A morning show broadcast in Pakistan on Jan 17, 2012, on Samaa, a Pakistani television channel, has catalysed what could well be the beginning of a media consumer rights movement.
In the show, Subah Saverey Maya kay Sath (Early Morning with Maya), the host Maya Khan, charges through a public park looking for dating couples to interrogate. With her is a battalion of other women, who join her in self-righteously lecturing the couples they come across – does your family know you are here, why don’t you meet at home if you are engaged, and, most outrageously, if you are married, where is your nikahnama (marriage certificate)?
When the harassed couples ask for the camera to be turned off, the Samaa team pretends to acquiesce but carries on filming with sound. As several people have pointed out, this intrusive behaviour could result in putting those couples in life-threatening situations in a country where forced marriages and ‘honour killings’ continue to be the norm.
As Youtube links to the show were shared on facebook and twitter, the outrage grew. People were shocked at the level of intrusion and vigilantism on display. From India, came comments on twitter about the Saffron vigilante brigade that has been known to drag couples into temples and force them into instant marriage. Which reminded me that the mentality we are protesting is not limited to Pakistan – see my article ‘Peaceful Pink Panties to Tame Right-Wing Goons‘ about the Sri Ram Sene goons in India. This was in 2009 but I hear they’re gearing up again against Valentines Day… Of course it’s always the poor, who can’t meet in secure hotels and cafes, who are always most vulnerable against this kind of moral policing.
Maya Khan’s antics on Samaa TV triggered off several articles and reports – starting with blogger Mehreen Kasana letting rip in her post (with doodles) An Open Letter to Maya Khan, Jan 22, 2012.
But most importantly, the outrage was channelized into a loosely organised protest. On Jan 22, lawyer Osama Siddique drafted a brief letter expressing outrage at the :highly intrusive, invasive and potentially irresponsible behavior on the part of the host – a kind of vigilantism no different than the Lal Masjid variety” (referring to the black-robed women armed with sticks called the Hafza Brigade, associated with the Red Mosque in Islamabad, who went around beating up and terrorizing women whose behaviour or looks they deemed ‘immoral’ or ‘unIslamic’).
The letter protested this moral policing, and pointed out that “this kind of programming is likely to also lead to legal action for violation of dignity of man under the Constitution – which legal action we as signatories will support, propagate and promote.” It demanded an end to “this irresponsible programming”.
A group of citizens emailed the letter to the Samaa head Zafar Siddiqi (President CNBC Pakistan, with which Samaa is affiliated), and an expatriate Pakistani in California, Ali Abbas Taj, uploaded it to Change.org as an petition titled STOP “Subah Saverey Maya kay Sath” vigilantism like Lal Masjid.
Within 24 hours, the online activism had the following unexpected effects:
* In about 24 hours, there were over 2000 signatures, and by the following day 4,800 people, in Pakistan and around the world, had endorsed it.
* Samaa TV pulled off Youtube links of the show, but some people have managed to download and save it as evidence in case it is needed for future action.
* Maya Khan’s facebook page was closed, probably in response to the number of comments being made on it. Some of those comments were highly abusive and threatening, which we condemn and have nothing to do with.
* Maya Khan on her show of Jan 23, 2012 acknowledged that what she did could have hurt people and said that was not her intention – but she has not apologised, and appears completely unrepentant and unaware of the dangers of her actions.
* CEO Samaa TV Zafar Siddiqi wrote back to the people who had emailed him saying: ”I have travelled to Khi to look at this matter and yesterday Maya apologised in her program for this. I can assure this will never happen again. Samaa is a progressive channel.
“There are certain other directives that have been put into place as of yesterday.
“I thank everyone concerned in bringing this matter to my attention. It’s really appreciated.”
The citizens’ response:
* We do not accept Maya Khan’s statement in hershow of Jan 23 as an apology. Nor are we satisfied with Mr Siddiqi’s attempts to placate us. We want an unconditional, public apology from both Maya Khan and Samaa TV.
