From power cuts to PM tweet: Beyond clickbait, Dawood debacle underlines media’s poor Pak understanding

Indian media bumped off Dawood. Again. And things were so bad that even OpIndia put up a fact-check.

WrittenBy:Aban Usmani
A funeral photo frame with Dawood Ibrahim and a clickbaity headline quoting sources.

It wasn’t the first time that rumours of Dawood Ibrahim’s death set sections of the Indian media abuzz. And it was so bad that even OpIndia did a fact-check.

This is how it played out.

On Monday, sections of the media suggested that the underworld don was dead while many others claimed he had been poisoned and hospitalised on a floor with high security. 

Some opined that an internet shutdown in Pakistan was actually to keep news about Dawood’s death in check. Pakistani reports, meanwhile, read the internet curbs with former prime minister Imran Khan’s virtual rally the same day.

Zee News claimed that even a power cut in Karachi was cause enough for suspicion. “Pakistan mein kuchh to gadbad chal raha hai,” it said, seemingly ignorant of Pakistan’s electricity crisis.

The reportage around Dawood on Monday didn’t just point to the clickbaity nature of what passes off for exclusive news across the Indian media spectrum, but also the lack of an understanding about India’s immediate neighbourhood.

But before we proceed, let’s look at the primary sources behind the speculation.

An analyst, fake tweets, and anonymous sources

Among the most credible sources of information was a tweet from a fake account of Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar. While the original handle is anwaar_kakar, the fake tweet was by anwaar_kakkar. 

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“The messiah of humanity, dear to every Pakistani heart, our beloved his excellency Dawood Ibrahim, passed away due to poisoned by unknown. He breathed his last in a hospital of Karachi. May Allah grant him the highest position in Jannat,” read the fake tweet. 

Among those who published a report using this tweet as one of the sources was the Rajasthan Patrika website, among India’s most read news publications. The report claimed that Dawood had reportedly been poisoned and was in hospital.

But any journalist with an iota of understanding of Pakistan would’ve taken the language in the tweet with a pinch of salt. How could a Pakistani top brass that repeatedly distances itself from any news about the fugitive mourn his death and sing paeans to his contribution to humanity?

To keep up the traction, another headline on Rajasthan Patrika pointed to the “house arrest” of Dawood’s relative and former Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad. But Miandad later told the media that the news about his house arrest was wrong.

The second most important source was a YouTube video by Pakistani analyst Arzoo Kazmi, who, until the Dawood debacle, had only received prominence in India with her appearances on right-wing propaganda platform Jaipur Dialogues YouTube channel.

Kazmi claimed that she had received inputs that Dawood had been poisoned and that it’s possible that the restrictions on the internet are because of these reports. But, she added, “it’s possible that it might not be the case. But this is how it seems to be.”

Among those that circulated Kazmi’s claims, despite her lucid unsurety, were outfits such as India Today.

Third came the anonymous sources quoted by several organisations such as India Today and ABP News.

The headline on a “premium” report by ABP News read, “Is Dawood Ibrahim dead? India’s most wanted terrorist may have died after poisoning bid in Karachi: Sources”.

But, as a caveat, the opening sentences said that there had been no official confirmation so far.

As the hours passed by, the buzz around a possible death had given way to speculation about hospitalisation.

Times Now had two theories – that he is either hospitalised due to age-related ailments or had been poisoned – and two reporters. A reporter on the ground in Mumbai gave viewers updates on what the fugitive’s relatives earlier told the police. Another reporter in Srinagar told us about Pakistani state protection to Dawood citing sources.

Meanwhile, one of Dawood’s relatives, speaking to Republic TV, denied the claim that he had been poisoned.

But Zee News pointed to a “sudden power cut” in Karachi and an internet shutdown at the same time as “news” surfaced about Dawood’s death. The report also claimed that it was the Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan which could be behind these killings. Why? At the behest of the Pakistani army, to relieve the state of the economic and strategic burden these terrorists impose on it, it suggested.

Like Zee News, clickbaity headlines on Indian portals such as Dainik Jagran blamed the internet shutdown on Dawood.

In contrast, the point that the disruption of web services and social media in urban areas across Pakistan amid an online rally by former PM Imran Khan was not missed by major Pakistani portals, such as Dawn.

“Live metrics show a nation-scale disruption to social media platforms across #Pakistan, including X, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube,” stated internet watchdog Netblocks. 

But an official statement from Pakistan on the internet shutdown had not been made at the time this report was published. 

Speculation around elusive characters

In 2016, social media was abuzz with rumours that Dawood had developed gangrene in his legs, which might require amputation. Several media reports, including CNN-News18, suggested that India’s efforts to extradite him could be impacted due to the development.

IN 2017 too, there was speculation that the fugitive had either died of a tumour or a cardiac arrest.

Newslaundry had reported on how vast sections of the mainstream media had bumped off the don without any evidence, relying on anonymous sources.

CNN News18 had tweeted that there was no official announcement from Pakistan because it will put the country in a difficult position. This information came through unnamed sources.

News channels were dramatic in their coverage. ABP started a countdown to Dawood’s last breathwith their programme, “Dawood ki Antim saans par ABP ki nazar”.

While the initial reaction of most was to speculate on the basis of unverified sources quoted in the CNN News18 story and run headlines like, “Is Dawood Ibrahim dead” (Zee News), a few media organisations tried to check facts. And then, denial and clarifications began to pour in.

In 2020, there were claims that Dawood and his wife had succumbed to a Covid infection. 

But all of this speculation was later debunked.

This is also to do with how little of Dawood’s life remains documented, just like Taliban founder Mullah Omar – who, unlike Al Qaeda leaders, never had videos of his speeches and only two photographs in circulation. Dawood also has few old videos and photographs which are rehashed by the media each time such a rumour emerges.

Governments and Dawood

While Pakistan has repeatedly denied any knowledge of Dawood, the mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai blasts, India has time and again accused it of sheltering the fugitive like other terrorists. The underworld don is also accused of masterminding other attacks and faces multiple charges of money laundering and extortion. India and the US have also accused Dawood of financing terror groups including al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Amid pressure from global financial watchdog FATF, Pakistan had in 2020 issued two notifications announcing sanctions on key figures of terror outfits such as 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, and Dawood Ibrahim. Dawood’s address was mentioned as “White House, Near Saudi Mosque, Clifton” in Karachi. His other properties were listed as “House Number 37 - 30th Street - defence, Housing Authority, Karachi” and a “palatial bungalow in the hilly area of Noorabad in Karachi”.

But Islamabad later tried to distance itself from the addresses by saying that it was not the source of the information.

No official statement has been made on the speculation around Dawood so far.

Meanwhile, despite their many sources, the media is yet to secure a fresh visual of the fugitive, relying on pictures and videos from decades ago for the coverage on Monday.

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