Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Hypocrisy Stakes

For those of you who (rightfully) never tire of running Geo / ARY down for their positions at the head of a particularly irrational class of reactionary sensationalist media, watch out. There's a new contender in town vying for the crown. And its name is Samaa.

If that looks a bit unsettling, so is the channel now

Do you know what the top headline for the channel's news was for hours this evening - at least all the way from the 9 o' clock news until the last time I checked? Not the floods, not the latest drone attack, not the ongoing government-supreme court tussle, not the alleged terrorist plot in Europe supposedly traced to Pakistan, not the dire status of the economy, not the New York Times reports of military displeasure with the government, not the seeming ideological about-turn of the MQM and its implications for the coalition government. No, it was a story about a debate within the Sindh Assembly about alcohol.

Okay, so one can legitimately question whether the Sindh Assembly should be discussing the merits of the alcohol ban in Pakistan at this point in time when myriad far greater problems confront the country and the province. And apparently the assembly members did spend a bit of time discussing the merits of foreign versus local booze in a light-hearted manner. But the TOP story???

And what a story it was! Replete with snarky audio clips of film music about addictive "sharaab" [alcohol] and double entendre narration (example: "Iss se pehlay ke arakeen behek jaatay aur shaam dhalak jaati..." [Before the members could be led astray and the evening spilled over...]), the report steadfastly ignored the fact that the debate actually began over a parliamentarian pointing out the damage that illegal (and dangerous) moonshine often inflicts on citizens. Perfectly legitimately, the member questioned the hypocrisy of a system in which the elite can get foreign booze in restaurants, clubs and 5-star hotels and are never prosecuted for their open consumption but the poor are hauled off to jails for possession of even small amounts of liquor and suffer far more than that in terms of health. This is an extremely valid argument and goes right to the heart of the class hypocrisy that makes up the rotten state of affairs in Pakistan. And before any of you get self-righteously religious on me, keep in mind that the debate was not specifically about Muslims and that there is a sizable population of non-Muslims in Sindh as well who are affected by the same double-standards. Not that I think the state should be interfering in individual Muslims' personal choices either.

But of course Samaa and its reporter were having none of that. All they were interested in was in sensationalizing the fact that a debate about alcohol was even happening in the Sindh Assembly at all. (And, aside from the issue of the timing of it, why should it not?) And by implication, scandalizing those who were taking part as imbibers and drunkards. It was all akin to fifth-graders snickering over the mention of the word 'sex'. (I can't find the report yet on Youtube but will upload it once / if it does come online.)

To further inflame the passions of its viewers, the channel took on the phone former minister Dr Sher Afgan Niazi to express his "sorrow" over the debate and to berate it as not only "haraam" (forbidden) but "against the constitution." So, now even debating an issue of social relevance and health can be unconstitutional and un-Islamic. (Incidentally, what the hell happened to Sher Afgan? Recall that the man, before becoming General Musharraf's parliamentary spokesperson, was once considered a liberal PPP stalwart as well.)

Of course this is the same Samaa, whose anchor Meher Bokhari conducted an incendiary (and severely ill-informed) programme at the height of the Florida-based Quran-burning provocation, with nary a thought to the kind of uncontrollable passions it could give rise to. (To give you an idea of what that programme was like, it had on air, among others, whacko conspiracy theorist Shireen Mazari and the head of the Sipahe Sahaba Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi as 'expert' commentators and even broadcast pictures of some nutcase burning a Quran in New York.) Obviously the channel has decided to unceremoniously dump its much-touted erstwhile slogan decrying sensationalism ("Sansani Nahin, Siraf Khabar" [No Sensationalism, Only News]).

Now, we have always maintained that a person's lifestyle choices are their own and should not be a topic of public gossip. (Recall that we defended Bokhari and others when a right-wing website made salacious claims about their private conduct.) But I also think it is legitimate to discuss them when that person himself or herself make them an issue for others, particularly hypocritically. And it's about time that someone put an end to these kinds of blatant double standards. So, I suppose it would be perfectly reasonable to point out that Samaa TV's owner, Zafar Siddiqui, rather likes his Scotch (and this is no mere hearsay). The duplicity of a channel with a whiskey-swilling owner holding others to the fire for even discussing alcohol is just a bit too much to bear.

