Posts Tagged ‘Media’

Maya Khan & the Art of Slacktivism

Slacktivists! Gah!

Ah, Slacktivists.

You know who I’m talking about. The Facebook users who ‘like’ every page calling for “Da Peaze in da Pakistan” and “We da true Pakis” and then blog angrily about how angry they are whilst tweeting under a pseudonym name like “Pakiz4Ever”. If I get another, “If you want peace and love in #Pakistan, RT this,” I will go Hulk on someone.

This phenomenon has risen as social media platforms have become increasingly more popular. The Express Tribune recently revealed some interesting statistics related to Pakistan and its presence on Facebook. According to the news outlet, over 6 million Pakistanis now use Facebook, making us #26 out of 213 countries that use the platform in the world. Given that internet penetration is just over 10%, Facebook usage is still relatively small (only 32.86% of the total online population), but the demographics are still significant (18-24 years, English-speaking, educated, “liberal”). Meanwhile, the use of Twitter has also increased significantly, though those numbers are harder to come by (one source noted it was over two million).

While I sometimes look upon Slacktivists with disdain & dripping snark (especially for those who do little more than ‘Like’ a page and feel like they are changing the world), there have been two recent cases for how social media activism can make a dent.

The Maya Khan Episode. Social Media: 1 | Vigil-Aunties: 0

For those of you living under a rock, blissfully unaware of Samaa Television‘s Maya Khan and the subsequent uproar, here is the breakdown. On Monday, Samaa TV fired newscaster Khan “after she led a self-styled moral crusade against dating couples that set off a furious public outcry,” reported the NY Times. These “vigil-aunties” (So p-unny! Ha! Ha!) essentially paraded around a park in Karachi, to ‘expose’ young unmarried couples on camera, even demanding to see a marriage certificate. After the show was broadcast on January 17th, “members of the liberal elite vented their fury on social websites at what they said was intrusion. Pakistan’s English-language media also took up the cause,” reported BBC NewsNosheen Abbas. Despite (two) public apologies by Maya Khan, the network dismissed her and her team and terminated the show. CNBC Pakistan (which owns Samaa) head Zafar Siddiqi said the company didn’t “absolve such behavior irrespective of ratings the show was getting.”

The Thori Si Bewafai Episode. Social Media: 1 | A Plus: 0

I first learned about the Thori Si Bewafai (A Little Unfaithfulness) show from Rabayl’s blog Obama Says Do More, in which she wrote about a reality television show on A Plus, a small entertainment channel, which claimed to use hidden cameras to intrude into real people’s personal lives and expose their alleged infidelities. Hosted by Shamoon Abbasi, the show is reminiscent of the ridiculously trashy American reality show, Cheaters. According to an online petition written by the newly created Citizens for Free & Responsible Media (CFRM),

The host of the show Shamoon Abbasi recently announced on his facebook page, that ‘Thori si bewafai’ is actually reenactments and involves paid actors. If in fact, Shamoon Abbassi’s statements are true, then the synopsis on your website and the programme itself, is a clear misrepresentation of the real nature of the show. But even if the programme is based on reenactments, the content of the show is dangerous; it encourages vigilantism and can lead to hate crimes.

Following the online petition and pressure, Abbasi quit the show, stating in a Facebook note, “I would like to clarify one last thing that myself was not comfortable doing this show in the first place and I AM QUITTING IT FOR THE SAKE OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE OFFENDED BY THE SHOW!! I apologize to any one who I may have offended.”

The show is now off the air. Another win for social media activism?

Yay and…ye-ay. While both the Maya Khan and the Thora si Bewafai debacles were examples of how social media can be used to pressure mainstream media outlets, it is more a means to an end than an end itself. Journalist Beena Sarwar noted that this campaign incorporated a multi-pronged strategy in which social media wasn’t the only tool used to put pressure on these outlets. According to Beena,

Zafar Siddiqi from CNBC Pakistan responded promptly and positively to an email endorsed by several signatories that included some known names. His response may also have been due to other actions that were being taken: a copy of the petition signed by over 5,000 people was sent to him. Many people also sms’d him and called the Samaa offices at numbers publicised by some activists, who also posted links to the Pemra feedback form that people used to post complaints to. The Chairman Pemra said in an interview that Pemra had received over 350 complaints about that particular show. In addition, there was a threat of legal action against Samaa TV and several activists had begun contacting corporations to lobby them to withdraw commercials from such shows (both actions were stopped after Mr Siddiqi’s second email responding positively to media consumers’ complaints, but both remain real possibilities for future campaigns).

