The city of love has faced terror twice in the last eleven months and NDTV’s Paris Correspondent Noopur Tiwari has been at the heart of reporting these brutal shootings. First the Charlie Hebdo incident in January 2015 and then just recently the massive attack at the Bataclan Theatre and three other locations in the French capital where a series of coordinated terrorist attacks, consisting of mass shootings, suicide bombings, and hostage-taking, occurred in Paris. Tiwari shares what goes through a journalist’s mind reporting on terror incidents such as these, how one deals with religious sensitivities and keeps reportage fair and factual.
Describe your feelings when you first went on the street to cover the aftermath of the Paris Attacks 13/11?
Noopur: When your city is under attack, a sense of grief and helplessness can cripple you. So you have to use the adrenalin to fuel your sense of duty not fear. As a person who should tell the story to those wanting to hear it from you, it’s the obvious thing to do. I was not the only journalist reporting this so I also took cues from local journalists who were better equipped in terms of resources and information to see where they were going. Once you are out there, your focus shifts to being alert to all that you see and hear. I was all alone all night and most of the afternoon following the attack, so I had to focus on taking everything I need to stay out all night and last efficiently. I was worrying about mundane stuff such as taking the lightest tripod, keeping extra batteries, going to a spot where I know there will be a mobile network. Many said they were worried for me and that I should be cautious. I told them I had an entire city with me. We are all just as safe or not. It isn’t useful to worry about something you can’t control.
The more sensitive aspect of a story that involves a terror group that calls itself “Islamic” is to not give in to any hysteria and make sure nothing you are saying fuels Islamophobia
As a reporter, what kind of restraint do you exercise when out on a sensitive assignment like this?
Noopur: There are broadly 3 elements that I felt I could draw on for my report. The atmosphere, the response of authorities and the context. I tried to make sure I wasn’t getting carried away by any one of these. The more sensitive aspect of a story that involves a terror group that calls itself “Islamic” is to not give in to any hysteria and make sure nothing you are saying fuels Islamophobia. Although am not sure if that’s ever possible given that the mere fact of reporting a terror attack can lead to people making lazy and dangerous conclusions. As for the risk of giving away sensitive information, journalists were kept far enough to not really be able to see anything much- only hear the shooting and explosions. So the lockdown made sure we were depending on police sources, those closer to the action reporting to the media etc. My friend was smsing me from 5am onwards from an apartment close to where the St Denis operation was going on. For my reporting I had to filter out details such as her identity and her location and remain slightly vague.
Many said they were worried for me and that I should be cautious. I told them I had an entire city with me. We are all just as safe or not. It isn’t useful to worry about something you can’t control.
Terror attacks are underlined by religion – how do you sensitise to reporting on the same without being sensational or hurting sentiments?
Noopur: By not forgetting that those who really practice religion don’t believe terrorists belong to their religion at all. By not speaking for a community but trying as far as possible to get them speak on their own behalf. By also speaking of the strong undercurrents of other forms of violence that are more difficult to recount. By not letting grief overwhelm you. And by repeatedly asking- what I am saying now, is it reasonable?
We stayed away from victims and their loved ones for obvious reasons.
Given that many are suggesting this attack was similar to the Mumbai Taj Attack, were you able to draw upon some of the reporting lessons learnt there?
Noopur: I prefer not to draw comparisons as I did not report those attacks. We stayed away from victims and their loved ones for obvious reasons. I did speak to a victim’s brother in Paris. We found him near Bataclan, sitting in a cafe terrasse, sobbing. We had a long chat with him. He had traveled from far and was alone so we took the time to console him. Before moving on we asked him if he could say something on camera or not. He said yes.
At the back of my mind I was saying “If shooters arrive here, I will have to stop so as not to risk the lives of dozens of people hiding under tables around me”
As a reporter on a difficult assignment what precautions do you take as a woman?
Noopur: None. In situations such as this one, it’s men of colour who are more susceptible to be treated as potential suspects by security forces. But as any other journalist would- I thought of getting as close as possible but also to remain at a safe distance -I can be more useful staying alive and more responsbile by not interfering with the work of those tackling suspects. When there was a major scare in Place de la Republique over a false alarm of an attack, we were charging our batteries along with my journalist colleague Rahul Venkit, who agreed to help me by doing camera. When we were herded by cafe owners into a dark space, the first thing I did was call my Delhi head office to say I could do a phone live. Rahul was separated from me but continued taking shots with his phone. But at the same time at the back of my mind I was saying “If shooters arrive here, I will have to stop so as not to risk the lives of dozens of people hiding under tables around me”.
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