Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Soft Head of TV Journalism

Can I just say how sick I am of silly television anchors' idea of "hard-nosed journalism"? Can no serious issue be covered without dragging it down to the level of bathos? Or without trying to make politically loaded connections that are tenuous at best and whose only purpose is to showcase the anchors' populist credentials?

Here we have a truly tragic incident in Lahore, where a 36-year-old rickshaw driver, Akbar Ali, not only committed suicide, but poisoned almost his entire family as well. Two of his young daughters died with him, while his wife and another daughter are struggling for life in a hospital. One young son escaped the poisoning. The fact that a working man should feel despondent enough about his and his family's future to commit such a terrible act should definitely serve as a wake-up call for society on a number of fronts. Not least of them, about the state of mental health and the social fabric in the country: it is instructive to note that Akbar Ali had a number of siblings, relatives and neighbours, as well as elderly parents, none of whom apparently had a clue about the storm raging inside Akbar. And of course it should lead to circumspection about how economic hardship and the lack of social safety nets are affecting the poor.


Newsbeat's Meher Bokhari: empathy theatre


Instead we have Ms Meher Bokhari of Samaa TV's flagship current affairs programme Newsbeat, turning up from Akbar Ali's home with the young son draped over her arm, doing a show taglined "Ijtimayi Khudkushi... Budget Ke Munh Pe Tamancha" ['Collective Suicide...A Slap on the Face for the Budget']. Huh?? Is this all she could relate it to, the budget?!? Now don't get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that Samaa and Ms Bokhari wanted to give this incident due attention (even if I found the drama of doing a show in the midst of wailing family members and the melodrama of having the exhausted and no doubt traumatized son sleeping in Ms. Bokhari's lap rather unsettling and in poor taste). And expressing empathy with the bereaved family members is also commendable. But what exactly was the content of the show beyond superficial berating of officialdom?

It's the easiest thing in the world to attack governments and their wasteful expenditures. And heaven knows they richly deserve it. But when anchors focus on the current president and prime minister in very personal attacks, making it seem as if all was hunky dory in days gone by, you begin to get a whiff of either a political agenda or utter and complete naivete. Meher Bokhari's intro to the programme attacks Asif Zardari for not knowing the number of rooms in the presidency, Yousuf Raza Gilani for being overly concerned about his sartorial trimmings, and ministers for having too much security protocol, all in the service of showing how disconnected this government is from the people. But can she seriously claim any different under General Musharraf, for example? Unfortunately she probably thinks she is being a hard-nosed and edgy commentator. Geo has a lot to answer for.

When Ms Bokhari took on PPP Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab with a rambling and incendiary non-question, I felt sympathy for Ms Wahab, probably for the first time. You really have to see this performance theatre to understand what got my blood really boiling. The Fauzia Wahab portion begins around 6:36 in this clip:




Ms Bokhari seems insistent in linking the suicide to the presentation of the federal and provincial budgets. It sounds almost absurd, as if Akbar Ali waited to listen to the budget speeches before deciding his course of action.What possible evidence does she have to imply cause and effect? None. But no facts dare stand in the way of our intrepid analyst.

During the entire programme, Ms Bokhari also touts a figure of 7,000 suicides in Pakistan over the last two years (once again, decontextualized from the situation before the PPP government came into office). First of all, even though she claims this is "on the record data", the sources for her figure seem highly dubious. As this report from the Daily Times quoting an academic study says:


"There are no official data on suicide from Pakistan. Data on suicide is not included in the national annual mortality statistics. As a result, national rates on suicide are neither known nor reported to the WHO."


This is not of course to say that suicide rates have not increased in the last few years (there is compelling anecdotal evidence to support this), just that there are no figures.

When Fauzia Wahab points out (though getting the mathematics horribly wrong) that Ms Bokhari's figure implies roughly 10 suicides a day (she thought it meant 1000 a day), Ms Bokhari immediately agrees to revise the figure down, falling back on the soft emotionalism of 'even 100 suicides is not okay.' This is journalism?