Firings and getting shows that encourage intolerance and vigilantism off-air are a short-term fix, but they ultimately don’t solve the greater issue – the need for independent checks and balances on the media. While Pakistan’s electronic media boom has been an important phenomenon, there also needs to be measures to curb that rein, so that it remains (relatively) responsible. Sahar Habib Ghazi wrote recently for Dawn, “My appeal is that we cannot lose steam with the [Maya Khan] parks episode. We have to continue to build pressure for all news channels to realize that they cannot afford to sacrifice ethical standards for ratings and money.”

For those of us who crowed that Maya Khan was a victory for social media, remember that pressure via platforms may help achieve one-off victories, but they do not cut to the root of the problem. Social media activism, while a tool, can’t achieve that end – it’s too simplistic, too microscopic. As long as you are aware of that limitation, then we’re cool. But if you ask me to RT for Peace, I’ll go Hulk.

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RIP Saleem Shahzad

Source: Washington Post

On Sunday, Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad  went missing in Islamabad. Yesterday, news agencies reported that Shahzad’s body was found about 93 miles southeast of the capital, in Sira-e-Alamgir. In the aftermath of this tragic and shocking death, the question, Who killed Saleem Shahzad? continues to echo in the halls of the blogosphere and news outlets. While nothing is certain, many fingers are squarely pointed at the ISI.

Let’s review the details.

Shahzad, a journalist for the Asia Times Online and Italian news agency Adnkronos International, went missing just two days after his report on the connections between Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Navy was published. Omar Waraich reported in TIME,

[the story said that]…Al Qaeda had attacked a naval base [PNS Mehran] in the port city of Karachi on May 22 after talks had broken down between the Pakistan navy and the global terrorist organization. In his report, Shahzad claimed that Al Qaeda had carried out the attack in retaliation for the arrest of naval officials suspected of links with the terrorist group.

Waraich reported that Shahzad was allegedly abducted by intelligence agents in Islamabad while he was on his way to Dunya News channel to discuss the findings in this aforementioned report. The next morning, Ali Dayan Hasan from Human Rights Watch, received a call from the journalist’s wife who said Shahzad told her to call Hasan “in case anything happens to him.” Hasan told the AFP,

The other day he visited our office and informed us that ISI had threatened him. He told us that if anything happened to him, we should inform the media about the situation and threats. We can form an opinion after the investigation and a court verdict, but… in the past the ISI has been involved in similar incidents.

On Monday, Hasan said he was “informed by reliable interlocutors” who had received “direct confirmation from the [ISI]” that they had, in fact, detained Shahzad, but that he was supposed to return home Monday night. According to TIME, Hasan said, “The relevant people were informed that his telephone would be switched on first, enabling him to communicate with his family… They were told that he would return home soon after.”
Obviously, Shahzad did not return home. His body was found about 100 miles from his abdandoned car, his face “severely beaten” and “showing signs of torture,” reported news agencies.
His death further highlights the dangers facing journalists in Pakistan, who are often caught between intelligence agencies and militant groups. Huma Imtiaz wrote in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel yesterday,
Journalists are picked up when they are driving down the streets, whether in the capital Islamabad or a village, and eventually  are dropped off — tortured in the case of Umar Cheema, who was abducted by security agencies after he filed a series of reports on the Pakistani military — or killed, as in the case of Hayatullah Khan, whose body appeared after he tried to cover a reported U.S. missile strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Khan’s assassins have never been found.

As a result, she noted, many “journalists end up censoring themselves, fearful of the either verbal or physical repercussions. In some cases, when journalists do file reports, channels refuse to air them — again, fearful of upsetting the men in Rawalpindi.”

Although PM Gilani ordered an inquiry into the kidnapping and murder, and pledged that the perpetrators would be “brought to book,” let’s be honest. How can you feasibly hold men accountable to the law if they see themselves above the law? We are from a country where the right arm of the state very rarely knows what the left is doing, where agencies would rather protect their assets than their citizens. Accountability is not part of our vernacular, it’s the dirt we shove shamefully beneath the carpet. Better to live in a world of delusional grandeur, we say. Better to expose our neighbor’s faults than examine our own.

