New Delhi, July 6: India TV reporters who have been covering the Uttarakhand disaster and its aftermath for the last 18 days relentlessly have earned plaudits from the media for their daring and courageous efforts to bring reality to millions of viewers in their homes.
Writes The Economic Times: "India TV's Manjeet Negi was among the first TV reporters to land in Kedarnath when he hitched a chopper ride there on June 21, days after flash floods wreaked havoc in the valley.
"Having seen the devastation first-hand, Negi was amazed when the state administration claimed the very next week that the area had been cleared and regular prayers will resume at the temple.
"Negi knew it couldn't be true. So he trekked last weekend for three days from Guptkashi with cameraman Vijay Mamgain, over 50 km through slippery mountains, sometimes barefoot, to avoid slipping and falling hundreds of metres into the Mandakini.
"When he reached, he filmed the decomposing corpses still lying scattered around the temple complex being eaten by dogs and vultures. Nothing had been cleared. Nobody was around. He survived on abandoned rations in an Army tent.
"When he came back to Guptkashi on Wednesday in an IAF chopper and uplinked the footage on Wednesday, it embarrassed the state no end.
"My editor-in-chief called me and congratulated me. He said we had made history and that the office had been worried about our safety," Negi said. It was the first time this year that his editor-in-chief had picked up the phone and called him."
The newspaper further writes: "For Negi and other TV reporters, the Uttarakhand tragedy presented an opportunity to push the envelope and build street credibility in a crowded and competitive business that affords few opportunities to differentiate themselves.
"It was the biggest natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami and was a compelling story for TV with grieving relatives, a gushing river and flattened buildings.
"But it was also tough to report. TV reporters have to worry about equipment and the location of the outdoor broadcasting van that transmits their reports.
"The Indian Air Force flew reporters in the early days after the tragedy, but as the media scrum began to interfere with rescue operations, it stopped the practice. "It was very dangerous to have reporters all over the Jolly Grant airport.
"They run around all over and are generally indisciplined. One reporter almost walked into the whirring blades of a Bell helicopter. Then we decided it was better not to fly reporters," said an IAF official, who refused to speak on record.
"The private choppers, many say, were under unofficial instructions from the state administration not to fly TV reporters to hotspots such as Kedarnath. When the Air Force chopper crashed on June 25, reporters were still hitching rides in IAF helicopters.
"A reporter could easily have been on the ill-fated chopper. The IAF put a total stop to flying journalists after the crash.
"With most mobile networks non-functional in the region, families and colleagues of reporters spent a harrowing time trying to verify if they were safe. Because reporters had little time to prepare and were practically plunged into the deep end, close shaves were inevitable.
"India TV reporter Nitish Chandra was trying to record a piece-to-camera on air inside a Mi-17 operated by the Indian Army when the large chopper lunged to a side. He narrowly escaped being flung out of the open back door.
"After a stern instruction from Army officials, he took care to wear the safety belt even when recording a so-called P2C. But the risks were worth it for those who pipped the pack in television news' relentless obsession with being the first."