Journalist | Writer | Analyst
16 April 2009
The pursuit of an exclusive is exhilarating but every reporter needs to be aware of the motivation of the source and the larger background. Otherwise she or he risks being taken for a ride, or missing the real story. The Hindustan Times of April 15 carried an exclusive lead ‘On eve of trial, 26/11 breakthrough in Europe’. The story tells us:
60-day global covert operation by Indian intelligence agencies leads to Pak Lashkar operative’s detention in Europe.
A secret, determined global effort by India to track down those involved in the
November 26 Mumbai attacks has borne fruit. Shahid Jamil Riaz, a key
Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) operative who handled financial transactions and was
among the core group of 26/11 conspirators, has been detained in a European
country, top officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs have told Hindustan
Riaz is likely to be brought to India by the end of this week, where he will be officially charged and arrested.
The breakthrough, indicating the global reach of the conspirators, comes on a day
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India had given “enough evidence” to
Riaz’s arrest will further strengthen the 26/11 case trial, which begins in a special court inside the high-security Arthur Road jail on Wednesday. The arrest will also validate India’s stand that Pakistani nationals were involved in the attack, which left 173 dead and more than 300 injured.
I had a sense of deja vu when I read the story in the morning and asked myself where I had come across the name of Riaz before. It turns out his name, or more precisely, his arrest, was announced by Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, at a press conference on April 13. The Hindu of 14 April quotes him as saying: “He said Pakistan’s probe into the Mumbai incident was continuing and another suspect, Shahid Jamil Riaz, had been arrested for facilitating monetary transactions in Karachi and planning the attacks.
Mr. Malik went on to say Riaz had been arrested from Karachi and was in Pakistani custody. The Daily Times of April 15 notes that he is from Bahawalpur and that the Anti-Terrorism Court II of Rawalpindi sent him to 14 days remand on April 14.
Even if the Ministry of Home Affairs in India wants to boast about “their” catch, the HT should have at least mentioned Rehman Malik’s statement. Better still, the reporter ought to have asked the Home Ministry ‘sleuths’ what the full story was.
For example, was Riaz arrested in Europe or in Pakistan, as Malik claimed?
If Riaz is in Pakistani custody, how could the MHA say he was going to be brought to India within the week? Until now, Pakistan has refused to extradite any of its citizens to India. So if the MHA says he is going to be sent across, that ought to have been the most important angle of the story, not his arrest, which was already old news.
It could well be that Riaz’s arrest is the result not of Indian sleuthing and pressure but Pakistani sleuthing. If that is so, it might suggest that something more complex is underway on the Pakistan side than most Indians are aware of.
Or it could be that Malik was lying, though that seems unlikely since Riaz has been remanded to custody.
Either way, the story was a wasted opportunity to ask a bunch of interesting questions to normally secretive officials who knew something more. All in pursuit of that elusive exclusive…
The story is a good example of poor anchoring, a standard malaise in India when an “exclusive” arrives on the desk. Since most “exclusives” take the form of a leak to a lucky reporter, the reporter herself cannot be blamed for not having the big picture. Ideally, such a story needs to be carefully parsed and examined by the reporters/editors who deal with the bigger picture subjects involved.