My sister is a journalist. She often notes that the instinctive human reaction to a disaster, attack or bomb blast is to run away. Journalists function counter-intuitively. They run towards the chaos. They put the story before their own lives. Their courage and commitment are often why citizens can be more informed participants in the conversation, why we have the ammunition to ask the questions that should be asked. Saleem Shahzad’s death was an enormous loss for a community of journalists who will continue to report in the face of censorship, harassment, and violence. It was an enormous loss for us all. RIP.

Some relevant pieces worth reading:

  • “Criticizing Pakistan’s Military,” a Q&A with Asma Jehangir, NPR
  • “One Saleem Shahzad’s Brutal Murder & the Military,” Kala Kawa
  • “Pakistan Journalist Dead: Another One Bites the Dust,” Five Rupees
  • “Who Killed Saleem Shahzad,” Daily Beast
  •  “My Courageous Friend and Colleague,” Dawn
  • “Death of a Journalist. Warning to a Nation,” ATP

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Introducing Chota Jatt

When I was little, my after school staple was cartoons. Before my mother could yell at us to do our homework, we’d blissfully escape  into the folds of Thundercats or Transformers. We’d beg for “just ten more minutes” of Duck Tales or The Smurfs. We were kids of the ’80s and ’90s, who were lucky enough to have families that could afford satellite television in Pakistan and VHS tapes of Western cartoon serials.

But looking back on my childhood, I wish we had more options that celebrated our own culture and heritage, that taught morals and values from a nuanced and indigenous perspective, that gave us our own heroes to look up to. (No offense to Lion O, though. He was pretty awesome. Thundercats HO.)

Meet Chota Jatt!

The new Chotta Jatt animated series promises to be all that and more. The cartoon draws inspiration from a line of Lollywood films from the 1970s (i.e., Waishy Jatt, Shera Jatt, and the most iconic one – Maula Jatt). According to Creator Daniyal Noorani (who wrote & produced the song “Find Heaven”), “The character “Chota Jatt” uses his strength to fight for justice and to battle against corruption, feudalism, and extremism. The series will be high octane, action packed and hilarious.” He added to me, “The hope is that this show can be used as a vector to instill solid values such as equality, perserverance, and standing up against injustice,” ultimately universal values expressed through a Pakistani lens.

The series just completed a trailer to generate buzz about Chota Jatt, and Noorani is now looking for distribution on a Pakistani channel, noting that they will soon be releasing a three-minute “webisode.” The Chota Jatt team includes Marria Khan and Ryan for Character Design, Abdullah Saeed for music, Zahid Gill for animation and Shahjehan Khan for narration.

When I asked Noorani what he hopes children take away from this animated series, he answered, “A character whom they can relate to and to whom they can turn to for moral guidance. You know how kids go, What would Superman do in such a situation? I hope that kids can someday say, What would Chota Jatt do in such a situation?

For now, you can check out (and share) the trailer below, and check out the Jattitude website, with links to Twitter and Facebook pages for further updates.

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Copyright All rights reserved by Without Shepherds Film Inc.

As revolution continues to spill over the Middle East, some have questioned whether a similar rallying cry would erupt on the streets of Pakistan. But while we have certainly reached our own tipping point, it is not a moment defined by a call for regime change. It is far more complex. Pakistan is a country that suffers from an identity crisis. And ultimately, if we don’t know who we are, do we really know what we are fighting for?

Without Shepherds is a feature documentary that addresses some of these very complex and fundamental questions. The film, directed by Cary McClelland and made in partnership with Pakistani filmmakers [The Crew Films & EyeBee Films among others], offers a glimpse into the nuances of the country through the eyes of six diverse characters – Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician; Vaneeza, a model/actress; Laiba, a Peshawar-based journalist; Abdullah, a truck driver; Arieb, a Sufi musician; and Ibrahim, a former Taliban fighter. Each character has a mission and their documented journey from February 2008 to November 2008 is a reflection of the broader struggle within Pakistani society.

