ANALYSIS: Lack of Foreign Resources Plagued U.S. Mumbai Coverage
Television news divisions scrambled as effects of reduced foreign staff was evident
By Marisa Guthrie -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/3/2008 1:30:00 AM
As terrorists descended last week on Mumbai, the financial and entertainment capital of India, the staffs at American TV news organizations scrambled to mobilize resources and personnel, underscoring the effects of deep cuts in foreign news operations.
The dearth of reliable information on U.S. television over the three-day conflict that broke during the Thanksgiving holiday was obvious.
TV news reports lacked precise numbers of targets, attackers, casualties and hostages. Some of the confusion could be attributed to misinformation—or none at all—from Indian authorities overwhelmed by the horrifically coordinated attacks. But the absence of boots-on-the-ground reporting was also apparent.
On the broadcast networks, taped reports were confined to the morning shows on Thursday, arguably the most intense day of the three-day assault. For the rest of the day, networks largely stuck with regular programming.
Despite the existence of state-of-the-art reporting technology such as briefcase-sized satellite phones that make it possible to uplink video reports from anywhere in the world, during the three days of coverage, CNN had virtually the only live shot from Mumbai, a city with a major role to play in the 21st century global economy.
CNN’s Sara Sidner delivered sporadic stand-ups in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel, making her the only journalist on U.S. TV reporting from the ground live as the events unfolded.
Meanwhile, sieges wore on at six other locations, including the Oberoi Hotel and the Nariman House, where an American rabbi and his wife were among those killed.
Downsizing Foreign News
Many Western news organizations long ago downsized the number of foreign outposts. But the slump in TV ad revenue and the dire economic forecast coming after a protracted and expensive election season has meant more painful cuts to network budgets, especially for broadcast news divisions with a finite amount of hours in which to amortize costs.
“International news gathering gets more expensive and more complicated,” says Tony Maddox, executive VP and managing director of CNN International. “People are under intense financial pressure. Everyone was looking to cut costs even without this financial crisis. And foreign news coverage is expensive to do and do properly.”
The limit on resources meant the news networks had to hustle people into position to cover Mumbai from vacation or in some cases entirely different continents.
NBC News got London-based correspondent Stephanie Gosk to Mumbai in time for a stand up on Thursday's Nightly News. Celia Hatton, a correspondent for CBS News' affiliate service CBS Newspath, traveled from Beijing.
ABC News’ New Delhi-based correspondent Karen Russo was on holiday in Paris. She flew to Mumbai, while Nick Schifrin, ABC’s reporter based in Islamabad, Pakistan, happened to be in New Delhi, where he lived until recently. He too, boarded a plane for Mumbai. And Dan Harris managed to get to the Indian consulate in New York to secure a visa before they closed on Wednesday night. He was in Mumbai in time to file a piece for World News on Thursday evening.
To ABC's credit, they were the only network to get an anchor -- Harris -- in place.
CNN happened to have a crew on the ground in Mumbai with a satellite truck and the permit required by Indian authorities for international broadcasters wishing to transmit live. The network was in the midst of a week-long series on Mumbai’s status as an international economic center for affiliate Indian network IBN.
On Wednesday afternoon when the three-day stand-off began, Fox News executives made the decision to send two full crews to Mumbai from bureaus in Israel and Europe. They were in the Indian port city by Thursday evening.
The BBC has had a presence in India, a former British colony, for more than half a century. And Karishma Vaswani, a BBC business reporter and anchor based in Mumbai, was on the scene Wednesday afternoon.
The structural challenges were compounded by confusion among the Indian authorities, which executives say led to an information vacuum.
“When the story broke there, there was a lack of definitive information,” says John Stack, VP of newsgathering for Fox News. “But what we did know—that it was an act of terrorism, seemingly aimed at Western people, with a loss of life—those are all the ingredients we needed to know to deploy our own resources to the story.”
The CNN crew working on their Mumbai finance story was staying at the Taj Mahal Hotel. They were returning to the hotel on Wednesday afternoon when they were alerted to the terror attacks by the sight of Indian police taking up positions outside their hotel. At that point, the Indian authorities told the CNN crew the violence was attributed to gangs, not terrorists.
As TV news professionals made their ways to the story, viewers who had tuned to cable news networks were mostly treated to an endless loop of taped scenes of terror and aftermath recorded earlier and aired continuously with little context.
Without live video, the networks relied on live telephone interviews unrelated to the taped packages, which featured such sources as a Columbia University graduate student who happened to be somewhere in Mumbai and a businessman at the airport. Neither was at a location near a terrorist target.
CNN's permit to broadcast live ran out on Friday and was not renewed by the Indian government. But the lack of official permits does not explain the lack of live video.
“When there is an emergency such as what happened in Mumbai, it’s important to get our material out as quickly as possible,” says Chuck Lustig, director of foreign news coverage at ABC. “And if there are consequences to that we certainly would deal with them after the fact.”
By Friday evening, when Indian authorities had finally rooted out the last of the terrorists, CNN and Fox News offered coverage and analysis while MSNBC curiously stuck with regularly scheduled news documentaries, including Witness to Crime.