Even if we accept Ms Bokhari's figures of the number of suicides in Pakistan, how do we immediately connect all of them to economic despondency? Surely not every suicide in Pakistan is related to poverty. It would also be instructive to look at the global figures for suicide, which experts tell us has increased dramatically all over the world in last few decades. Incidentally, Japan and Korea, two of the most industrialized and prosperous countries in the world, have among the highest rates of suicide. What does that mean for Ms Bokhari's analysis?

Once again, I am in no way discounting the effect of increasing poverty (for which there are figures) and the increasing wealth gap (ditto) on the apparent rise in despondency in Pakistan. The point I am trying to make here is that serious issues, and particularly such tragic incidents, need to be dealt with in a more sober and thoughtful manner. By making easy and dubious political judgements, based on nothing but grandstanding, the media does no one any favours.

Oh, and someone should tell Ms Bokhari that shouting like Jasmin Manzoor - as she is increasingly wont to do on her show - does not make one a more credible journalist. Just irritatingly loud.

40 comments:

know it all said...

Great post XYZ---completely agree with your analysis. These very sad incidents need to be dealt with in a sober and serious manner. Ms. Bokhari sounded like she wanted to contest elections from the area. Never really thought much of her journalistic abilities---and btw the analogy to Jasmeen Manzoor's shouting abilities is pretty apt too.

Tayyab Mahmood said...

As usual gr8 post XYZ........
I'll add few things in it.

1. Yes its government responsibility to provide people with basic social cushion

2.We agree with Ms Mehar that government is incompetent then What are neighbors & his Family doing to address Akbar Ali's missrey ?

3. I am not in favor of involving the religion in politics but I need it due to the "fatwa baz" molvis misinterpretation of Religion ...Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says " “A believer is not the one who eats his fill when his neighbors is hungry"

4. There must be many mosques around that locality and many people pray in them but again are they doing justice to society or religion they follow? Answer is No...

Yak said...

You know i came home yesterday just when this program's last quarter was running and when i saw this meher (Noise polluting pseudo journalist) holding a sleeping child in her lap, i thought man i need to express something about this but your post nearly reflected my opinion. I just want to add that allowing baseless and ridiculous analysis regarding any event by all these crappy journalists is a dangerous game. Not only they can create a public opinion based on falsehood but can force the public to take dangerous actions. Analysis based on seeking truth results in correct judgment and correct judgment leads to right actions. No doubt the miseries of people these days are real and it is much to do with failures of the present corrupt government but governments cannot solve all the problems, i think there is a need for public awakening to look around our neighborhoods, to create funds for the needy etc etc. And yes we need to be more politically active to questions and change the ways of the elected governments and more important than that is choose the right people for public offices.

Anonymous said...

Doing an agenda program with a recently orphaned child in your lap is just plain sick. Sick sick sick.

asvita said...

I dont understand you people – almost like useless internet freaks- so painstakingly jealous of someone – ACTUALLY- trying to work and bring the voice of the downtrodden on tv. I watched the entire show – and I salue Meher Bokhari for making the effort to go inside this neighbourhood and collect leading politicians and analysts there… who otherwise wanted to have nothing to do with this altogether. This entire show asks a greater question: where are we headed, our politicians are obsessed with their own lifestyles and are far disconnected from the masses. Even this neighbourhood is going to have elections soon – yet candidates are campigning loud and singing along but NO ONE bothered coming to this house and ensuring the dead bodies reach home. Meher connected this entire issue with lack of policies, unfriendly budgets, and growing discrepancy – Fauzia Wahab refused to even admit or acknowledge this hopelessness and poverty is even a problem of her government… Ahsan Iqbal finally understood and came close to admitting the failure of our leaders.
As for the child in Meher’s lap —- does seeing reality really sting us as much as it stings people like Fauzia Wahab??? The child is symbolic of the sheer desperation of life in Pakistan – and my family, freinds and I SALUTE Meher and her channel for doing what should have been done by the politicians. Nawaz, Shahbaz, PPP – NO ONE could extend such sympathy.
The governmental expenditures are a slap on the nations face.

