I have been forwarded a link to this video over a dozen times since yesterday. Like some of those who forwarded this to me, I do not find this video funny. And I certainly do not see any journalistic value in it. In fact, I find it rather disturbing, sometimes disgusting, and entirely disgraceful. I don’t really want you to see the video, but I do want us all – and especially our electronic media managers – to think real hard about what we are doing in our totally laissez-faire (the better phrase would be ‘mader, pidder, aazad’) attitude to what goes out as information, infotainment, and entertainment these days.
Note that the so-called “reporter” Shahid Hussain of Samaa TV tells us nothing about what the protest march is about or for. He finds that irrelevant and assumes everyone else will too. He accuses everyone of ogling and leering at the young nurses and is interested only in the fact that it is a march by young women. Why they march in protest, who they are, what their demands are – all of that matters not to him. I, for one, find all that relevant, but have no idea what this is about. Nor is there any condemnation of the ogling that he is supposedly ‘reporting’; only an expression of his own amusement and rather cheap and demeaning puns (‘nazaroun kay hifazati hisaar‘)!
Yet, the only thing that can be said with certainty is that it is the reporter Shahid Hussain and Samaa TV (through their cameras and narration) who are ogling indecently, misrepresenting and demeaning young working women in Pakistan and possibly also lying in what is supposed to be a “news” report (Do we have any evidence that the rickshaw actually got stuck because the driver was ogling? Did the policemen actually tell the reporter that this duty was good for tucking in their tummies and that they would like more such duty? Or is all of this just made up for by reporter’s wild imagination?)
I am not a prude. I think I can enjoy a good laugh and appreciate the pressures of live television with good humor. Nor would I ever think of advocating media clampdown or censorship (I was a working journalist during Zia-ul-Haq’s time when censorship was real as well as ugly; my commitment to a free media is absolute and unwavering). But I do know what is clearly not funny and what is disgusting. This is both.
This is not a call for clampdown or censorship; this is just a call for basic decency and reasonable taste. This is about the media making bad choices. Really bad choices. And making them again and again. These are not just ‘mistakes’. These are willful and deliberate attempts to sensationalize, trivialize, sexualize and dehmanize important issues.
With the case of Salman Taseer’s murder and the role of the media in fueling hatred so recent, would this not be the time for the media to think introspectively about what values they are promoting and what prejudice they are spreading? Some will no doubt accuse me to making too much of this. Maybe I am. But at a time when we have seen the destructive power of the media and of anchors to ruin lives, instigate frayed nerves, and spread venom in an already fractured society, it is the responsibility of the media to monitor itself.
The issue may be different as might be the stakes, but the dynamics of instigation, of misinformation, of legitimizing anti-social behavior and of dehumanization are exactly the same. And so is the damage to society as a whole. What are the values being promoting here: The disrespect of women? The trivialization of worker concerns? Raw chauvinism? Even if these are values already in society, is it the role of the media to trivialize, evangelize and celebrate them?
All those who habitually lie to themselves about how we have great respect for women in our society; well, this is the respect we have!
There is a great line in the movie Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The media in Pakistan today has assumed great power. I wish it would also learn to demonstrate some responsibility.