Covering the plight of Suaad Hagi Mohamud

Suaad Haji Mohamud (CBC) photo)

Suaad Haji Mohamud (CBC photo)

Kudos to the Toronto Star for going the extra 7,500 miles (about 12,000 kilometres) to cover firsthand the extraordinary plight of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, the Canadian citizen and Toronto resident detained in Kenya for three months after she was falsely accused of passport fraud. The Star’s national security reporter, Michelle Shephard, was in the courtroom in Nairobi today to file a story minutes after Judge Stella Muketi dismissed all charges against Mohamud.

The Globe and Mail, by comparison, hired freelancer Zoe Alsop to cover the story from the Kenyan capital, splicing her prose with Canadian Press wire copy. The National Post assigned a domestic staffer to assemble the story. Canadian Press, likewise, cobbled together their reports using its staff, member news organizations and other wires as sources. Both CBC and CTV used wire services and other news sources to put together their early stories.

The Nairobi assignment must have been a mixed blessing for Shephard, who has been staying on top of the Omar Khadr story for years and has authored a book on him, titled Guantanamo’s Child. In dropping into Nairobi from another assignment in Europe, Shephard was forced to miss this morning’s ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal, which affirmed an earlier court decision compelling the Harper government to press for Khadr’s release. In an age of instant communication, however, she may well weigh in on it and share a byline before tomorrow’s editions.

Three other things to note about this story of bungling by Canada’s foreign affairs department:

• It was originally broken by The Star’s John Goddard last month, based on information fed to him by sources.
• Today’s events demonstrate how agile and multidimensional some large newsrooms have become. In what may be a Canadian first, a broadcaster today aired video on a breaking foreign news story shot by a newspaper. This morning, the CBC aired video of Mohamud’s release, shot by The Star’s Lucas Oleniuk, who accompanied Shephard to Kenya.
• It takes the reach and pocket depth of major news organizations to do some stories. With apologies to diehard fans of social media who claim that a paradigm shift has rendered big legacy media mute, impotent or irrelevant, no amount of Twittering, Facebooking or crowdsourcing would have permitted this story to be told with urgency, context and depth it needed. Some stories require trained journalists in agile boots on far-away ground.

Update: Turns out Shephard was, in fact, on assignment to Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, when the call came to make the side trip to Nairobi. She was working on her amazing visit with Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the former Guantanamo Bay prisoner famous for having been a driver for Osama bin Laden. Shephard’s feature, accompanied by Oleniuk’s photography, appears today (Aug. 17).

Update 2 (Aug. 21): Mohamud has filed a civil suit against the federal government for $2.5 million in damages and is demanding an inquiry be held (see the Toronto Star story). Can you say Maher Arar?

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