Monday, September 14, 2009

Meera and the Media

I was planning on writing something about the despicable hypocrisy and shallow classism of the media's handling of the Meera controversy, where the Pakistani actress' personal troubles with a man alleging to be her husband have become fodder for regular, snide reports on television. But Faiza S. Khan has beaten me to it on an Indian web magazine, so I will just reproduce it below.

But before you read Faiza's analysis (which I happen to agree with), do also take a look at some examples of what I am talking about.

Here's Geo's 'news report' giving its "unbiased" opinion on the developments of the Meera story:

Here's Geo showing its professional ethics by not only continuing to film after the subject (that would be Meera in this case) specifically asked for the cameras to be turned off, but then broadcasting the unauthorized footage:

Now, this is hardly the entire story. Geo's anchors have been the worst (unfortunately, I could not find the clips of the anchors' comments on youtube), using language and innuendo hardly appropriate for news presenters and offering their unsolicitied personal opinions on the issue, usually to make fun of Meera. Among the lines I have personally heard used in the headlines (Headlines!) are "Bakray ki maan kab tak khair manaye gi" ('How long can the lamb escape slaughter', announcing the discovery of the alleged nikahkhwaan) and "Urdu tak tau baat saheeh thi lekin Angraizi mein train pathri se uttar gayi" ('Matters were all right in Urdu, but English derailed the train', announcing Meera's statement to reporters outside the court). In other instances, channels have used the song "Jhoot Bolay Kawwa Kaatay" as theme music for their segments on Meera, and even implied that her protestations about the matter are just a big drama.

The question here is not whether Meera is being truthful or being disingenuous or even of her "moral integrity." The question is one simply of why the media has chosen to relentlessly attack her, sometimes for her alleged crime,  sometimes her personal morality, sometimes her language skills, and sometimes her "bold" scenes in films across the border. Could it be, simply, that Meera is a 'soft' target without power and influence? One who can be counted on not to be able to strike back, legally or otherwise?

One may well question the media wolf-pack whether they have ever been as biting on television about illustrious politicians, military generals or other public figures with far more egregious personal lives (I can think of many, many who have led far more scandalous lives but who receive utmost respect on our channels!). Or would they think it's fair game if they themselves - as public figures - were ridiculed and mocked in the same way for any of their indiscretions? What do you think, macho-man Javed Iqbal? I'd like to hear you speak some proper English myself.

In any case, on to Faiza's analysis:

A Girl Called Meera
By Faiza S. Khan
Meera’s story challenges the hypocrisies of the liberal-minded swish set in exactly the same way as Rakhi Sawant’s does.
News on the drawing room circuit this week revolves around the private life of a local media personality: the statuesque, achingly beautiful actress Meera, who, like Cher, goes by just the one name. Meera is a Lollywood film star, in so much as one can be a Lollywood film star. The Lahore-based Pakistan film industry hasn’t enjoyed anything resembling brisk trade since the ’80s and hasn’t seen quality cinema since the ’70s. Currently, a percentage of their talent is culled from sex workers. In an odd reversal, if you’re going to find successful actors and thoughtful directors, it’s most likely to be on television. Meera’s tried her luck that side of the border (where film sets are paved with milk and honey) but so far it’s come to naught. Well, almost naught. She was picked up by Mahesh Bhatt (for a movie, I hasten to add) in 2005. Her controversial kiss with co-star Ashmit Patel in Soni Razdan’s steamy Nazar made it to the international press due to the now customary death threats from lunatic extremists. While it remains unconfirmed, there are suspicions that some of the threats may have come from film-goers irked at having spent good money on a clumsy remake of The Eyes of Laura Mars.
It doesn’t really matter that the film was a turkey; Meera is not known for her acting and draws a sizeable income from advertising campaigns and personal appearances. She is known by the in-crowd primarily for her novel use of the English language. ‘Meera-isms’ regularly circulate at parties, a running joke being the time when she was asked what her favourite feature was and replied, ‘my ass’, obviously meaning her eyes, Meera announcing she has a headache in her stomach, and so forth. That she largely works in Pakistan and is fluent in both Punjabi and Urdu makes no difference. And if it isn’t bad enough being tittered at by pretentious socialites (many of whom think ‘rocking’ is an adjective), for not having had the opportunity to attend a Grammar School, there’s the most recent scandal that shows up an even uglier quality in society at large.
The rumour, which in itself isn’t terribly interesting, involves a Dubai-based businessman claiming to be Meera’s husband, complete with photographs of what appears to be their nikkah, attempting to take possession of the house she lives in, which he alleges belongs to him. According to Meera, he has threatened her with physical harm. She has responded by swearing up and down that she has never been married and will tell anyone who’ll listen that an opportunistic plot has been cooked up to use her fame to seize her assets.
I don’t particularly care if it’s true or not; like I said, not very interesting. I am however taken aback by the utterly disgraceful treatment meted out to her by the media. She’s presented as comic relief, shown as an exhibit at a zoo, worse yet, a contestant on a reality show. She’s patronised by smirking, smug little news anchors, who appear to forget that they’re not in fact opinion-makers, closer to human teleprompters. She constantly confronts hostile questions, has been filmed secretly having an off-the-record conversation and the footage of her crying at a press conference has been set to a jaunty little tune on YouTube. A particularly nasty blog included the comment, ‘I feel so bad for that man. All these bazaari women marry men for their money.’ Ah yes, as opposed to all those eminently respectable girls from ‘good families’, well, obviously money has never crossed their noble minds, which is why we see so many of them eloping with the milkman for love.
All the liberals (and we have many who wouldn’t be considered broad-minded if there weren’t the Taliban as a point of comparison), fully cognizant of the fact that women are particularly at risk in Pakistan, are too busy sniggering up their sleeves to care. There’s a self-satisfied air in the re-telling of Meera’s misfortune, a sense of justice that an upstart of dodgy origins, who flaunts her new money and her outrageously large Versace glasses, should be brought down a peg. The unsubstantiated suggestion lingers that some of her newly acquired wealth may have come from the world’s oldest profession. Here’s the deal: you create a society where women are neither permitted nor equipped to make a substantial living, a society where, out of sheer politeness, you’re supposed to be born and die on the same social echelon. Then you hate people for finding ways around this.
You’d think a country aged 62, itself a parvenu in the global arena, would be more forgiving, perhaps even encouraging of social mobility. Apparently not.