* We do not hold Maya Khan solely responsible for her actions; it is the producer and channel owner who set policy and allow this kind of programming to happen. We want to know what steps are being taken and what policy directives given to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
* Maya Khan should apologise publically not just to viewers but also to the couples she harassed in the park.
* There’s also outrage against a 2010 moral policing show by ARY reporter Yasir Aqeel, who is if possible even more offensive than Maya Khan, and takes harassment to another level. We protest these intrusive tactics by TV channel owners to boost ratings by harassing peaceful, law-abiding citizens.
* We would like to know what ethical guidelines TV channel owners and producers are setting down to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
* We are in contact with the commercial sponsors of television shows and will impress upon them the need to pull advertising from programmes and channels that violate basic media ethics.
BOTTOM LINE: Media is not a business like any other. It carries greater responsibility and we want its workings to be transparent and ethical.
A college student in Karachi, started a facebook ‘cause’ on Jan 24 demanding that Maya Khan apologise to the youth of Pakistan, especially Karachi
Some activists began an sms campaign, sharing Zafar Siddiqi’s Dubai cell number with this message: Please send this sms to Mr. Zafar Siddiqui, CEO SAMAA TV if you want to raise your voice against the moral policing by Maya Khan: “Dear Mr Siddiqi, pardon the intrusion. I’m part of a citizens’ group protesting Samaa TV and its host Maya Khan’s irresponsible ‘moral policing’. We expect an unconditional apology, and this show withdrawn or at least suspended until new parameters are worked out. Thank you. “
It hasn’t all been about anger and outrage though. Predictably, Pakistanis have derived considerable mirth from the situation, some of it rather unkindly expressed. There’s this outrageous post by Urooj Zia: Things Maya Missed (relevant to my Pink Chaddis report for IPS linked above).
Graphics were created – Park signs saying “Beware of dog – and Maya Khan” (unkind, yes, but then, people are angry).
This was a funny one by arif iqbal@eusuphxai – a still from the old Indian film “Bobby” with the famous song “Hum tum aik kamre mein band hon…” with the next line changed to “Aur Maya aa jaye” (the original line can be translated as: “what if we were locked up in a room… and the key got lost” – changed to: “… and Maya turned up”
There have also been some really nasty shares, including videos of Maya dancing, and an animation in which she gets slapped, but let’s ignore those for now, with just this comment, that we do not condone abusive language, personal insults or threats of violence.
There have been some thought-provoking articles and reports about the issue:
Wusatullah Khan in BBC Urdu website, Jan 22, 2012: ‘Aap tau naib khuda hain’
BBC Urdu report, Jan 23, 2012: ‘TV channel ka anti-dating squad’
BBC Urdu Radio report, Jan 24, 2012: ‘Sawerey ka chapa’ par sakht tanqeed’ – Samaa senior producer Sohail Zaidi rejects civil society concerns, defends show, saying, “I am not answerable to anyone”.
Vigil-aunties (a term coined by Anthony Permal) by Bina Shah, Jan 24, 2012: ‘At the very least, the channel and the anchorperson owe an apology, if not compensation, to those two individuals who had hurt nobody on that day when they were ambushed and harassed by the television anchor and her Moral Aunty Brigade. The irony is that she describes herself on her Facebook page as “very fair and honest in her dealings”. I think that girl in the niqab, crying in the park, and her blameless friend, as well as any sane person with a conscience and a respect for other people’s privacy, would beg to differ.’
In the parks of Karachi, by Ejaz Haider, Jan 24, 2012 - “From the terrible scarcity of information we now have a nauseating excess of it.”