Each of the people cast in Without Shepherds came from different regions and socioeconomic classes. They were selected to showcase the rich diversity of Pakistan, possessing different religious and political perspectives, as well as ideas about the future of the nation. However, noted McClelland, “the similar push among the cast was this desire for justice – to be more legitimately part of the social infrastructure and fabric of the country.” He added, “Each of these characters had significant obstacles in their path; some had  been robbed or cheated of things that were very dear to them, and as a result, had to bravely face these challenges head-on.”

The casting of the film was extremely important in demonstrating both the diversity of the country as well as their shared humanity. While selecting Imran Khan was relatively easy, given his boycott of the February 2008 elections and subsequent “outside-in” perspective, the Without Shepherds team took many trips around the country to discover other interesting narratives. Abdullah, whose struggle to provide for his family keeps him “chained to the road,” gives us a glimpse into the world and wisdom of Pakistan’s truck drivers, who have traversed the entire country and subsequently possess unique insights. According to McClelland, Abdullah was “the most empathetic and human character in the film,” a man who exhibited a sophisticated world view despite being self-educated.

Copyright All rights reserved by Without Shepherds Film Inc.

Laiba, a female journalist based in Peshawar, is courageous in her battle to humanize families living in northwestern Pakistan, but must also battle for respect and appreciation at work. McClelland noted her story had the richest twists and turns. “There was a real juxtaposition between how progressive she was politically and how conservative she was religiously.” He added, “The more I watched her push up against the people who ran her television channel, to get them to be more engaged and undertake braver programming, the more I grew to admire her.”

Another character in the film, said McClelland, required a sensitive ear during filming. Ibrahim fought for six years with the Taliban along the Afghan border. His struggle is one for peace, a journey complicated by family and friends who cannot look beyond his past. For McClelland, Ibrahim’s story constantly revealed new layers of insight. “He was a real student of the country – about its history and culture – and he could speak very beautifully and poetically about what was happening around him.” At one point during the film, Ibrahim is captured saying, “You can see many animals here, but you will rarely see a shepherd.”

Copyright All rights reserved by Without Shepherds Film Inc.

The filmmakers behind the documentary were really interested in juxtaposing the character’s private and public experiences. This was particularly pertinent for Imran, Vaneeza, and even Arieb, who are all public personalities. According to McClelland, though, some of the more human moments were captured in Imran’s interactions with his children. “Watching him as a father was analogous to how he viewed himself as a political leader and a philanthropist, making the narrative that much more rich.”

Each of the character’s journeys was unique, but their shared struggle for justice made the “film a very emotional experience” for those involved. There are connected because they all went against the mold, and each person at the end of the story arc either overcame their obstacles or came to peace with their situation.

Although the timeline in the film began before the February 2008 elections and ended with the U.S. elections in November 2008, McClelland emphasized that the interwoven themes in Without Shepherds are still very current today. “The questions that were posed to the country at the time were similar to those we were posing to our characters throughout the film – what direction do you see the country going, what values do you have, who are the people who best represent that,” he told me. “Pakistan is still similar to the country we left, as is America, and the questions we asked back then are still relevant today.”

Without Shepherds Director Cary McClelland

Without Shepherds aims to provide a more multidimensional perspective of Pakistan for an American audience. It is ultimately a human story. But the film is also an opportunity for Pakistanis to reflect on their common voice and hold a mirror up to our own society. Therefore, noted McClelland, the film will be shown to American audiences, “but we are also hoping to partner with Pakistani NGOs and set up grassroots screenings throughout the country. It is a great opportunity to use film to reach a diverse set of audiences.”

The documentary is currently at the mid-point in post-production, and hopes to premiere in the late summer/early fall 2011. However, Without Shepherds still must raise money to achieve this goal. Last week, the team established an online campaign on Indie GoGo, and is trying to raise $25,000 to bring the film into its next stage of post-production. It’s an enormous undertaking, but it’s for a character-driven film with a very significant overarching message. As McClelland said to me, “We really have the opportunity to help close the gap in a country as important and beautifully expressive as Pakistan.” You can get involved and help Without Shepherds reach this goal, by donating here. [Also, follow Without Shepherds on Facebook.]

WITHOUT SHEPHERDS Trailer from Cary McClelland on Vimeo.

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My crappy attempt at image splicing...

On most days, I use Twitter to find interesting insight about the news or Pakistan. Today, though, many Pakistani Twitter users found a far more “patriotic” use of our time. Fitting, really, since August 14th (Pakistan Independence Day) is fast approaching.