Samaa's owner and Mr Walker are good friends

So, how do you like them apples, Mr Siddiqui?


Ahsan said...

Sorry Pyalas, but something about the last couple of paras is disturbing. Doesn't seem right.

Ahsan said...

Ok to clarify what I meant...

I guess I'm uncomfortable with the whole notion of stooping to someone else's pathetic level. I'm definitely in the eye-for-an-eye camp on some issues, but this stuff about sharab, women etc is so often used in our society as a way to discredit others, that it doesn't sit right to see a blog I respect doing it too. Of course, you could respond and say you're not seeking to discredit them per se, but I think that would be just a semantic argument.

One other thing about this is that behind the veil of anonymity that CP has (which is fair enough given 90% of your material), this sort of stuff is unfair b/c it doesn't allow the "accused" to respond. If you had your name attached to this, at least the guy could respond and say "Well he drinks too! And what's more, he screws sheep at the zoo!" or whatever.

The bottom line is that for CP, drinking etc is not an issue, so why make it one? Aren't there other ways of pointing out the hypocrisy of Samaa without bringing in personal/free-time stuff? It just seems kind of petty and vindictive.

Wonder what your other readers think. Maybe I'm the only one, who knows?

Saad Ghauri said...


The point here is not to get personal. The point here is to exhibit the hypocrisy. The post is extremely relevant. When we are talking about how a news channel was being immature about a discussion in which the matter that the rich can drink their expensive alcohol but the poor cannot, pointing out that the owner of that TV channel is himself drinking the same expensive alcohol is extremely relevant. This is not stooping to someone's level. This is just telling people to stop making fucking sensationalist shit to earn money when you yourself do the things which you are creating a scandal about.

Anonymous said...

Who was the reporter that "broke"the story? If it was about Sindh Assembly then I am guessing it was Arbab Chandio. It sounds like his kind of story.

Arbab quite enjoys his sharaab also.

Anonymous said...

Relevant blog entry!
Communicates the point of how our society and media are bi-polar entities in a comprehensive thorough manner
But you know what it is that makes this post slightly different from CP's other writings is that it sounds slightly personal! Just a tad bit...that's all!

Anonymous said...

i have to say i somewhat agree with ahsan... but only on the *feeling* that the barb aimed at siddiqui seems put in a petty manner. but that sounds more like a result of xyz's usual venting-mode than malicious. it still has its place though, perhaps if nuanced slightly differently.

channel operators and owners hide behind their sanctimonious bullshit artists while reaping the benefits, both commercial and political, of their media power, caring not a whit about the incredible damage done in the pursuit of ratings. in a sense they throw stones out the windows of their glass houses. well, about time we started throwing a few back.

vics said...

I think I agree with Ahsan above despite the fact that you put in a rationalization, "But I also think it is legitimate to discuss them when that person himself or herself make them an issue for others, particularly hypocritically. And it's about time that someone put an end to these kinds of blatant double standards."

Your post would have still been great without the allegation (I hope you don't expect the readers to take your word for it not being hearsay) so I don't really understand why you included it?

XYZ said...

@Ahsan and vics: Fair enough. I respect what you feel and, believe me, I struggled quite a bit with whether to include this or not.

But as Saad Ghauri points out, the point was not to make an issue either of drinking or to "discredit" anyone for doing it through personal attacks (and it's not a semantic argument). The point was exactly as he put it, to indicate the hypocrisy of the channel and the class interests that the media itself is part of (thank you Saad). Incidentally, I know a lot more about the Samaa owner which I did not put into this post because it was simply irrelevant to the point. Plus I don't believe for one second that outing Siddiqui's drinking will disempower him or put him at any disadvantage in any material way in Pakistan - that's simply not the way class dynamics work. And most of the business people he deals with, also drink.

As for your (Ahsan's) point about anonymity giving us undue advantage, that would be a perfectly valid point to make if all we were doing was making vindictive personal attacks. I hope that's not what we are doing and we have generally strenuously stayed away from personal gossip. As I said, the only reason someone's personal life has even entered into the post is because it is directly related / contrary to what he is trying to promote through his channel.