Holiday Programming Decisions
Aside from budget constraints, another factor in the networks’ flat-footed response was the long Thanksgiving holiday.
“Converging on this story was the fact that it was during perhaps the most unique and thorough American holiday of the calendar year,” says Fox News’ Stack.
Broadcast networks were loath to intrude on the feel-good Thanksgiving Day programming for significant reporting on a terrorist attack in another country.
So as Americans viewers were preparing for their Thanksgiving feasts, NBC’s Today co-hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira presided over the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving and the Macy’s parade is the Macy’s parade,” observes Rome Hartman, executive producer of BBC World News America. “But there was something slightly diffident about that being pretty much all you could find on American TV on Thursday morning.”
Hartman is a broadcast news veteran having spent many years at CBS News, most recently as executive producer of Evening News With Katie Couric. For the BBC’s networks here and abroad, Asia is a major priority.
“The BBC has long had very considerable news gathering resources there,” adds Hartman. “We have a very big audience in India for BBC World. So we have very significant and long-standing news gathering relationships there.”
CNN too has “a very sizable presence in New Delhi,” Maddox says. “It is one of our bigger international bureaus. In the past few months, we’ve opened up a Mumbai operation which is part of our content ownership plan because [Mumbai] is one of the places we identified as the economic powerhouse of India.”
Currently, CNN has a crew of 21 in Mumbai and many of them are likely to remain in place as the investigation into the attacks continues, says Maddox.
I have been following the CNN and other American channels during my tours to the asia pacific and middle East and i get the CNN at home in Mumbai too since i have a Dish Connection. What really saddens me is the fact that the channel specially CNN "Americanize" the issues which happen anywhere in the world - how it will affect US, how many US citizens died- the world knows US as the big brother and its ever helping nature and influence in the world economy and other interests - after all its the largest economy and most developed nation- but does that mean other world countries have no issues greater than what exist in the US? then why mis lead the American people who do not get credible news about what happens outside US and Canada!! well fact is there is more to CNN reporting that happens out there - ask us - common people - CNN viewers, Terror victims - we have full sympathy and sorrow for Americans who died and we have also lost many of our own and also foreign tourists who we treat as God when they visit us. CNN has a major task of detaching itself from becoming too "americanized" and get global news by being Local to the environment they are reporting - the truth is out there.
Deepankar Gautam - 12/7/2008 2:48:00 AM EST
First we cut fat. Then, we cut the rest of the fat. Then, it's cut out muscle. Now we're getting out the bone saws. Staffing reductions may save some money, but the quality of the product at the antenna steadily declines. Viewers do take note, and they'll go where they can get what they need. This business is killing itself.
John Webber - 12/3/2008 4:39:00 PM EST
December 3, 2008
As the article notes, American TV News networks long ago cut foreign news resources. Foreign news was deemed an unnecessary and extravagant expense. The audience wasn't there, it wasn't interested, and the god of entertainment took precedence.
No matter that the world is changing. No matter that what happens on faraway shores may affect people faraway and do so for quite some time.
Once upon a time, broadcasting was seen as a public service. No longer.
Paul Kellogg - 12/3/2008 3:04:00 PM EST
Incredible that CNN would devote four people to inventing fake
holograms for election night ... and not have a fiber circuit in standby out
John McNary - 12/3/2008 12:15:00 PM EST
Kudos to all the reporters and international media on coverage of this most devastating and live event in history. I praise all the reporters who flew in from different parts of the world and who had to cut short their vacation to cover this event live.
Although I do agree that the Indian police department had not given a definitive information about the attackers,it must have been mostly because the Terrorists were well equipped and had probably live feed of whats going on outside and on the media.
What I fail to understand is why the American media repeatedly emphasized on Terrorists targeting Americans and westerners. Among the 180+ dead only about 27 were foreigners and about 7 were Americans. Does the western media not value the lives of the Indians lost in this gruesome act of terrorism?
The media both Indian and international should put more pressure on the government for a fruitful investigation and punish those behind this attack.
Although Pakistan denies hand in this,Indian government is confirm that it were the Pakistani Terrorist groups behind the attack.
Mumbai has been the target of terrorist attack since 1992 when a series of 13 bomb blasts rocked the city. The government couldn't do anything to punish those behind the attack then and neither will it do anything now.It was believed that Dawood Abrahim was involved then but he rightfully escaped to Dubai and hasn't been seen since then. Shouldn't the countries where these master minds are believed to be hiding co-operate?On pen and paper they say they do,but do they actually?
If Pakistan is behind the November 26th attacks,all but India can do is blame blame and blame un-till the media and the public is tired of hearing it and then everything will be back to normal.
US being an ally of both the nations,cannot pass judgment of its own. If this same attack had happened in American who America retaliate like it did during 9/11? Or would just send Ms.Rice to the country in question for peace negotiations? This is something to ponder upon!
Utpalvarna Gautam - 12/3/2008 9:26:00 AM EST
No related content found.
No Top Articles