Allow me introduce you to the PAKISTAN HULK. Or, #PAKISTANHULK. He is angry. He is green. He is Pakistani. He is also knock-off (slash pirated version) of others like, @MuslimHulk, @FeministHulk, and even @DrunkHulk. Who are they? Who cares? But they come up with gems like:


So dear readers, yours truly and others decided enough was enough. Pakistanis have a hell of a lot to be angry about these days. Enter #PAKISTANHULK. Here are some of my personal favorites:

Pakistan Hulk likes conspiracy:

Gotta love the shorts:

Ah, peer pressure:


For more PAKISTAN HULK brilliance, check out the hashtag trend. Now all we need is someone to officially launch a @PakistanHulk Twitter account and my life will be complete. Anyone? Bueller?

Ramazan Mubarak everyone and a Happy Pakistan Day in advance! ( A far more sober post on the floods will be up soon, but thought we all need a little comic relief.)

Update: Someone out there was listening! @PakistanHulk now exists on Twitter!

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Pakistan Tops Yet Another List

No, it’s not for another failed state index. That was soooo last month.

Apparently Pakistan ranks number one in the world in sex-related searches. Why Google would think to rank something like that is beyond me, but Fox News gleefully took this as an opportunity to create this headline:

Pornistan? Ding ding ding! Ladies and gentleman, give Fox News an award for most witty wordplay ever.

In the article, reporter extraordinaire Kelli Morgan wrote, “They may call it the ‘Land of the Pure,’ but Pakistan turns out to be anything but. The Muslim country, which has banned content on at least 17 websites to block offensive and blasphemous material, is the world’s leader in online searches for pornographic material, FoxNews.com has learned.”

Oh but wait! Not only are we a closeted perverted nation, but we’re also into pedophilia and bestiality too.

Pakistan is top dog in searches per-person for “horse sex” since 2004, “donkey sex” since 2007, “rape pictures” between 2004 and 2009, “rape sex” since 2004, “child sex” between 2004 and 2007 and since 2009, “animal sex” since 2004 and “dog sex” since 2005, according to Google Trends and Google Insights, features of Google that generate data based on popular search terms. The country also is tops — or has been No. 1 — in searches for “sex,” “camel sex,” “rape video,” “child sex video” and some other searches that can’t be printed here.

Some other searches that can’t be printed here?! What can be worse than what they already published?

Although I’m frankly disgusted (and horrified) that we are prominent on yet another negative list, I’m not that surprised. Because despite Fox and TIME claims that Pakistan is “a Muslim nation, notorious for conservative [and] religious orthodoxy,” we have perverts, just like every other country in the world, (cue: Pakistanis, they’re just like us!). There’s a reason why internet cafes in Pakistan are filled to the brim with seedy characters, and it’s not because they’re just checking e-mail.

I am not denying the hypocrisy behind banning social media and other websites but giving a green light to the above – but hypocrisy extends to much wider issues and to all societies. The framing of the issue by Fox and other news agencies, in my opinion, is also cause for discussion. Thoughts?

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The Comeback Kid 2.0

"I have THIIIIIS many Facebook fans. Thiiiiis many." (AFP)

Remember when previously exiled politicians made their grand return to Pakistan with garlands around their neck and victory signs in the air? In the case of the late Benazir Bhutto (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), their advisers/PR teams released op-eds, press releases and statements, allowing party supporters to salivate over their much-anticipated comeback to Pakistani politics.

That was so 2007.

In 2010, former leaders plant the seeds of their comeback using social media platforms, creating Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. They start a mass movement in cyberspace, interacting with their fans at a grassroots level, uploading video messages, and ultimately blindsiding the naysayers who once crowed, “Ding dong, the witch is dead.”

In the world of Populism 2.0, former President Pervez Musharraf has managed to leverage social media rather successfully, boasting 187,649 fans in about seven months, [see my previous post, “Mushy Joins Facebook.”]. And, a week after he announced the formation of his new political party, All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), Musharraf revealed that he had 200,000 fans on Facebook, and “they wanted him to come back to Pakistan.”

Um, say what now?

It is not that Musharraf doesn’t have a right to return to Pakistan and contest elections. As I commented on Ahsan’s post at Five Rupees, the political process should always have diversity of choice, and it would be undemocratic to insist otherwise, particularly since other leaders with less than stellar pasts are back in power. My contention is with the Facebook shout-out, as if 200,000 fans on a social media platform somehow legitimize this comeback.