Ahsan said...

You guys have an interesting blog going on here. Good stuff. The content suggests you guys work in journalism. Am I right?

XYZ said...

@Ahsan: Thank you for your kind words. All of the contributors to the blog are associated with the media in one way or the other. *Some* are active journalists who do not want to compromise their sources by making their identities public. Keeping our identities private on this blog is not meant to subvert the normal ethics of journalism, just to provide a little more freedom for critical commentary about the profession / environment we operate in.

Serial Kicker said...

Well you do have an interesting perspective on this whole affair of "camera-not-being-turned-off-when-it should-have". I tried really hard to sympathize with Meera but I just couldn't get myself to do it.
The way I look at it, I don't understand why Meera had to make such bold and impassioned statements about her personal life in front of the camera. If some celebrity comes under the weather or hits some snags, they have to lay low for a while and sort things out. Meera, for reasons best known to herself, went in front of the camera and completely lost her cool. You have to admit, the kind of stuff she was saying about her mom and brother, was very disturbing.

XYZ said...

@SerialKicker: Oh I completely agree that Meera makes her own case worse by offering audacious comments when she should really be lying low. But then I know Meera is an unpredictable - nay, unstable - person with a very superficial understanding of how the harsh media machine operates. But this does not excuse journalists and tv channels from bypassing basic ethics: when your interviewee requests the camera / mike to be switched off, you are supposed to comply. What is said specifically off-the-record is *supposed* to be off-the-record. Those are the rules. They are simply flouting those rules because they know that Meera will not be able to hit back at them.

Secondly, precisely because Meera has an emotionally unstable disposition and is prone to taking unthought-out decisions (and most media hacks know this well), the relentless media attacks on her are not at all in good taste. Reporting is one thing, ridiculing and humiliating someone quite another. And ridiculing someone because s/he is socially powerless even worse. You wouldn't do that to someone who is vulnerable or emotionally disturbed (e.g. a abused child, an assault victim or a schizophrenic patient - and I don't mean to imply that Meera is one of these) and who could possibly take drastic actions. That's all in the realm of good common sense and humanity.

karachi khatmal said...

well written stuff, and am glad to see journos blogging.

i would like to do a shameless plug which you might find to be anyway in bad taste, but hey.

Cynic said...

I totally agree that geo people just humiliate Meera in any way whether it be bold scene (as if other ladies from the industry are "PAK DAMAN") or her wedding conspiracy. As they say talibans self righteous ppl I blame geo ppl self righteous in their journalism.

XYZ said...

@KK: actually that Downfall clip is quite funny... it ranks up there with the other desi one about a collective Eid... :) Perhaps I will do a post about it. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

How on earth does the spoiled and portly Faiza Khan have a "career"- not on talent!

Faiza S Khan said...

I'm deeply offended, I most certainly do not have a "career"!