Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Problematic Appeal

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CLARIFICATION: We posted the following in good faith but seem to have misconstrued some of the facts. It has been brought to our attention, particularly by our friend Shahid Saeed, that the letter addressed to PEMRA's Council of Complaints has not, in fact, been submitted yet and was circulated to gather input from others, and as such is a draft internal document. Saeed feels it may have been unethical of us to lay the document open to critique by people who are not part of the process and we think he may have a very valid point. In addition, the conversation with Zafar Siddiqui referred to below occurred after the Lahore chapter of the CFD filed an earlier complaint with PEMRA against Samaa, not after this letter was submitted. Unfortunately, it would probably also be unethical of us to remove this post altogether now that it has already become public domain. But we would like of offer our sincerest apologies to the CFD for this inadvertent publicization of their draft internal document.
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The Citizens For Democracy (CFD), a loose "Pakistan-wide coalition of civil society, labour, student and religious organizations" as well as "intellectuals, academics and professionals" has sent is considering sending the following complaint to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)'s Council of Complaints against the hiring of Meher Bokhari by Dunya TV after she was sacked from Samaa TV:

"The Chairperson
Council of Complaints, Islamabad
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Headquarters
G-8/1, Mauve Area

Subject: Complaint against the recent hiring of Mehar Bukhari by Duniya channel

Dear Chairperson,

We, Citizens for Democracy (“CFD”), are a Pakistan-wide coalition of civil society, labour student and religious organizations, intellectuals, academics and professionals with branches in Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta, Lahore and Islamabad.  CFD believes that the primary obligation of the State is to protect the lives and property of citizens and that no person or group of people should be permitted to hold the State and the people of Pakistan hostage through the threat or use of force.  A list of some of the organizations that form CFD is attached.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (“PEMRA”) was established by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002 (the “PEMRA Ordinance”), inter alia, to “improve the standards of information, education and entertainment” in Pakistan.  Section 20(c) of the PEMRA Ordinance requires all PEMRA licencees authorized to broadcast electronic media to “ensure that all programs and advertisements do not contain violence, terrorism, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency” and to comply with any rules made under the PEMRA Ordinance.

Rule 15 of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Rules, 2009 (the “PEMRA Rules”) requires that the content of the programs which are broadcast by the broadcast media shall conform to the provisions of Section 20 of the PEMRA Ordinance and to the Code of Conduct set out in Schedule A thereof.  The Code of Conduct is set out below:


(1) No programme shall be aired which:

(a)      Passes derogatory remarks about any religion or sect or community or uses visuals or words contemptuous of religious sects and ethnic groups or which promotes communal and sectarian attitudes or disharmony;

(b)      contains anything pornographic, obscene or indecent or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality;

(c)      contains an abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race or caste, national, ethnic or linguistic origin, colour or religion or sect, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability;

(d)     contains anything defamatory or knowingly false;

(e)      is likely to encourage and incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national or anti-state attitudes;

(f)       contains anything amounting to contempt of court;

(g)      contains aspersions against the Judiciary and integrity of the Armed Forces of Pakistan;

(h)      maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country

(i)        is against basic cultural values, morality and good manners;

(j)        brings into contempt Pakistan or its people or tends to undermine its integrity or solidarity as an independent and sovereign country;

(k)      promotes, aids or abets any offence which is cognizable under the Pakistan Penal Code;

(l)        denigrates men or women through the depiction in any manner of the figure, in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent or derogatory;

(m)    denigrates children;

(n)      contains anything which tends to glorify crime or criminals;

(o)      contains material which may be detrimental to Pakistan’s relations with friendly countries; or

(p)      contains material which is against ideology of Pakistan or Islamic values.

(Emphasis added)

CFD demands that irresponsible journalists like Mehar Bukhari should not be allowed on air as they have a strong tendency to incite violence and promote a culture of hatred.  We are attaching with this mail  a link to two clips from Mehar Bukhari’s show on Samaa TV where she interviewed the late Governor Salman Taseer on the 25th of November 2010. Her demeanor and language was extraordinarily inflammatory and provocative and we believe that this broadcast was also partially responsible for the assassination.