@Anon350:Haha, yes it was. And there you go.

@Anon400: and @Anon403: Yes, it was my venting mode. Heh. May be I *should* have slept on it. But I just wish the sensationalizing media idiots (personally I think most in the media do it without thinking of consequences rather than out of any ideological agenda) would allow some rational debate to take place in this country about difficult issues instead of making it further impossible through their antics.

Magnum said...

Really, what exactly has gone wrong with the media?

I mean, really, really.Forget about known reactionaries, but now you have pretty decent looking people sounding like over-the-top asses.

The moment they see a camera, off they go: Blah, blah, blah.

We're all Islamists now. And would someone plesae, please pack that hyper dyke Mehr Bokari off to waziristan?

And, oh, yes, have a drink on me. Cheers.

Alpha Za said...

Interesting how the discussion thread has veered away from the retardedness of Samaa making Alchohol Consumption it's headline news.

It's not just hypocritical, it's poor taste. When you try to be a news channel, you discuss the most pressing issues of the day, and lets face it, Pakistan certainly has more than a few pressing issues.

I think it's important to refrain from personal attacks, and by inlarge the Pyala folks have done a pretty good job of it. The discussion board on the other hand, seems to develop a highschool feel once the media industry's 'celebs' are brought up. The questions on Nadia Khan being a recent example as well as the Talat Hussain Charactor assasination.

Jani Chaltakar said...

An intriguing old piece by NFP on alcohol and Pakistan.

Here's another interesting one by Declan Walsh in The Guardian;

There was also one by Ayaz Aamir in Dawn some years ago, but I can't find it on the net.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong Pyala. Mr Siddiqui's tipple of choice is vodka not scotch.

Ghazi said...

So much the better, Anon. :)
I'd love to see Ms. Dumbass Bokhari do a show on burkas. That'll be lovely.

Anonymous said...

There is a saying people don't lie when they are drunk...
So after my fifth vodka...(and before I had two taquillassss)...I have decided to write..
I think blame shouldn't go to Zafar Sidd....Because He is not running the show...He is a typical corporate boss..
So who should be blamed?
Ofcourse the great news team....The leader Sarwar Mosavi and his cronies Nadeem Raza (a sub-editor in express who joined geo and reached to the post of Sr Producer). Nadeem is very religious so for him it was a legitimate entry. As relying on the news judgement of Azhar Abbas, Mujaddid Sheikh and Zahid Hussain and other seasoned Urdu journalists, he used to make bulletins. This time he has to do it on his own so he is learning on the expense of Zafar Siddiqui.
Interestingly, Samaa hired many people from Geo who have joined the channel claiming that they were backbone of Geo and Geo done everything to stop them but they refused and joined Samaa.
This is wrong because Nadeem Raza left for a month's vacation so that management offer him some money so he can stay. He was quoted some close circles saying he would have stayed in Geo if it had offered him just 20 to 30 thousands rupee raise.
Same with Salaman Hasan and Zulfiqar Naqvi.
Zulfaqar Naqvi left in haste as he knew people are going to be fired and he may be in the list because of his great performance.
Third chracter was brought in Zahid Mazhar, who had first informed Geo director news verbally about his intentation as management didn't respond him positively, he had left with no other option but leave.
However, now they all are claiming geo was dying to hold them.
Another chracter was brought Mr Sherazi, a close friend of Nadeem Raza, who was just a copy editor.
So I think soon Zafar Sidd will realise how he was being fooled.
There is a saying circulating in Samaa that Geo team is being sent by Geo management to destroy the channel.
I don't know when Zaffar Siddiqui will learn and hire a professional news leader who can understand changing dynamic of media and bring some new innovative product rather following the already settled channels like Express.
But for the time being We will suffer because of Great GEO Mafia.
Yuck tis whole buzines spoile my mood.....but Truth need to be told i m saint now!!!!

Nadir El-Edroos said...

Seems like wannabe media barons in Pakistan have been reading up on Rupert Murdochs autobiography. That what pulls emotional strings is good for the bottom line.

Anonymous said...

XYZ - you have erred. You really should have slept over it. Bringing the media owner into this is not fair particularly since you Absolut(ely)tripped over Keep Walking.