On Media ethics and responsibility - Afia Salam and Faisal Qureshi’s online talk show 247, they discussed the need for a legal framework.
p.s. Well before this issue blew up, Hosh media, which aims to bridge the gap between online and mainstream media, sat down with veteran journalist and former Editor of Dawn, Abbas Nasir to initiate “a crash course in some of the stickiest subjects that journalism in Pakistan now faces”. Four of the six part series are online at the Hosh website, that Sahar Habib Ghazi wrote about at The great ethics debate (published Jan 23, 2012).
Updates will continue to be posted on the petition link. Watch this space.
On Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 12:05 AM, <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I have travelled to Khi to look at this matter and yesterday Maya apologised in her program for this. I can assure this will never happen again. Samaa is a progressive channel.
There are certain other directives that have been put into place as of yesterday.
I thank everyone concerned in bringing this matter to my attention. It's really appreciated.
Chairman CNBC Arabiya
Chairman CNBC Africa
President CNBC Pakistan
On Jan 27, 2012, we wrote:
Dear Mr. Siddiqi,
We deeply appreciate your prompt reply and assurance that the kind of show broadcast on Jan 17, 2012, Subh Sawerey Maya ke Saath on Samaa TV will not take place again.
We also appreciate your moral courage in ensuring that Samaa TV made a public, unconditional apology broadcast on Jan 24, 2012. However, we cannot accept Ms. Maya Khan's words broadcast that morning as an apology. She said she was sorry 'if' she had hurt anyone's feelings without any acknowledgement that what she and her team did was wrong, like lying to people, filming them without consent, making fun of aggrieved couples after chasing them, and demanding their nikahnamas. In fact, her nonchalant attitude and words only compounded social and emotional wounds of the aggrieved citizens as she clearly lacked seriousness and genuine concern for the people and families she has caused harm through her deceitful, defamatory, intrusive and invasive programming, a value which is in complete contrast to your assertion that Samaa TV is a channel with progressive values.
To add salt to the wound, speaking to the New York Times on Tuesday, Jan 24, 2012 (the same day as Samaa broadcast her `apology') Ms. Maya Khan `rejected her critics, calling them "an elite class that don't even watch my show," and said the show merely intended to highlight the dangers that unaccompanied youths face in Karachi'." (NYT, Jan 26, 2012 - http://nyti.ms/wmKAKh).
In your email to us you say, "There are certain other directives that have been put into place as of yesterday" (ie Jan 23, 2012). Such directives need to be made public.
Subsequent to our correspondence with you, we have been made aware of other programmes broadcast earlier as part of this appalling morning show series, in which Maya Khan pits mothers and daughters and harangues young girls in the most indecent way along with her team (as in this show of Oct 2011 - http://youtu.be/gsaBNGc7zKE). There are probably many other shows that you probably have not yet seen and will be horrified, as we were, on seeing, that objectify women `Beti ka Achar -http://youtu.be/uHMuaF5eeVA) and put them at real risk of being killed for `honour' (`Beti ki kari' - http://youtu.be/gsaBNGc7zKE). We do not accept the disclaimers that ran in some of these programmes that Samaa TV is not responsible for the content.
In the absence of genuine apology and information about corrective policy directives, and compensation to affected families, we will have to conclude that Samaa TV is not sincere in its apology, and plans to continue with programming that blatantly violates the constitutional rights of Pakistani citizens as well as basic journalistic ethics and constitutes a case of journalistic malpractice.
In that case, it will become incumbent upon us as conscientious citizens of Pakistan to broaden our movement until corrective policies are put in place and made public along with a visible, genuine and unqualified apology from Ms Maya Khan, specifically taking back her words and actions and accepting her misconduct, not just with regards to the show of Jan 17, 2012 but also for previous shows in which she has disrespected families, media consumers and viewers alike.
We, the undersigned, as well as the over 5,000 signatories of the online petition (http://bit.ly/zRmPNZ) that has been communicated to you, are ready to lobby with corporations (and their international offices if need be), that are advertising on SAMAA TV, asking them to look into this issue before advertising with this programme and channel. We also reserve the right to approach of these brands if the need arises.