I am dissappointed at this write-up – it shows how CYCNICAL and HEARTLESS we as a nation have become – SHAME ON YOU.

asvita said...

I dont understand you people – almost like useless internet freaks- so painstakingly jealous of someone – ACTUALLY- trying to work and bring the voice of the downtrodden on tv. I watched the entire show – and I salue Meher Bokhari for making the effort to go inside this neighbourhood and collect leading politicians and analysts there… who otherwise wanted to have nothing to do with this altogether. This entire show asks a greater question: where are we headed, our politicians are obsessed with their own lifestyles and are far disconnected from the masses. Even this neighbourhood is going to have elections soon – yet candidates are campigning loud and singing along but NO ONE bothered coming to this house and ensuring the dead bodies reach home. Meher connected this entire issue with lack of policies, unfriendly budgets, and growing discrepancy – Fauzia Wahab refused to even admit or acknowledge this hopelessness and poverty is even a problem of her government… Ahsan Iqbal finally understood and came close to admitting the failure of our leaders.
As for the child in Meher’s lap —- does seeing reality really sting us as much as it stings people like Fauzia Wahab??? The child is symbolic of the sheer desperation of life in Pakistan – and my family, freinds and I SALUTE Meher and her channel for doing what should have been done by the politicians. Nawaz, Shahbaz, PPP – NO ONE could extend such sympathy.
The governmental expenditures are a slap on the nations face.

I am dissappointed at this write-up – it shows how CYCNICAL and HEARTLESS we as a nation have become – SHAME ON YOU.

Anonymous said...

uh, meher did what politicians should be doing? if you mean inserting herself in the story as a photo-op for emotional publicity, much like a politician holding a baby, yeah, she did. so call me cynical, but i see a desperate journalist exploiting a tragedy in the most crude way, not a desperate child.

Rafay Alam said...

Mehr Bokhari is the Geraldo Rivera of Pakistan.

nit-picker said...

Quote: "Geo has a lot to answer for."
I thought you mentioned a different news channel earlier. So used to "Geo-Bashing"? ;) It is right in a sense that one normally associates this kind of journalistic zenith with the trendsetter Geo.

Tayyab Mahmood said...

Our Electronic Media is full of shit...they now nothing except spoil the situation for their PR...

@asvita....A believer is not the one who eats his fill when his neighbors is hungry....as per your comments politician are deaf. OK i admit. What you will say about the Akbar Ali's Father, Brother & Neighbors? Are they not responsible for his suicide. I think they are fully responsible.

When these freak politicians try to give "sasti roti" to poor people, this Ms. Mehar Bukhari argue it as waste of resources.

AHSAN MAHMOOD said...

well I think there is a soft hearted person who feels for the poor and is trying to make the government realise what they are doing.

Yak said...

Listen asvita your points are all valid simply because How can anybody think differently about this issue than what samaa and miss meher thinks. The issue is about how these so called new age media and their barrage of anchors/journalist are always looking for easy opportunities to over emotionalize or create hype out of events (Just to gain financial rewards) which deserve a rationalize approach. Every channel was reporting this event so how should one channel divert the viewers to their coverage? simple: send one of our most loud speaking hottie to the victims house and get her to interview them. no wait this is already been done. so lets pick up one of the victim's sleeping child in the lap as well. Now this will get the viewer's notice. Give me a break!!. Why do they pick these easy outings. Why don't meher and others in this industry go to a suicide bomber's family or families whose loved ones have died due to terrorist activites or investigate crimes committed by thugs of political parties in karachi with the same raw and at your face approach. No they wont. because for that you need guts not just a big loud mouth.

asvita said...

@ Tayyib... well I think when Meher Bokhari argues "sasti roti" is waste of resource bcoz when the prices of vegetables, and daal r near the price of chicken, meat etc den I dont think that poor people r happy to eat just a roti. The politician should first try to give sasti resource like chicken, daal, vegetable, oil etc to make food and then sasti roti wolud worth while. just 1 question if you were a poor person who could not afford just vegetables im talking about the rest just vegetables would "sasti roti" b of any benefit for you?

