Meher Bokhari’s story should be a permanent fixture in journalism school as a warning to those future media stars who might be tempted to sacrifice all consideration of ethics, responsibility, and the safety of others for a boost in ratings and personal careers. The final chapter in Bokhari’s story has not been written, though, and how it plays out could have lasting effects on the media industry.
Meher Bokhari has found drawn a bit of attention to herself, though probably not for reasons she had dreamed. The Samaa TV talk show host raised eyebrows during her interview with Salmaan Taseer last November during which she fought with the Governor, accusing him of undermining justice and fanning the flames of religious hatred by questioning the blasphemy laws. Meher even read a fatwa against the Governor on the air.
Two months later, Governor Taseer was shot to death by one of his guards in Islamabad who claims he committed the act because of the Governor’s criticism of the blasphemy laws. Bokhari infamously followed the Governor’s murder with a programme on 5 January that asked if the confessed gunman Mumtaz Qadri is hero or terrorist.
It should be noted that this was not the first time that Meher Bokhari had projected extremist views, rather she regularly hosted guests including Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi who is a leader of banned terrorist organization Sipah-e-Sahaba.
On 11 January, PEMRA imposed a fine of Rs.1 Million on Samaa TV for projecting terrorists. One week later, Meher Bokhari was conspicuously missing from the set of last night’s News Beat, Farieha Idrees appearing in her place. This did not go unnoticed by media watchers, and some are saying that News Beat host has been sacked by Samaa TV, though we have not been able to obtain official confirmation at this time. There are also rumours that Bokhari has been offered a show at Express along with an increase in pay, but again these remain only rumours.
Rumours notwithstanding, what eventually happens with Meher Bokhari is of interest, however, as it will send two important signals to Pakistan’s media groups: The most important being whether PEMRA is a watch dog with no teeth, but also whether the media chiefs are willing to reward a TV anchor who exploits religion to boost ratings. Depending on the signal sent, we could see significant changes in the way media approaches sensitive topics.
If Meher Bokhari gets a raise following a large PEMRA fine, TV anchors will see her as an example of how to advance their careers: pander to the extremist gallery and exploit religious sentiments while shouting your way to the top. Media chiefs likewise will see that the government’s regulatory body is toothless and will ignore warnings and fines as they attempt to boost ratings by outdoing each other with more and more outrageous programming.
On the other hand, Meher Bokhari could serve as a warning for up and coming journalists and producers who learn that there are red lines that are not crossed in civilized discourse. Any temptation towards fatwa baiting would have to be weighed against losing one’s job and reputation in the industry and we might even see the public discourse come to settle at a more moderate level.
As Meher Bokhari’s story continues to be revealed, its final chapter will tell much about the future of Pakistani media.