There is no doubt that Facebook is a powerful platform, boasting more than 300 million active users, about 70% of whom are located outside the United States. In Pakistan, it is also one of the most popular social networking websites, with over 2.5 million users, (according to The News’ Shakir Hussain). But 2.5 million is still a small percentage of Pakistan’s population – about 1.5% – and that too is a narrow demographic – namely those who are literate, speak English (to varying degrees) and own/use computers. Within that number, 200,000 Mushy Facebook fans also don’t take into account 1) the Pakistanis who are living in Pakistan (or are citizens) and 2) people who actually vote in elections. This is somewhat comparable to the numerous supporters for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan not often translating into actual votes at the election polls.

If Mushy can return to Pakistan, survive the Benazir Bhutto and National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) fires, and stage a comeback onto the Pakistani political stage, all the while leveraging his social media platform, then more power to him. But that success certainly won’t come from Facebook alone, and it will most definitely be a long road ahead.

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Mushy Joins Facebook

As social media terms increasingly become part of the vernacular (“unfriend,” the act of deleting a person from one’s list of acquaintances on Facebook, was  even named the New Oxford American Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’), some of Pakistan’s big names are cashing in. Last month, former President Pervez Musharraf set up his very own Facebook page, so far garnering (by my last login) 33,277 fans. To further affirm the officialdom of his page, Mushy <insert PR team> even uploaded a video, discussing his motivations behind joining said Facebook. He said, “I’ve seen with all my interactions, particularly with the youth…that [they] are extremely concerned and disturbed with what is happening in Pakistan…and what is the future of Pakistan…this got me thinking how I could contribute my bit to quench their thirst.”

I have long been intrigued by the social media phenomenon, and the real versus imagined benefit they bring, [see related piece for Dawn]. Facebook currently boasts more than 300 million active users with about 70% located outside the United States. In Pakistan, it is one of the most popular social networking websites and, as of October 16, 2009, there were approximately 1,094,040 active users. Although this number is relatively high, these users constitute a small percentage of Pakistan’s population – namely those who are literate, speak English (to varying degrees) and own/use computers. Moreover, the transnational nature of these online mediums mean that websites like Facebook can also act as a bridge, bringing Pakistanis (or people of Pakistani origin) living abroad into the same forum as Pakistanis living in the country, fostering an interesting “supranational” dynamic.

This demographic appears to be Musharraf’s target audience on Facebook, who are now part of a far more “democratic” dialogue than many were afforded under his emergency rule. While I laud efforts that allow Pakistanis better access to current and former leaders, I also question their purpose. What is the logic behind initiating this dialogue now and what tangible purpose does it serve, particularly since those who use Facebook are not necessarily the same people who turn up at the polls?

It could be that Musharraf is just trying to remain relevant, and he is attempting to do so by engaging young Pakistanis at home and abroad. While memories of his last year in power are arguably still fresh, the cyclical nature of Pakistan’s politicians does allow for constant rebranding and reinvention.

In fact, RehmanMalik.com could stand to take a few pointers from said PR exercise – especially since “a welcome massage” may not be welcomed by all. No indeed.

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Reuters/Dawn Photo: Cameraman Takes Footage of Blast Site

In the latest Press Freedom Index 2009, compiled on the basis of questionnaires completed by hundreds of journalists and media experts around the world, Pakistan ranked 159 out of 175 countries. Although the country “has scores of privately owned television and radio stations, putting it on the path of an information revolution comparable to that experienced by India about ten years ago,” the media is caught in “a vice between the Taliban which has stepped up its attacks and the security forces who continue in their old ways of harassing journalists,” noted Reporters without Borders. Moreover, Pakistan’s press is “increasingly belligerent in its coverage of political and socio-economic problems, despite the huge risks.”

Given that Pakistan’s media revolution occurred not too long ago, such rankings reflect the increasing need for the media to critique itself and institutionalize responsible reporting. This past Friday, eight of Pakistan’s major electronic news outlets –  KTN, Samaa, Dawn News, Dunya, Express News and Express 24/7, ARY, Geo and Aaj TV – announced that they had reached an agreement on a code of conduct on the media’s coverage of terrorism. According to Dawn,

After a two-week debate on the issue, representatives of these channels agreed upon certain rules in terms of a range of issues, including the broadcast of images in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the need for time-delays on live broadcasts, guidelines for covering hostage situations, the airing of demands and messages by terrorists, and the training and safety of news crews and reporters.

