OVER A COFFEE: From ghairat brigade to Maya brigade —Dr Haider Shah
Stuffing talk shows with personalities from a showbiz background for their face value rather than intellect is a dangerous trend. The ethics of research and reporting do not appear to be taught to the young zealots of our media outlets
The Mayan year 2012 is almost a month old now. I had stated in an earlier piece that I thought the Mayan prophecy had phoney origins. Nevertheless, the year 2012 could still prove catastrophic for Pakistan as Planet X (Mansoor) was on the trajectory of hitting our country. Luckily, the planet has changed its course and hopefully will miss us now. But I was little aware that a homegrown Mayan cataclysm would suddenly spring into action and rock the country.
In our Facebook-based Rationalist Society group, members usually only agree to disagree on various socio-political issues. However, last week they were all one in their condemnation of a morning show host Maya Khan and her brigade. I was a bit taken aback as morning shows are normally a nice blend of information, entertainment and education. But when I watched the video clips of the morning show programme posted on our group site, I also subscribed to their cause. Three reminiscences flashed back to me after watching the show. First, it reminded me of the painful hunting scene from nature documentaries in which a poor hare is chased relentlessly by a pack of wolves and ultimately devoured. The hapless couples in the park chased by the Maya-led horde did not look much different from the defenceless hare.
Second, the show reminded me of a movie that I had watched many years ago. It was based on the real life story of two cadaver (corpse for anatomy) supply criminals: Burke and Hare, who operated from the abject squalor of one of Edinburgh’s worst slum areas of the 19th century. The two entrepreneurs started off by supplying the corpse of an old tenant to Dr Knox of University of Edinburgh to reclaim the debt the dead tenant owed them. As the two got a taste for this easy wealth from an accidental transaction, they looked for further opportunities to exploit. Like vultures, they started spotting old and abandoned persons and would bring them to their lodging for letting them die and realising profit from the corpse supply to Dr Knox. Soon, instead of waiting for natural death, they started suffocating their drunk victims to death for a quicker delivery. The local populace was uneasy over the disappearance of many residents and finally the police arrest the criminals when one day a student of the university is murdered by the two criminals and his corpse is supplied to the medical school. Dr Knox, who had turned a blind eye to the activities of the criminals, also sees his career ruined in the end.
In many ways our electronic media is acting like Hare and Burke with impunity. Many commentators rightly complain that if you have a black gun or a black camera in your hand, you are then a law unto yourself in Pakistan. Beginning with vigilantism against some anti-social elements, now the private spaces of citizens are being targeted. The overwhelming outrage against hounding of park-goers by the Mayan brigade is therefore a pleasant surprise. It is encouraging to see that the social media and civil society played a positive countervailing role in putting a brake on the unchecked onslaught of camera-wielding desperados. Bold sting operations to uncover the corrupt practices of the military by Tehelka magazine (http://www.tehelka.com) in India is one thing, and turning human misery into a saleable commodity for credit ratings by our TV channels is another. The black camera should be used for the former while the latter should be strictly a no-go area.
The third reflection pertains to the recent phone hacking scandal in the UK. The investigative reporters of the News of the World tabloid breached privacy laws and used phone hacking to come up with scoops. The paper, once considered to be the most influential tabloid of the Murdoch family-controlled media empire, had to be shut down in the wake of a public outcry. Many arrests followed and the case is being investigated for the involvement of owners and editors of the paper. The Maya brigade breached fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, namely inviolability of dignity of man, freedom of movement and non-discrimination in respect of access to public places. While bulldozing these rights of the park visitors, the media team of Samaa TV morning show prima facie also committed the offence of assault or criminal force with intent to dishonour a person under Section 350 of the Pakistan Penal Code. The offence is punishable with a prison term of two years or fine or both.
The delinquent TV channel after sounding remorseless for some time finally caved in as the wave of public discontent kept menacingly growing. A feeble apology has been aired by the channel believing it would suffice. Now it is a question for the honourable courts to determine whether a suo motu notice for the possession of liquor bottles in privacy is a more befitting case than this dishonouring of human dignity in public and then presenting it as entertainment to millions of viewers. At a macro level, the incident raises many worrying questions about the haphazard mushroom growth of the electronic media. Stuffing talk shows with personalities from a showbiz background for their face value rather than intellect is a dangerous trend. The ethics of research and reporting do not appear to be taught to the young zealots of our media outlets. When rape victims are asked senseless questions like “how do you feel after rape?”, the level of training and quality of reporting in the electronic media is not difficult to assess. Perhaps it is high time the electronic media got its act together. From Hare and Burke to News of the World, every criminality has its day.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org