Anonymous said...

EXACTLY what I thought when I saw the program. Not to be unsympathetic towards the family. But Mehr Bokhari should get over sasti shohrat.
Great post, XYZ.

Muhammad Shahid said...

I do not want to sound cold but did Meher Bokhari, any other anchor or all newspapers (especially the Jang Group) care to remember that suicides out of poverty aren't extremely rare in Pakistan? I remember a police constable killing 3 people in Aabpara and committing suicide then b/c he could no longer pay back his loans. Similarly, a rickshaw driver around my neighbourhood killed his entire family with a sword out of sheer poverty.

What I am trying to say is that these low self worth, low on intellect opinion-makers somehow are trying to make us believe that this is perhaps the first suicide in Pakistan or at least the first case due to poverty.

Atootin said...

Ms. Mehr Bokhari, well what can one say about her?
Sorry to say this, even though I'm no genius, but boy is this woman all noise and no brain.
Why on earth is she so godamn loud??
And stupid.

I feel for the striken family, but this show was pretty sick. Instead of tackling the madness of the likes of geo, other Tv channeels like Samma are stooping way too low.

mehr, get a modeling job. Or better, join ET.

Anonymous said...

@asvita: Hi Meher ;)

Amna. said...

Great Piece, XYZ. It has become almost unbearable to watch these anchors conduct shows on television. I feel im constantly waiting for them to make a point; instead we are fed a mix of dramatic dialogue, misquoted facts & figures and bullshit. I feel its quite sad that we have not left any institution in this country that is credible. Educated anchors such as Meher Bokhari are unable to take us through a 60 min show that can be termed as "relevant". If this is freedom of Media, then God help us.

Amna.

Tazeen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi Mehar. Just read the finance bill and budget speech. Thinking of killing self and family just before prime time over the tax implications of certain clauses. Willing to bequeath all my tax manuals to Samaa. Can arrange suicide in most seedy part of house to signify poverty. Have listless child to spare. Wanna film?

annie said...

accusations and allegations of corruption is as good as farting in this country. people who haven't been convicted and yet jailed for years are maligned to death by people like mehr etc and people who have been convicted are not disqualified from contesting elections by the lahore high court for "default of prosecution"? what kind of message are we getting here?

Magnum said...

@ anon 4:38
LOL! Brilliant.
Count me in. I'll get my own cynide and tell Samma/Mehr that I had to buy it from black. "Budget kay moon pay tamacha!"

Candy Man said...

Article seems highly politically motivated.
Everyone in this country like to go to developed nation & gives example about them but no one bothers to see the way they act. They don't curse their elders. Although Mr. Bush started Iraq & Afghan war but Mr. Obama is facing the music because currently he is the commanding officer. The article of daily times you have listed is quite old. A study over it is available on the internet & don't you think for what ever cause anyone is committing suicide government needs to act over it.

Buddy if you are that competent, please start a talk show of your own on TV or write in any leading news paper about this.

nayyares said...

Kia Mehar Bukhari, woo party girl?

check: http://pakalert.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/in-pictures-us-embassy-hosts-drink-and-dance-party-for-pakistani-journalists/

what the fu*k, since when she started care about poverty?

takhalus said...

suicide is associated with social stressors..but equally it can be associated with serious mental health problems..whats to say ..he wasn't schizophrenic or bi polar?

Anonymous said...

It is a Baised Media No doubt I had never heard a a word of Praise For the elected president

XYZ said...

@Yak: You wrote: "..allowing baseless and ridiculous analysis regarding any event by all these crappy journalists is a dangerous game."

I agree wholeheartedly.