The above cited Broadcast violates the Code of Conduct and is a violation of the PEMRA Rules and Ordinance in that the presenter of the Show, Ms. Mehr Bokhari, conducted an interview with Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer on the issue of the Blasphemy Laws in which she (i) insisted that the Governor’s life was in danger for having inflamed the public’s religious passions, (ii) read out a Fatwa that declared the Governor Punjab a non-Muslim as a result of his pursuing a mercy petition on behalf of a Christian woman convicted of charges of blasphemy and, specifically, the following portion of the Fatwa: “that Munafiq and a Murtid cannot hold high office in this country.”  Ms. Bokhari insisted the Fatwa she read out had force.  This edition of News Beat was subsequently re-broadcast immediately after the assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer.  The provisions of the Code of Conduct violated by the Impugned Broadcast have been emphasized above.

Ms Bukhari demonstrated that she is not responsible journalist or human being when she intentionally misinterpreted Goveernor Taseer’s marks about the blasphemy law. Our media personalities and anchor need to reminded of their social duties so that they do not blindly run ther shows in orderto score more points by gaining cheap attention. Mehar Bukhari should have to pay a penalty for her deplorable attitude and we recommend that she be banned from any news channel for at least a period of three years.

With best regards.
Very truly yours,
On behalf of CFD

-            List of organizations forming CFD

Copies to:
-  Chairman
G-8/1, Mauve Area

- Chairperson
Council of Complaints, Lahore
House No. 25, Abid Majeed Road
Bridge Colony

- Mr. Qamar Zaman Kaira
Minister for Information and Broadcasting
Ministry of Information, Government of Pakistan

- Jaag Productions (Private) Limited
Technocity Corporate Towers
off I.I. Chundrigar Road,
Karachi 74000"

Personally, while we support CFD's aims of putting all such media personalities on notice that they cannot simply get away with spewing all sorts of irresponsible nonsense on television and even building pressure on PEMRA to do the job it has been tasked with, we're not so sure that singling out Ms. Bokhari for such stark punitive action is entirely appropriate. After all, the ultimate responsibility for such broadcasts must rest with the channel owners and their editorial heads, rather than simply with their public faces. In fact, PEMRA's earlier action of fining Samaa rightly focused on the channel rather than the presenter. Asking for a three year ban on any one particular person also seems particularly excessive especially given that there are far worse offenders on Pakistani screens (who should also be taken to task) and that the rest of those responsible for even these particular broadcasts escape any kind of censure by CFD.

Meher Bokhari: basking in notoriety (Source: GT Magazine)

Interestingly, one of the CFD members, Mahbina Wahid, also circulated an email to the group pointing out that after this an earlier complaint was filed with PEMRA against Samaa TV, Samaa TV owner Zafar Siddiqui himself called her. She wrote:

"He informed me that he had already sacked Meher Bokhari and her entire production team last week after seeing CDs of her show that were sent to him. He also said that he personally was very upset that it was his channel that had broadcast such a show. He lives in Dubai and is not involved in the day to day management of the channel, hence he was not aware of this show when it happened. He has also now ensured that certain other sensationalised items in Pakistan are not covered by his channel."

So at least we have clarity about the circumstances of Ms. Bokhari's departure from Samaa. If anything, CFD's ire should be focused more towards Dunya's unseemly haste and taste in signing on and relaunching Ms. Bokhari as a 'brave and fearless' "Pakistan's most dangerous journalist", as anyone who has seen their latest promos can attest.


AI said...

This is not going to work and we are making Meher Bokhari a heroine. Best way is that her programs be boycotted by viewers and politicians. Make her into a GEO and boycott. This way she will become a case study and will be all the more of a martyr.

Shahid Saeed said...

While I agree entirely with the proposition that PEMRA should fine the anchors and regulate the media as such and that bans are not their job nor are they sensicle, I feel there's something with this post I should point out.

1. AFAIK, this has not been submitted nor is this a final draft of a proposed appeal. This, to my knowledge, is a draft floating on the CFD mailing lists. As such, I feel it is somewhat unethical to lay it open for criticism from people who are not part of the group. I am not asserting that it was somehow a private, confidential document but I am stating that it was not for people outside the group to comment/debate, especially when it has not been submitted to PEMRA or any other authority.

