Media Manners

manners matterBy Sabena Siddiqui 

Once upon a time we only had PTV , a government owned television channel in Pakistan . Those were peaceful days with lesser anxiety as PTV had tasteful and classy content . Later a lot of private channels were given licenses and the mayhem began. They all gave each other a glut of competition , out of all the copycat channels a few channels led the field . Geo TV network , the largest media house , followed by Express , ARY and others . It often has been a tug of war for ratings , resulting in an aggressive,pugnacious press .

Geo TV followed a distinct India -friendly stance since its debut , it gave colourful , entertaining content to get maximum viewership . The media of no country in the world bashes up its own army and intelligence agency the way Geo does , it is absolutely unheard of . This and a pattern by intent of down-playing Pakistan , achievements by Pakistanis or even ignoring martyrdom of the nation’s soldiers was not reported many times . Geo anchors suffer from verbal diarrheoa when it comes to the army , this and promoting an India friendly project Aman ki Asha was the signature of Geo .

Recently a big controversy arose after one of its anchors , Hamid Mir , got shot , Geo lost no time in accusing the ISI chief . Not only this , General Zaheer ul Islam ,s picture was shown for 8 hours on live television as the main culprit without an iota of evidence. At this point , Geo lost any claim of being a Pakistani channel , the entire drift was Indian and against the interests of the nation . The Ministry of Defence sent a complaint letter against Geo to PEMRA , the country ,s media regulatory authority . After this Geo owners used their connections and financial incentives to get the matter delayed , the outcome is still awaited.

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Recently Geo became the centre of another controversy , there usually is a bevy of morning shows on most Pakistani channels , this culture was also initiated by Geo . These days , Shaista Wahidi is the Geo morning show host , she is a doctor by profession . The guests in this particular episode were the notorious Veena Malik and her husband Asad Khattak , Veena reached the peak of fame some time ago posing nude for an Indian fashion magazine toting a gun with ISI tattoed on her arm . This gave record sales for the Indian magazine but Pakistanis were absolutely disgusted with this latest indecent exposure by Veena , also using the letters ISI as a tattoo was either just bad taste or done with intent to besmirch it to delight an Indian audience who always have daggers drawn for Pakistan,s premier intelligence agency . So this morning show was celebrating Veena ,s recent marriage , a Qawwali was performed by famous qawwal Amjad Sabri ‘Ali ke sath hai Zohra ki shadi ‘ during the program . This qawwali is about Hazrat Ali (ra ) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima Zohra (ra) , about the Holy Prophet (pbuh ) ,s daughter and son in law getting married . This was an insult of the Ahl e Bait , not only this clapping was done with shoes in hand by some during this performance . There are ettiquettes when such holy personalities are mentioned , all this was derogatory to Islam and rules of sanctity were not observed . This raised an outcry and people clamoured for Geo to be shut down . The question is why is the Jang/ Geo group doing this , was it a diversion from its ISI fiasco as well as another intentional attack on Pakistani religious norms and culture ? Referring , comparing or even mentioning the Ahl e Bait with a personality such as Veena is highly offensive vis a vis Pakistani morality. This matter was extremely hurtful for the Shia community and the Sunnis as well.

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Almost all European and other countries have blasphemy laws, though they may not be used to prosecute often, some countries have laws which give redress to those who feel insulted on account of their religion. In place of blasphemy or in addition to blasphemy in some European countries is the crime of “religious insult”. A religious insult is forbidden in Andorra, Cyprus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.

Pakistan has anti-blasphemy laws in Chapter XV of Pakistan Penal Code,it deals with “offences relating to religion” . This clause can apply to Geo ,s latest misadventure ‘§295-A. Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting Its religion or religious beliefs. ‘

This act by Geo shows contempt for the feelings of Pakistanis , it also may have been a diversion to make people forget more essential issues ,it is an act not to be condoned .

Meanwhile the ongoing ‘ battle of the channels ‘ got more grist to grind with ARY and Express News leading the fray . ARY ,s anchor Mubasher Lucman was the first to bring the goings – on in the Geo morning show to the people’s notice . War ensued with Geo resorting to preparing clips against Mubasher Lucman , Imran Khan and Zaid Hamid , an analyst . These personal attacks showed Geo had lost its nerve , but switching from channel to channel one felt their main concentration was on higher ratings , to keep the public lost in this kitsch.

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Does Pakistan need such an undisciplined media ? What has happened to the professional norms of media journalism , training is required to enumerate the sanctity and respect of religious or national security topics from the Pakistani point of view . There are rules and regulations laid down by PEMRA , why aren’t they strictly observed by this nouveau media ? Capital TV was closed down for a while once for a similar contravention of rules , Geo seems to have used unfair means of some kind .

Exactly how much freedom of expression is enough to keep it viable yet within limits ? Too much freedom of expression results in destruction and chaos . A balance needs to be achieved and a Code of Conduct has to prepared by Pakistan government to ensure that the bureaucracy , army and judiciary are given due respect . Such hysteric accusations by media are unheard of in other countries, why should we allow these high -ratings freaks to play with Pakistan,s prestige .

Treason and blasphemy are serious charges, a channel coming close to such a point needs to be taken to law courts.

Media has to learn the manners and etiquettes of reporting and has to stop shooting off from the mouth to unhinge the very foundations of statehood