However, judging by your prompt response and by the apology broadcast on Samaaat your behest, it appears that you, Mr Zafar Siddiqi, while being genuinely well-meaning, have been misled by your producers (your senior producer Sohail Zaidi, for example, defended the programme and told BBC Urdu Radio that he was not answerable to anyone - http://bit.ly/xMc8sY).
Therefore we urge you to:
1. Make public the written corrective directives and guidelines that have been put in place, proactively leading by example as a channel with conscience which is reponsible and cares about its viewers and their sentiments.
2. Ensure a serious, genuine and unqualified apology from Ms. Maya Khan in which she accepts her deliberate misconduct and violation of the affected people, families, media consumers, viewers and the law.
3. Take this appalling show `Subh Sawery Maya ke Saath' off air, as its very premise is based on the concept of moral policing and interference in people's personal lives.
4. Ensure that Ms Maya Khan and all your other reporters, producers and hosts comply with the new directives in future, whether they are part of the news team or the entertainment team.
Samaa TV has many credits to its name that we appreciate. As media consumers, we genuinely want to see this channel realise its potential as a truly progressive channel. We assure you that we will support you in the mission to translate quality into greater viewership based on dignity, fairness, respect and equal rights, not tainted by substandard hosts and programming. You may want to have a look at the code of conduct guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists, to consult while drafting their own guidelines: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
Ali Kazmi, Student, Islamabad
Ali Taj, Hedge Fund manager, Winchester Fund, Cerritos, California
Ally Adnan, Director, Huawei technologies, Dallas, TX
Amna Chishty, marketing consultant, Canada
Asadullah Khan, Head of Programming, Capital TV, Islamabad
Asif Alam, Financial Services Executive, New York, NY, USA
Asif Sattar, Admin Operations at Kiers Facilities Ltd, Slough, England
Dr Awab Alvi, Orthodontist & Social media Activist, Karachi
Beena Sarwar, journalist, Cambridge MA/ Karachi, Pakistan
Danielle Gehrmann, linguist, Sydney, Australia
Hassan Turi, student, Agricultural university, Peshawar
Syed Hussein El-Edroos, Business Development & Training Manager, Islamabad
Prof. Dr. Ijaz Khan, Chairman, Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
Dr Kamran Iqbal, Self Employed · Karachi, Pakistan
Kamyla Marvi, Citizen, Karachi Pakistan
Meera Ghani, Concerned Citizen, Lahore
Mira Hashmi, film critic and teacher, Lahore
Mohsin Sayeed, journalist, Karachi
Muhammad Faraz Faheem, Senior Software Engineer, Karachi, Pakistan
Munnazir Aziz, video producer, Lodhran, Pakistan
Nadia Fazal Jamil, actor, Lahore, Pakistan
Nadir El-Edroos, teacher, London, UK.
Naheed Tofiq Mooraj, Proprietor of Candle Works, Karachi
Naziha Syed Ali, journalist, Karachi
Nighat Daad, advocate, Lahore
Noman Quadri, concerned citizen, Karachi
Dr. Osama Siddique, Law Professor, Lahore
Rabia Akhtar. PhD candidate, Kansas State University, USA/Rawalpindi, Pakistan
Raza Bashir, corporate banking, Karachi, Pakistan
Saadia Toor, professor, New York,
Sahar Habib Ghazi, Journalist, Palo Alto, California
Shah Hayat Ahmad, Citizen, Karachi, Pakistan
Saba Hamid, actor, Lahore, Pakistan
Sabiha Alwy, Educational Psychologist, New York
Shah Nawaz, student, Memon Goth, Malir, Karachi
Shayan Afzal Khan, concerned citizen, Islamabad
Siraj Khan, Financial Executive, Boston MA USA
Tammie Mahmud, Trainer & Education Program Developer, Boca Raton, FL