2. CPM could have pointed out the issues he/she finds with the appeal (and I entirely agree with those points) in the CFD mailing list itself. Maybe he/she did and voice was silence, so he/she assumed a public critique would garner more attention to the point. My assumptions of course can be entirely false.

Had I any qualms about stating that, I could have taken the anonymous commenter route. I feel that would've been lame of me. Hope you can address my qualms about the post.

Magnum said...

Boy, never thought a no-holds-barred bimbo can generate so much attantion. :P

Khizzy said...

Dunya is actually using her notoriety as a hook to lure viewers, "Pakistan ki sab se khatarnak sahafi/anchor"

the khatarnak bit comes in the wake of ST's assassination.

sensationalist and tasteless!

Anonymous said...

so typical of "civil society" to pick on one of their own. they're too scared to file a complaint against the *really* outrageous TV anchors, so they'll focus their fear and outrage on the youngest and most vulnerable one, who also happens (coincidence?) to be a woman.

i wouldn't be surprised if the passionate pursuit of Meher Bokhari by "civil society" were the outcome in large part of some Lahore Grammar School rivalry from the late 90s. (there's nothing a lahori begum dislikes more than an upstart classmate who actually manages to make it without first getting married and having babies and designing joras for her mother-in-law.)

Javaid R. Shami said...

Was it Voltaire who said "I may not agree with what you say but I will defend with my life your right to say it"?

People, if we want a free media then we must learn to hear the other point of view as well. Tolerance, people, tolerance!

AA said...

this is again a slippery slope. We will soon see petitions for silencing other people as well on other sensitive issues. MB needs to be reprimanded and yes action should be taken against the channel. But I would rather invoke PEMRA to institute a media complaints commission with representation from all sections of society including this 'civil society' we have started hearing about for some time now. So the complaints can be debated and all sides can hear each other out.

Not French said...

""I may not agree with what you say but I will defend with my life your right to say it"?

The next time a US educated yuppie activist uses this statement, I will barf. Fuck Voltire, already!

I mean have you ever heard our TV anchors?? It's like they were all molested by demented Americans in their childhood.

Shahid Saeed said...

Thanks a lot folks.

Anonymous said...

so the 'liberals' are the new God-like chosen people of Pakistan about which you can't talk?

just like CNN sacked it anchor because she tweeted about having respect for a dead hizbullah leader
or like helen thomas was fired for talking her mind about the jews ?

CPM said...

@Anon138: How many times must we tell you not to have so many hallucinogenic mushrooms? Just don't listen, do you?

Anonymous said...

This is sick. She is telling a person that he is a murtid. (according to mullahs, murtid should be killed)

What has Voltaire to do with this? She is telling the people that he is an apostate, and you know what should be done with an apsotate.

gibran said...

For one - the articles cited from PEMRA regulations are relevant, however I do not think that PEMRA has the authority to tell a channel not to hire such-and-such person.

PEMRA acted well and according to existing law by fining channels who over stepped. (Honestly, they should start doing that more often).

This also highlights the need for an independent commission which comprises of channel representatives, senior journalists and members of the civil society to form a public media monitory committee which reports and acts on the excesses of television and newspaper content.

Regards to the point of Samaa owner firing MB and her staff - for me he should also fire his news controller, COO/CEO and legal bench for not being able to put brakes on a rogue anchor who was breaking federal laws.

I think that MB can be prosecuted for hate speech and incitement to hatred, incitement to violence under the CPC and the CrPC - though not exactly sure of the sections - someone check that up.

I wish CFDP would be able to finalize its draft and approach the current media regulatory body with a legitimate request to prosecute channels who violate the country's laws. If prosecution culminates in a sentence for Samaa or MB, I think this will be one of the better things to happen for our media in their quest to be free and responsible (though realistically channels do not adhere to such moral outlooks).

Javaid R. Shami said...

@Not French. "The next time a US educated yuppie activist uses this statement, I will barf. Fuck Voltire, already!"

I was not educated in the US nor, at 66, am I a yuppie activist. However, I do know how to spell!