Four corners: investigation or self-promotion?

October 3, 2007

On July 2, an Indian doctor working in Queensland was arrested at the Brisbane airport while he was about to emplane for India. Dr Mohammed Haneef was accused of providing material aid to the perpetrators of a terrorist attack on Scotland's Glasgow airport. One of the men involved happened to be a cousin, who bore the name Kafeel.

By the end of the month, the case had seen numerous twists and turns and Haneef had been deported to India.

Briefly, Haneef was detained, then granted bail when he was charged; his visa was then cancelled by the immigration minister Kevin Andrews. Following this, he was held in a jail but then the case against him collapsed. He then opted to go back to India as he could not stay on in Australia.

Andrews claimed to have some secret information that justified all the hullabaloo but repeated leaks by lawyers and others left this good practising Cathiolic looking rather foolish. The Australian Federal Police was left with a sizeable amount of scrambled egg on its face and a new moniker - Keystone Kops.

Nearly two months later, on October 1, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Four Corners programme, with considerable fanfare, decided to focus on the good doctor - this supposedly being an investigation into the whole affair. What could be found out after repeated leaks by the defence, a court judgement, and some excellent reporting by one Hedley Thomas of The Australian newspaper was, of course, open to question.

Coming so long after Haneef was sent back, one could not have been faulted if one expected some startling new finding to surface as a result of this investigation - else commissioning such a programme could only be seen as a sop to some reporter or else a foolish waste of taxpayer resources.

There was nothing new in the programme. Nothing. In fact, despite practically everything about the case being on the public record, the ABC's ace reporter, Liz Jackson, managed to screw up on facts which have been available to world + dog for some time.

Jackson made some effort to portray this waste of taxpayers' money as "the first extended interview" with Dr Haneef. Alas, that was just window dressing for she got as far as did Tara Brown, the woman from Channel 9 who interviewed Haneef before he left Australia. (Channel 9 paid for that interview).

Brown and Jackson are two of a kind - for both, the person conducting the interview is more important than the subject and the camera is used accordingly. The postures adopted by the two have to be seen to be believed and the facial expressions they affect are just plain silly.

Jackson also erred on facts - even though these have been out in the open. For one she claimed that Haneef's admission that a secondary reason for his departure was his worry that he could be implicated in the Glasgow inquiry was something new.

Haneef had already made this admission to police.

Jackson also claimed that once Haneef had been told that the UK police were trying to contact him, he had tried to contact them thrice. Wrong again. On page 107 of the first police transcript of his interviews, one of the interviewing officers clearly states that he had noted from phone logs that Haneef had tried to contact the British police thrice between 3.08 and 3.29pm and again at 4.32pm, all on July 2.

Jackson's take was this: "Tony Webster was the British police officer Dr Haneef's aunt had told him to call, to sort out the SIM card issue. Haneef had stressed to the police at the time of his arrest that he had called Tony Webster's number three times, before heading for the airport. These police now knew this was true. They'd checked Haneef's phone log, and the UK calls were made at 3:08, 3:29 and 4:32pm, Brisbane time, but the calls were unsuccessful." This was wrong.

The entire programme, which ran over 45 minutes, was just a recapitulation of what had happened in July. For this, Jackson flew to Bangalore, no doubt with the intention of trying to milk the whole episode for some personal publicity. There was nothing to squeeze out of it - the cow's udders had gone dry a long time back.

If Jackson had had the commonsense to interview Haneef through an interpreter - his mother tongue is Urdu, the language spoken by Indian Muslims - then it is possible that something which had not been unearthed earlier would have come to light. But such an interview would have meant that the chances for those piercing stares and other sundry affectations that Jackson loves to adopt, no doubt to bolster her claim to being an "investigative" reporter, would have been minimised.

When one thinks in the vernacular and speaks in English, it is difficult to translate phrase and idiom. But then Jackson, the so-called veteran of investigative journalism, is unaware of this. As the ABC took more than two months to put this piece together, you would think that some serious consideration had been given to the programme. Alas, this appears to be just another adventure for Jackson to try and claim the limelight - as she has done repeatedly in the past.

And for good measure, Jackson missed the one piece of information that could be reasonably called somewhat new. By mid-September, the Bangalore police had concluded that there was no evidence that Kafeel had worked out a plan to bomb Glasgow airport.

According to a report in the electronic newsletter,, "the Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Lab had examined two computer discs belonging to Kafeel but could only find jihadi and political material. 'There are no clues on Kafeel's involvement with any banned or terrorist group,' a police official said."

This fact has not been widely reported in Australia. You'd think a person of such seniority, who claims to be an investigative reporter, would be able to unearth this little fact for a programme that ran two weeks later. You would be wrong. It really does the ABC's reputation little good.