Hajrah Mumtaz, over at Dawn, further asserted,

…the independence of the media is meaningless unless the media also take upon themselves the grave duty of honest and responsible reportage. While it is by no means possible to defend the arbitrary laying of curbs upon the media by a state or government – for that would amount to censorship – it is up to news organizations to themselves come up with methods that internally regulate the content of what is being broadcast or printed.

In July, Al Jazeera English’s The Listening Post provided an informative backgrounder on the rise of Pakistan’s private news channels. In 2002, former President Pervez Musharraf set up the Pakistani Electronic Media Regulatory Authority [PEMRA] to issue the first licenses for private radio stations and TV channels. For a population just 49.9% literate and where newspaper circulation is around 6 million, such a development was monumental. Moreover, noted Jugnu Mohsin, people who owned newspapers were allowed to own cable television channels, doing away with past laws against cross-ownership. Prior to 2002, Pakistan’s state-owned PTV was the only news channel broadcast on television. Today, there are around 50 private television channels and 100 licensed private FM stations. The proliferation of Pakistan’s electronic media in such a short span of time has meant: 1) the private media is “here to stay, the days of overt suppression are over,” noted journalist Ejaz Haider, and 2) a reflection on the media’s shortcomings must be undertaken by the media itself, not the government.

Both of these points are fundamentally important. Although Musharraf’s regime liberalized the press, he also attempted to muzzle these outlets following the 2007 state of emergency, when television coverage of demonstrations and criticism of the government were considered “inflammatory.” His censorship [both GEO Television and AAJ were even taken off the air], was met with immediate backlash, proving that the media had become an institution to be reckoned with. Al Jazeera correspondent Kamaal Hyder asserted in July, “Anyone who tries to curtail the power of the media is going to fail.

Last week, the PPP-led government suggested the Pakistani press be more “guarded” in their reporting, leading many to bristle immediately, suspicious that caution would inevitably mean censorship. PPP politician and former information minister Sherry Rehman spoke to Al Jazeera last week, saying she appreciated the media’s concerns and noted, “They need to be made stakeholders in this consultation, because if we don’t do that, then there’s going to be polarization…and that will not profit either the government or the media or society.”

Rehman’s statement emphasizes this second fundamental point – the increasing need for the maturation of the Pakistani media, a process that needs to be endorsed by the media itself. Maria Ahmed of GEO Television told Al Jazeera that the media needs to institute a “self-critiquement mechanism,” which was manifested in last Friday’s resulting code of conduct for terrorism coverage. Such developments are a positive step towards increasing the credibility of the Pakistani media – whether it’s “self-editing” the use of graphic imagery and footage in the aftermath of bombings and violence, or ensuring that information relayed through news channels do not help hostage-takers or endanger the lives of the hostages.

The code of conduct also touches on the need to ensure the safety of reporters, a timely topic given the current conflict in Pakistan and the fact that the media has been barred from covering the military’s offensive from the front lines. The issue was also raised in a media symposium organized by PBS Frontline/World in September 2009. During the conference, Pakistani journalist/filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy [who produced Children of the Taliban] discussed the danger of reporting on the front lines, asserting that increasingly more reporters are “caught between intelligence agencies and the Taliban.” She added, “The Taliban have so many splinter groups – even if you get assurances from one group that you wont get kidnapped that doesn’t stop a second or a third group from kidnapping you.”

In her experience, Obaid-Chinoy learned how necessary it was to create a detailed “security protocol,” which would be sent to the news channel she was working for or a trusted person. In the event that she was kidnapped, the protocol would provide information on all her “fixers,” [people who provide translation, as well as on-the-ground expertise and contacts], so that her contacts could find out very quickly who had taken her away, “since the first few hours [in a kidnapping] are the most critical.” News agencies and journalists, she added, must also ensure the safety of their fixers, “because they bear the brunt of the access they’ve given you.”

In today’s world of 24/7 news coverage and high-speed Internet, we are frequently inundated with information. While the media’s growth in Pakistan is laudable, it also comes with a degree of responsibility and accountability. The recently released code of conduct is only the first step towards this idea of progress.

