is asked about the recovery of these chemicals or equipment claimed to be part of the terrorist group¿s signature. 


How many Policemen were there?


Indian Express reports that Sharma went there along with five officers.

Mail Today reports a 15-member team led by Sharma

Veer Arjun claims 50 personnel led by Sharma landed there.

NBT says a total number of 24 police personnel went there.

Amar Ujala reports that a 22-member police team cordoned off the area under the leadership of Sharma.


The TOI, HT, Jansatta, Dainik Jagran and The Hindu refrain from mentioning the number of policemen involved in the operation.


How many Bullets hit Sharma?


The TOI, IE, HT, Mail Today, The Hindu, Veer Arjun, Rashtriya Sahara, Hindi all say three bullets hit Sharma.


Navbharat Times says four bullets hit him.


Jansatta claims that five bullets hit him in the abdomen, thigh, left arm, upper part of the shoulder and right hip (Anchor story).


Rashtriya Sahara, Urdu reports four bullets hitting him, one each on shoulder, arm, back and right hip.


Rashtriya Sahara, Hindi claims that all the three bullets were taken out during an operation in Holy Family hospital


Amar Ujala also claims that bullets had been removed and quotes Dr. Rajesh Chawla to this effect. It says Dr Chawla was summoned from Apollo hospital. He reportedly told the paper that there was excessive bleeding because the bullets hit the lung and the lower part and after ¿bullets had been removed¿,  it was felt that Sharma may survive.


Subsequently post-mortem reports quoted by some of the dailies said that Sharma had been hit by only two bullets and both bullets had exited the body. No bullets were removed from his body.


About Mohan Chand Sharma


Even in paying tributes to Inspector Sharma the papers have reported different facts.  HT says that he had "shot dead 75 criminals and terrorists." The TOI says he was "credited with the killing of 35 terrorists and the arrest of 80 others." The IE says that "Sharma¿s ¿kill tally¿ stood at 75 criminals including 35 terrorists". The Hindu says he was instrumental in "neutralising 35 terrorists and arresting as many as 80 militants." It goes on to say he had ¿gunned down 40 gangsters¿ and arrested ¿120¿ criminals. Amar Ujala reports that Sharma killed 35 terrorists and 40 gangsters, nabbed 80 terrorists and 129 gangsters. It says he was involved in 75 encounters.







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