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Of metal clips & automatic rifles

india Updated: Jun 21, 2009 00:58 IST
Highlight Story

One metal clip in a MacDonald’s burger. The wrong number of automatic rifles in a report about the terror attacks.

Stories about both found place last week in Hindustan Times as front page “fliers” — articles that run across the page just below the masthead.

Were they examples of how well we fulfilled our role as a watchdog or did we sensationalise aberrations?

Let’s start with the burger story (Thursday, June 18).

A Bandra resident had told HT that her daughter had nearly choked on a metal clip while eating a MacDondald’s vegetarian burger they had ordered home from the fast-food chain’s Linking Road outlet, a story that the daughter’s friend backed up. The mother sent us photos of the burger and clip.

It was definitely a story. But how big? You could argue that it’s impossible for any organisation to be totally error-free, and that unless we were able to show that the incident pointed to a larger systemic problem, we should not have played it up so much.

In the end, what actually determined how we played the story was how MacDonald’s responded to it.

Despite several attempts by our reporters to elicit a response, no one from the company would come on record with a comment specifically about the incident. The only response the company finally sent us was a banal statement about its dedication to customers and quality.

If the company had at least said it would investigate the matter, it might have been quite different. Instead, the story also revealed something about MacDonald’s and thereby became something larger than just a tale about an isolated incident about a metal clip.

Next came the curious case of the nearly five lakh missing rifles (Friday, June 19). We learnt that the state government’s so-called “action-taken report” in response to the findings of the Pradhan Committee, (which had looked into the state’s
handling of the November 26 terror attacks) said that the police had bought 4,85,111 INSAS automatic rifles in 2007-2008.

Yet when we asked the current director-general of police where these were deployed, he told us the police had only 1,430 such rifles. What accounts for this glaring discrepancy?

Was it just a clerical error or something more sinister?

One could argue that we ought to have made a big deal of this only if, again, we could show that the error was the result of a more serious problem.

But we played it up because even if it turns out to be nothing more than a typing error, it does point to a lack of meticulousness, at the very least, on the part of the government.

Moreover, the story gains more importance, given the way the government has buried the Pradhan Committee report by refusing to make it public and making it a classified document.

Here again, the government’s lack of transparency about the report is as important as the discrepancy in the numbers.

It makes you even more suspicious about what it does or doesn’t do.

Sometimes, the context is as crucial as the story.