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Getty Image: Design by Athar Hafeez

Despite the security situation causing it to be delayed twice, Fashion Pakistan Week opened this past Wednesday to display the talents of Pakistan’s top designers. However, while FPW garnered significant media attention, most news outlets framed the four-days of runway shows in light of the country’s growing security concerns. Saba Imtiaz, who works as a journalist in Pakistan and blogs over at the Zeitgeist Politics, attended several shows during Fashion Pakistan Week and delves into the subsequent attention FPW received:

In the post-9/11 years, with Pakistan becoming a frontline state in the “war against terror,” the intense media scrutiny this country has faced has been unprecedented in its tumultuous history. And with the media scrutiny have come the stereotypes, from the oft-quoted portrayals of former President Pervez Musharraf as an “enlightened moderate” to the characterizations of cities and its inhabitants.

But as the war has come home – and one could argue that it always was – with military operations conducted in North Waziristan, Swat and now South Waziristan, and frequent terrorist attacks in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, the stereotypes have also amassed.

While many are true, several exaggerated and others just plain ridiculous, one of the most common phrases associated with the ongoing Fashion Pakistan Week has been that it is taking place “under the shadow of the Taliban.” Most articles in the foreign press have focused on how 32 designers showcasing cutting-edge fashion at a time when a military operation against the Taliban is ongoing.

While from an external perspective this may seem odd, the sheer amazement depicted in these articles at the thought of a fashion week is a tad strange. From the Times of India declaring, “‘Dare to bare’ Pak Fashionistas Thumb a Nose at Taliban” to McClatchy saying, “Pakistan’s Fashion Week Bares Country’s Frothy Side” and Life.com labeling a photograph of a model with a tattoo on her arm as “Tattoo vs Taliban,” its all been rather amusing – and often annoying – for those following the press coverage of the event.

For one, the purpose of the event was anything but to thumb a nose at the Taliban. Worldwide, fashion weeks are trade events geared towards retail buyers and journalists – and while Pakistan doesn’t have the former attending from abroad – it is putting together a rather comprehensive showing of 30 of the country’s designers for local journalists and buyers.

Secondly, with everything in the country being associated with the Taliban – several articles centering on Facebook updates of all things – have led to fashion also being bundled under the same umbrella. The focus in the press seems to have shifted from the designs themselves, and is instead all about defiance and courage.

If anything, Fashion Pakistan Week brought forward a far more interesting theme, one that has been emerging this year. For years, those who work in the fashion and entertainment sectors in the country have looked abroad for inspiration. This year, as Pakistan finds itself cornered into a rather uncomfortable spot on every level (including being lumped with Afghanistan as “AfPak”), singers, actors and designers have taken the effort to look inwards and seek inspiration in Pakistan. This has reflected in the songs that came out of Coke Studio this year, or at the collections shown at Fashion Pakistan Week, which featured a number of references drawn from different facets of Pakistan’s culture and history. These moves have created a whole new chapter for Pakistani pop culture, where one can actually identify aspects of the entertainment sector that are quintessentially Pakistani.

Which is why, as a Pakistani, while one often finds references to the Taliban and other extremist forces in every sector (when they don’t make any logical sense) irritating, this is a stereotype that we’re going to have to live with for a while. After all, the Middle East is still associated with being a war zone, and for decades, India was stereotyped as a destination point for hippies and yoga enthusiasts.

AP Photo: Military-inspired by Ismail Fareed

And so, the Taliban have been mentioned ad nauseam in press coverage for Fashion Pakistan Week. But if they do have access to the Internet during the current battle, they’ll be sorely disappointed to know that designers have gone on the defensive and showed a number of military inspired collections. From a model saluting on the runway as the Madam Noorjehan song ‘Ae Watan Ke Sajeelay Jawanon’ played in the background, to designer Ismail Farid’s collection called ‘Salute’ which was a tribute to the Armed Forces and those who have lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Farid’s models were clad entirely in ensembles inspired from military uniforms, replete with marching steps, canes, shackles, and in one case, an outfit that looked like a chic version of a suicide bomber’s jacket.

So the Taliban can chalk Fashion Pakistan Week down to a massive PR fail: the military themes received a standing ovation. Who knew we had such short memories?

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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