Behind the scenes: How to tell the story when the action was taking place elsewhere

Some of the journalists were on duty for 17 hours.

Salman Siddiqui May 23, 2011


They fired their first RPG at the aircraft on the tarmac at around 10:40 pm on Sunday. The DSNG vans of several media outlets and ambulances arrived at the spot fifteen minutes later, since initially there was confusion that a bomb blast had taken place on Dalmia Road near the Millennium Mall.

When everyone, including the media and law-enforcement authority vans of the Pakistan Rangers and police mobiles converged at the gate of the PAF Museum, half a dozen navy personnel positioned there refused to let them in.

Abdul Sattar Edhi emerged out of the blue and walked to the gate only to be told rudely that his 30 ambulances were not needed. There was an ongoing competition between the ambulance services, including the Khidmat-e-Khalq Foundation. All of them had parked dozens of their vehicles outside the main gate, obstructing traffic.

None of the journalists had helmets or bullet-proof vests, but that didn’t stop them from taking unnecessary risks for a better shot. Even though the media was barred from entering the base, it didn’t stop many excited reporters and cameramen from positioning themselves on top of their vans in order to get a shot of the planes going up in flames as they gave a live beeper. However, at several points during the night, the entire area surrounding the base would erupt with gunfire and sounds of loud explosions. At one point, bullets from inside hit the perimeter walls outside where the entire media was stationed. It was only then that several media men would jump down their vans and take cover.

There were many moments of silence during the night that would give the impression that the encounter had perhaps come to an end, which would tempt reporters and cameramen to come close to the gate and try to take a peek over the wall. But then out of the blue, the gunfire would erupt again and everyone had to lie down on the ground.

Apart from media men there were several spectators who would park their motorcycles and cars in the middle of the road. This also gave an opportunity to several TV reporters to get a slot for their vox pops.

Since no one had access to go inside the base, many journalists were found speculating over the unfolding chaos. Some thought the terrorists actually landed on the base on a helicopter since none of the eight gates of the bases had shown any signs of forced entry or resistance. Others were convinced that India had a hand in the incident. Many knew exactly which building had been taken over by terrorists and how many people had been held hostage inside without moving an inch from their spot outside the gate.

On and off, after every few minutes one could feel the explosions taking place inside amid the sounds of machinegunfire. Each time one heard the blast, reporters would debate whether it was a grenade or a suicide bomber making it to heaven. The next day, the gun fire stopped after 10 am and reporters waited in the sweltering heat for Rehman Malik or Admiral Noman Bashir to formally announce the end of the operation.

The heat forced many to seek the limited shade of the trees. Some foreign journalists arrived from Islamabad and were sweating it out in the hopes for catching some action. But at the end they too left disappointed when Rehman Malik instead of speaking to the media outside the gate, left for CM House to give details of the operation at around 5 pm on Monday.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2011.


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