What Happened to M. Saad Khan? Unilever, Can You Please Tell Us?

Posted on August 28, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice, People, Society, TV, Movies & Theatre
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Adil Najam

I have followed the sad news about the death of 32 year old Mohammad Saad Khan, during the recording of a branded reality show for Unilever, since it first broke. Beyond my personal anger and sadness at such waste of precious young life in so futile a cause and circumstances, I did not write about it immediately partly because TeethMaestro was already following it so well and in more detail than I possibly could but also because there were so many things that remained unclear about exactly what had happened and how.

I hoped that things would get clearer and we would find more about what had happened. They have not. And that fact itself seems worthy of comment.

After pouring over material found on the internet here is the best that I can reconstruct. I would appreciate if anyone has any additional information (i.e., information, not speculation) about what really transpired.

  • Presumably a new branded reality show was being recorded in Thailand for Unilever’s ‘Clear’ products managed by the media agency Mindshare. The two have worked together on other advertising projects that included reality TV but this seems to have been for a new, yet unaired, show. It is not clear from the reports who was actually producing the show for Unilever and Mindshare, although there have been mentions of a private Indian production company.
  • An obituary for Mohammad Saad Khan was published in Dawn on August 23, 2009. The obituary does not mention circumstances of the death, and reads “Mohammad Saad Khan left us quietly. His thoughts unknown.” Reportedly, Saad Khan worked for RBS Bank and leaves behind a wife and three young children. Some of Saad’s more distant relatives have been quoted by bloggers but reportedly his family refused to be interviewed by BBC. According to these reports Saad Khan died from drowning during the recording of a thrill segment that involved him being under water. There is also mention that the family, or some members, may be preparing to take legal action against the show’s producers and/or its sponsors for faulty or inadequate safety arrangements during the show’s recording.
  • The news has spread mostly via the internet and especially after Aarpix.com, an e-magazine, reported the death and quoted details from one of the deceased’s cousins. According to the reports at Aarpix the show was being recorded for Unilever Pakistan, was hosted by model Amina Sheikh, was to be aired on the channel ‘Oxygen’, someone named Naved Arshad was the head of production, and the shooting was halted after the incident and an investigation in Thailand is taking place.
  • A most surprising aspect of all of this is the total silence from the mainstream media as well as from Unilver. The silence of the immediate family is possibly less surprising in this moment of grief for them. But the silence of the media and the company does boggle the mind. This is surprising not only because this seems to be the exact type of story that our media would relish on but also because the usual practice of multinationals is to go into immediate ‘damage control’ mode by putting out their own version of events. Some have suggested conspiracy because Unilever is a very big advertiser in Pakistan.

This waste of life is tragic as well as vulgar. I have always found this fad of thrill-based reality shows that play on people’s greed and stupidity to have them try things they should never be doing anyhow to be repulsive. The few that I have seen on Pakistani and Indian TV seem even more dangerous, and even more uncaring of people’s lives and safety, than many in USA and Europe and I have often felt they should just not be allowed, not only for the perverse actions that the participants are made to (and agree to) do, but also because of the message and incentives it gives to viewers, especially including impressionable younger viewers.

But that issue aside, someone really needs to come up and explain what really happened here and why. Someone from Unilever should tell us, even if it is to absolve themselves. Someone from the mainstream media should ask them?

Many of the versions now floating around are too wild to be believable and hysteria is clearly catching up. But if a young life was so tragically lost, some answers must be given: Why was there no adequate safety mechanisms? If there were, why did they fail? Even if Mohammad Saad Khan had signed legal disclaimers of responsibility (as he probably had) does the human tragedy deserve not even a statement from the show’s producers and sponsors. I understand those who participate in such displays – whether for ‘thrill’ or for ‘money’ – do so knowing the dangers and risks. But were the dangers and risks more than he had signed up for?

I do not know the answers to these. Nor do I know just what happened and to what, if any at all, are the show and its sponsors responsible for this death. But that is the point. The fact that we still know so little disturbs me. I am very willing to give the benefit of the doubt where it is due. But in such a case silence can become more incriminating the more it is prolonged.

The Pakistani courts have recently become quite fond of suo motto notices. Here is a case that calls for a suo motto enquiry.

53 responses to “What Happened to M. Saad Khan? Unilever, Can You Please Tell Us?”

  1. Lubna says:

    I fear that this too will be forgotten as time moves on and the corporations win again.

  2. Amima says:

    I dont have to comment on it, but thought I should use this space to inform every reader that there is a vigil being organized for Saad Khan. Please circulate widely and those who are in Karachi, please try to join us. This is first in the series of mass protests planned to pressurize Unilever/Mindshare and those justifying their criminality!

    Following are the details:

    Date: Friday, September 11, 2009
    Time: 9:00pm – 10:15pm
    Location: Shahi Chawk (New Roundabout) in front of Park Towers, Clifton , Karachi. Pakistan
    City/Town: Karachi, Pakistan

    Say no to Unilever’s arrogance, deceit and criminal negligence. Raise your voice against Unilever’s discriminatory attitude towards Pakistanis. Light a candle or diya in memory of Saad Khan who lost his life because of Unilever’s callous, discriminatory attitude. Don’t not the corporate giant Unilever gag us and get away with murder to kill more Saads
    Concerned Citizens of Pakistan and Friends of Saad Khan are holding a Vigil on Friday, September 11, 2009 at Sahhi Chowk, opposite Park Towers, Clifton. We invite one and all to join hands in protesting against the gross show of corporate irresponsibility that claimed the life of Saad Khan. The vigil is being held to resist Unilever’s callous discriminatory attitude towards the citizens of Pakistan by neglecting mandatory safety and security measures and not offering insurance to the contestants of the Clear Men Reality Show, shot in Bangkok. Lack of professional lifeguards on location, absence of medics on spot and other such important factors led to the tragic death of Saad Khan. This is corporate manslaughter. A multinational corporate like Unilever cannot get away with such gross negligence in any other civilised country.
    Justice delayed is justice denied – all information on Saad Khan’s death should be made public. Unilver MUST accept full responsibility of the bad arrangements that led to Saad’s tragic and untimely death.
    Let’s join our hands together and raise a unified voice against Unilever’s irresponsible, discriminatory and callous attitude. Join in creating awareness about our rights and save many Saad Khans from falling victim to corporate callousness.

    Please bring along a candle, a lighter or a diya and light it in Saad Khan’s memory.

    Please spread the word and get more and more people to come.

  3. Karim says:

    Any latest updates? Last week, I saw the first glimpse of this news on mainstream print media when DAWN published it on back page. It’s still not clear whether Unilever has accepted responsibility for the whole event or not.

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