But I mulled over whether to write a response initially because I didn't want to get into a pointless war of words with someone who is obviously very defensive about her errors of omission and commission. Secondly, I did a Google search on her and discovered she is still a very young journalist who is not only a couple of years at most out of journalism school but also fancies herself as a photographer and a musician, in other words an interesting person still trying to find their true calling. So, even though she also boasts about opening a dominatrix shop in Paris (or was it because of it?), I felt sorry for being a bit harsh with her.
Mary Bowers of The Times
Eventually, however, I decided I did need to write some sort of response, if only so that those readers over at the Dawn blog who are taken by Ms Bowers' writing style (it is certainly a well-written piece) but clueless about the real points of contention between us, can understand the issue. If you are reading this, Mary, please understand that it is nothing personal. So here goes.
Dear Mary Bowers:
1. The basic assumption in your response is that Pakistanis like us (or at least us on this blog) do not understand the pressures foreign journalists work under and the world view of their editors / readers back home, and that this is what needs to be explained. This is simply untrue. Many of us have worked for the international media and all of us know foreign colleagues who do a commendable job reporting for the international press. Even with all their pressures and the skewed expectations of stories-that-sell, they continue to fight against stereotypes and bring nuance to their reporting. Our issue is simply with the lazy pandering to stereotypes that characterizes "parachute journalism" - a term you acknowledge yourself.
2. You have not addressed the two or three instances where I pointed out that you got your information / characterizations terribly wrong. Among them: that fashion has been repressed by governments before the Lahore Fashion Week, that the LFW was some sort of liberal aberration in a highly controlled Islamic society, that television in Pakistan consists entirely of hijab or niqab clad faces. Surely, the "most unforgiving of masters: the truth" - as you term it - requires you to get your facts correct.
3. At least two out of the three people whose quotes you used to illustrate your piece have claimed in our blog that they were misquoted or quoted out of context. One claimed her quote about death threats before the LFW actually referred to death threats before another event the previous year. Would you say that is justified by your defence of the pressures Western journalists work under?
4. You write:
"But some – often the acronymed and unaccountable world of the blogosphere – like to suggest that journalists are at best automatons, “led up the garden path” by their sources, as my critic suggested. At worst, they are guilty of that most overused of phrases, “lazy journalism.”"
I just want to point out that I never suggested (nor would I ever suggest) that journalists in general are automatons (though some may certainly be imbecilic). The reference to being "led up the garden path" referred, in the post's context, to the incorrect information provided by someone most journalists would trust to provide a correct perspective but which they probably should have double-checked. Oh, and by the way, isn't the "unaccountable world of the blogosphere" really the most overused of phrases these days?
5. I agree with you that Pakistani designers choosing "canary yellow taffeta over last season's cornflower blue satin" may not be a story Londoners are interested in. But as someone commented on the Dawn blog, there is no compulsion for the Western media to cover Pakistani fashion, if they do not think it merits attention. I mean, (apologies for the sort-of pun) no one is holding a gun to their heads to do it, are they? So, does it all boil down to freelancers trying to sell their stories? You write:
"I couched fashion week in terms of a defiant action in the face of radicalism and conservatism – a tack taken, I noticed, by most of the other international media present."
Yeah, we know, we know. But following the herd does not make it good journalism.
6. Finally, let me just reiterate that it is not that we don't think that Pakistan has no problems of terrorism or that there are no other problems here (God knows there are huge ones!). Neither is it my contention, at all, that foreign journalists should ignore them and paint only a rosy picture of the country. All I am arguing for is some balance and a toning down of the sensationalism that may sell stories but really paints an equally inaccurate picture for readers who already understand too little, as you yourself admit. I completely agree with you when you say hopefully:
"...only the slow chipping away of decades of cemented perceptions can counter that greatest and most ignorant of faceless beasts: fear."
I would only submit that "slow chipping away" still needs someone to do it. Sensational stereotypes and inaccurate context only help add more cement.