Firing Maya Khan is not the answer

Jan 28th, 2012 | By | Category: Ethics, Samaa TV

Maya Khan screenshot

Maya Khan’s little stunt may have been intended to shame unsuspecting young people, but she ended up only shaming herself. It was Maya Khan’s raid itself that resulted in expressions of disgust not only across Pakistan, but internationally. A week later, Samaa TV announced that Maya Khan has been sacked along with her team. Her insincere ‘apology’ was apparently a slap in the face to not only Samaa’s viewers, but her bosses as well.

As usual, Cafe Pyala notes some important lessons to be learned from the sorry affair. Other media groups, too, are recoiling from the embarrassment. The editorial board at The News termed Maya Khan’s behaviour as ‘Beyond the pale’:

Once again the question of ‘how far’ has arisen. It concerns the limits of private space and how far into that space journalism is entitled to go and under what circumstances. Given the conservative nature of our society there are considerable risks attached to this type of journalism, which panders to the lowest common denominator and fawns at the feet of extremism. It is tantamount to vigilantism, and some might view the segment as a licence to take matters into their own hands and harass – or worse – people who are breaking no law by being together in a public space, whether or not they are related by blood or marriage. The argument has been made that in journalism there are no boundaries – but there are. A responsible news organisation will have a set of ethical rules, the limits beyond which they do not go. This was guttersnipe journalism, unworthy of the name. Young lives may well have been damaged in the sleazy scramble for ratings. It was also indicative of just how far the media in Pakistan has to go before it reaches maturity. This was beyond the pale, and we should not see its like again.

We don’t disagree with Samaa TV‘s decision to fire Maya Khan, and we hope that it sends a strong signal to other journalists that such behaviour is not going to get you fame and fortune. But we also hope that the discussion of journalistic ethics does not stop with Maya’s sacking.

Outrage around Maya Khan’s show resulted largely from the sympathy we all could feel for the victims of her ‘raid’. As The News correctly reflected, “Given the conservative nature of our society there are considerable risks attached to this type of journalism, which panders to the lowest common denominator and fawns at the feet of extremism”.

But it is not only young people who are at risk of this ‘guttersnipe journalism’. Governor Salmaan Taseer lost his life in part due to his treatment by the media. To this day, a disturbing number of people hold the mistaken belief that Governor Taseer was a blasphemer despite their being no evidence to support such accusations.

Salmaan Taseer is an extreme case, but how many people believe that Nawaz Sharif is soft on India, that Asif Zardari tried to flee the country, that Husain Haqqani wrote a memo to Admiral Mullen, or that Imran Khan is secretly meeting with American officials? Just as Maya Khan’s programme gave the impression that the young people were doing something wrong without every actually having any evidence, the media gives false impressions of politicians and public figures also.

Certainly the private lives of ordinary citizens should be treated differently than the public lives of politicians. And certainly politicians who engage in illegal or corrupt practices should be exposed. But they should be exposed with facts and evidence, not with rumour and innuendo designed to give the impression of guilt without ever actually having to prove it. Just as “young lives may well have been damaged in the sleazy scramble for ratings”, the lives of public figures and their families are also damaged by the sleazy ratings race.

Maya Khan may deserve a public sacking, but firing her will not clean up journalism. If we treat Maya Khan’s firing as the solution to the problem, rumours, innuendo and conspiracy theories will continue to dominate headlines long after Maya Khan’s few minutes in the spotlight are long forgotten.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave Comment

?>