@asvita:

You wrote: "..almost like useless internet freaks"... Hmmm. Almost? I don't know how we managed to miss the mark.

and: : "I salue Meher Bokhari for making the effort to go inside this neighbourhood and collect leading politicians and analysts there… who otherwise wanted to have nothing to do with this altogether"
Really? How would you know that as a viewer? I think I know where you're coming from, if you get my drift...;-)

"Fauzia Wahab refused to even admit or acknowledge this hopelessness and poverty is even a problem of her government… Ahsan Iqbal finally understood and came close to admitting the failure of our leaders."
Wow, what an accomplishment for Meher. Personally I thought Ms Wahab was rather dignified in the face of a ridiculous question.

You say: "As for the child in Meher’s lap —- does seeing reality really sting us as much as it stings people like Fauzia Wahab??? The child is symbolic of the sheer desperation of life in Pakistan."

Er, Right. Reality being Meher caring for orphaned children every night? By the way, Ms Wahab never commented on the child. But you can see how many people felt about it from the comments on this blog.

@Rafay Alam:Heh. Had never thought of it that way. But you may be right! Was going to post her programme from the next night, this time with a legitimately hugely irritated Info Minister Kaira, but decided not to. The woman has really lost it (and I did think she was quite all right when she used to do Nai Raahein earlier.) In hard news, she has a tendency to shoot from the hip, often to ridiculous effect. Don't believe me? See the following links:

Part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuaJ6aVIjz0

Part 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwGTkymZ1Bg

Part 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK5p2LxiPdo

Part 4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mvWF6huT6g

XYZ said...

@nit-picker: I actually did mean to name Geo there for exactly the reason you mention. Their aggressive, half-baked anchors and analysts have influenced a whole generation in other channels.

@Tayyab Mahmood: Actually, Tayyab, on the sasti roti scheme, I would have to agree with Meher Bokhari. There are HUGE problems with the programme, even if one accepts the genuineness of the intentions.

@Ahsan Mahmood: Nothing wrong with having a soft heart. It's the soft head I have an issue with.


@asvita: You write "I think when Meher Bokhari argues "sasti roti" is waste of resource bcoz when the prices of vegetables, and daal r near the price of chicken, meat etc den I dont think that poor people r happy to eat just a roti." If this is actually Meher's logic, I take back my support for her position. The problems with the sasti roti scheme are actually those of inefficient use and distribution of resources.

@Candy Man: You write: "The article of daily times you have listed is quite old. A study over it is available on the internet & don't you think for what ever cause anyone is committing suicide government needs to act over it."

Actually that article from 2008 was the latest one I could find on the issue. There are numerous others, all of which say the exact same thing: that there are no official figures for suicides in Pakistan. And should the government "act" over all suicides? No. It simply cannot. Should it try to prevent them through social awareness and policies that help: yes.

Anonymous said...

I agree with takhalus! Cynical as this may seem, Akbar Ali is no more, so we don't know why he committed suicide and it may as well not have been because he was poor, but because he was a deranged and depressed, or he lost all his savings while playing cards with his thug-like friends. Regardless, a journalist need to dig deeper into the cause to see it for what it is rather than exploiting the situation and ultimately linking it to political influences, when they reasons may as well be social or medical.

That's like saying TTP caused Cyclone Phet.

Aamir Attaa said...

I loved this website but this article is insane

Just consider you have got not a single penny to feed your 4 kids and a wife. Having no hope at all and then you decide to commit suicide,

what other options your parents/ relatives will be left with but not to shout at Politicians? who else is responsible for the food and security of common man?

Now please don't lecture me on cursing Allah for getting us into this life and then this situation.

You are senior industry guys, mocking the journalists and media companies isn't all what we need from you.

Please teach us things we don't know - those phenomenons that are obsolete or are not very common now, stories and case studies of those brilliant editors/reports who are gone now,

I want to mention this website: http://www.totallypr.com/ it has things from local guys for local PR people, take it as an example,

Thanks

Hamza said...

Ok, so I'm changing the topic slightly, but staying with the theme of irritating tv anchors, what's going on with Dr. Shahid Masood?


http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\06\19\story_19-6-2010_pg7_4

What's the background behind this? If confirmed, this is fairly serious business?

