A recipe for ‘ethical media’
Maya Khan’s ‘chasing-couples parks’ episode that aired last week caused quite a stir in Pakistan and even received coverage abroad. However, it was a series called “Where is your daughter?” that aired in October on the same show and channel, that is truly disturbing.
In this particular episode aired on October 5th of last year, the recipe for “Beti ka Achar” (pickled daughter) with ingredients that will create the perfect obedient daughter or daughter-in-law is given in grueling detail.
The ingredients include one daughter, a fist-full of trust, a pinch of ‘anger’ salt, a tablespoon of crushed ‘question’ pepper, and a spoon of good breeding ‘essence’. The narrator of the recipe recommends that you keep the mixture in a corner of the house where there is shade and no sunlight; otherwise she warns the mixture might go bad.
There is something especially sinister about educated women who were born into liberated and privileged families in Pakistan advocating this nonsense on live TV. Do they believe that only they are God’s chosen few who have the right to be independent and work?
But this wasn’t the only ridiculous, insulting and chauvinistic recipe aired on her show, two days later they ran another recipe for “Beti ki Curry”.
Along with the first unappetising achar recipe, they also ran a report in which a girl named Misbah is accused of killing her father with her boyfriend. In the report a police officer alleges that Misbah was being ‘treated indecently by her father’ and the reporter goes on to say that Misbah says her father ‘used to make her do things to him.’ I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like accusations of sexual assault. But instead of investigating further, the Maya brigade ignore this detail and focus on the ‘rebellious’ girl killing her father with her boyfriend.
Maya Brigade Background
Maya Khan’s parks episode aired on January 17th, started making the social media rounds on Jan 21st. Within 12 hours, the video went viral and was addressed in op-ed’s and blogs on mainstream media (Dawn, BBC Urdu). Thousands signed an online petition and letters were sent to Samaa’s chairman.
As someone from inside the industry, I say rather guiltily that I have seen many things go on air that should have never made the light of day. I have also rarely seen a news channel willing to apologise for its misconduct or misstep. So Samaa’s apology is a brave and welcome change.
But, I also believe that if the ‘parks’ video didn’t go viral, we would not have built enough pressure through social media to make Samaa take notice and issue an apology. Samaa will surely scrutinise all of Maya’s shows in the future.
Imagine if the “Beti Ka Achar” video went viral in October, maybe the parks episode wouldn’t have happened.
Beyond Maya Brigade
What I am getting at is Maya Khan is a symptom of a larger problem, where our news channels are a slave to ratings rather than an ethical guideline or code of conduct.
The problem with these morning shows, not just Samaa, is that they bring in a lot of revenue through advertising. Many news channels run their operations off the money they make in these shows, but the show often operates in “no man’s land”, with little or no editorial oversight and accountability from the newsroom. (As an example the Maya Khan episodes with the “Betiki Curry” recipe (04:05-04:20) and the “Beti ka Achar” recipe (05:16-05:24), both run with disclaimers saying the content of the show does not necessarily represent Samaa’s views.)
That is simply not on, if the show is airing on a news channel, and that is what Samaa is registered with PEMRA as, they have to be held responsible for all content.
My appeal is that we cannot lose steam with the parks episode. We have to continue to build pressure, for all news channels to realise that they cannot afford to sacrifice ethical standards for ratings and money.
Furthermore, now the New York Times is reporting that ‘four local non-government organisations (are filing) a civil suit against Samaa TV in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, hoping to galvanise the country’s top judges into action.’
At the start of an ethics series currently being published on dawn.com, I wrote a post called The Great Ethics Debate, detailing the larger issues of adopting a code of conduct for our channels and the dangers to media independence if a government body enforces codes in Pakistan.
With this latest petition in the Supreme Court, the time for news channels to get their houses in order has become all the more pertinent. Here are three tangible suggestions from the original post tailored to the latest Maya fiasco for these channels:
1. The editorial staff in news organisations need to draft their own ‘code of conduct or editorial guidelines’. News channels can use the Society of Professional Journalists code, which had been adopted by news organisations around the world as a starting point. Once complete they need to make their guidelines available on their news sites. They also need to open their codes to greater public scrutiny, maybe through a comments section on their website.
2. The ‘letters to the editors’ format in newspapers needs to translate to our TV screens for news channels to be held accountable and to be considered ethical. This can be done by opening up ticker streams to viewer feedback. Some news channels already do this; but unfortunately, many are usually moderated to show the good, rather than the bad. This feedback mechanism should be taken seriously. News outlets should respond to the criticism they receive either through a half-hour weekly show hosted by their editors with live calls or through short segments scattered in their news bulletins.
3. News channels need to train their reporters and staff. Few media professionals come into the field with an education or training in journalism. News organisations need to fill the gap, by offering training courses to its employees. (From 2004 till 2010, the broadcast industry grew six-fold to 24/7 news channels. Our universities offering journalism courses did not grow with the same ease nor did they adjust their curricula to the needs of 24/7 live news.)
By advocating these three concrete steps, which are key ingredients to an “ethical media” recipe we will protect the media’s independence and prevent further ‘Beti ka Achar’ recipes from being propagated by Maya-like brigades in Pakistan.
Sahar Habib Ghazi worked as a TV producer and editor in Pakistan from 2005-10 and later launched Hosh Media. The volunteer-based organisation of bloggers and journalists recently put together a crash course on some of the stickiest ethical dilemmas journalists in Pakistan face.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.