Guest post from T.R.Ramaswami
I write with reference to media reports on the debate on the new censorship laws proposed in the light of the coverage of the recent 26/11 events. As John Keegan, noted military historian puts it, every crisis is governed by competing velocities – the velocity of events, the velocity of response and the velocity of assessment and decision making. The pace of the last, a function of the human mind, has remained the same over the centuries. But technology has enabled the reporting of events at a faster pace, and this in turn feeds the pace of the crisis. This was amply evident during the recent 26/11 events where almost real time TV may have forced the pace of events and statements and decisions to satisfy the questions raised by the media through the visuals and commentary available to the population at large. One example – the media announced that the NSG were on their way and even that they had arrived and with numbers! That took the element of surprise away.
While the velocity/capacity of the human mind to receive, collate and respond has remained static, other velocities have increased tremendously and the imbalance is sought to be corrected by reducing/filtering the flow and quantum of information and making it available only to a select group on a need to know basis, till the crisis is over. In the current context it would also probably mean reducing external pressures by denying information to the common public through the visual media, which has its own rumour and advise tendering effects. Further, today even allies of the terrorists who are in communication with those creating the crisis, have access to the media.
It would be interesting to have an impact analysis on the events of 26/11 caused by continuous availability of information through the visual media and ensure necessary corrective steps. Those more interested in the events/concepts related above should read 13 Days (on the Bay of Pigs Crisis) by Robert F Kennedy and The Mask of Command by John Keegan.
Ankur’s view
Ramaswami has raised some valid points on why there should be a certain amount of discretion exercised by the media (press/organized media and social media/twitter/facebook) for the effectiveness of law enforcement.
However I am of the opinion that information is a powerful unifier and a pacifier. The biggest issues during the acts of terrorism is controlling the mob, the fear that it develops and restore the trust the common people have in the ability of the government to enforce law and order. Without reliable information dispersing handling these issues might be a challenge. I have not read the books mentioned here, but I know for sure that armies have always invested heavily in spreading propaganda because they know that during war, it is very effective in mellowing the resistance, uniting in the supporters and giving courage to those in the line of fire… a nation under threat of terrorism is no different.