Bolshevik said...

@ nayyares said...

Yours was a particularly stupid, overtly patriarchal comment.

I can't speak for Meher since I don't know her (and I do think this programme was pointless and shallow), but does socialising really mean that a person can't care about poverty? What kind of half-assed, mullah argument is that?

So if you care about poverty, you need to go out and show it by, lets see, becoming ascetic and living like the poor?

Moreover, I hated this stupid pakalert post when it was published because again, it came from a very "oh look at these loose women dancing and drinking with a kalla; how dare they enjoy themselves, these... these WOMEN!" point-of-view. To have someone actually pick it up and use it in the content that you have done is absolutely beyond disgusting.

As a woman, I was offended by your comment, which, by the way, added nothing to the discussion at hand (the fact that Meher Bukhari's arguments in this programme were thoroughly stupid).

a_known_mouse said...

@Bolshevik

Agreed!! i didnt have the patience to type out a comment saying how effed up his thinking is.

thanks for taking the time out to do that.

colopu said...

agreed with the last two comments. it was a cheap shot. but, really, it still doesn't take away from the fact that ms. mehr is quite a dumb ass. illinformed, badly read, loud and quite an irritant. that goes for ms. saima mohsin as well, though thank heavens she's gone off air.
both mehr and mohsin are the elite reflections of asswipes like shahid masood, ansar abbasi and so many others.

nayyares said...

@Bolshevik, yo! you want me to get flame here!

you took it hard, but from wrong side ;), first let me clear you, i eat holy cow flash with quite liberal religious spices, so you d'nt need to get any feel that a half-ass mullah is commenting on Mehar's party pics!

the reason i dump her party pics and comment on her poverty show, is because the way she was presenting her show, and asking question to everybody, her whole show main focus to me was "double standard" that is what she herself bare! she is very glamorous WOMAN, still she believe she should talk about people's poverty problem, she herself is giving a "Tamacha on Poor's face!"

btw, by any means if you have roots from Pakistan, a girl who is drinking in parties, hanging with several dudes in front of camera, has no social character!

Holy cow! i am so conservative :(

cheers

nayyares said...

@a_known_mouse, Hi, Mehar ;)

nayyares said...

@colopu, cheap? ofcourse i do comment for free ;)

cheers

mahnat kar hasad na kar said...

I totally agree with asvita. Is mehar Bokhari a party girl? so wot that's her personal matter. But i do like and appreciate her original work. It needs courage to see what most creeps do not like to see. Full of food in the tummy and money in banks, it is not easy for the arrogant and usually corrupt elite to understand the pain of the poor. Akbar Ali killed himself and his dear children...wait read it again...how many would do that unless in utter desperation. Wud u who think Mehr's show a poor performance do it? Knock it off, if you do not fee for the poor, you better eat cake...As far as criticism on charming Mehr is concerned, you had to watch the show where she clashed boldly with management of powerful hotel PC Islamabad, when a child got seriously hurt from the hotel management's carelessness. Every newspaper and TV channel knew abt the incident, but did any except Samaa and Mehr disclose the facts. All you arm chair (mostly anaonymous) commentators, it needs courage to speak the truth. And i salute Samaa and Mehr for doing just that.

Anonymous said...

In this BBC report molvi sahab says Ahmad1s should be killed, but very graciously says killing should be done by Government not by people;

Pakistan minorities nervous after Ahmed1 mosque attacks
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/10431069.stm

What a portrayal of Pakistan and Islam.

thesaproject said...

On the suicidde statistics front: i used to work at HRCP - for about 3 years - where i worked alongside a team that collected statistics and compiled them in a database. while no database in this country could log in 100% accurate no.s I can say with assurity that what HRCP covered showed the tip of an iceberg which is disturbingly huge. the numbers do go in thousands and can be checked on their website.

as for the drama. sad, in extremely poor taste, and a typical case of poor journalism. naively one keeps expecting better.