Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You Are Not The Story

I have been meaning to write about a clip from the DawnNews show Kab Tak titled 'Hasool-e-Insaaf Ki Jidojehd' (The Struggle for Justice) that aired last month but is only now doing the social media rounds. The clip features an angry broadcast journalist, Sophia Jamal, confronting the alleged rapist of a 6-year-old girl outside the court and screaming at him, in the process throwing any pretense of an unbiased, objective voice out the window.

I was, fortunately for my own mental health (considering I would have had to watch it over and over again to formulate comments), beaten to it by Nadia Zaffar. Ms. Zaffar, who is a former DawnNews staffer, does an excellent job of using it as a case study establishing "yays and nays for journalists." Her take on it should be mandatory reading for newsrooms across Pakistan:

"You are not the judge: As a reporter, please try to refrain from passing out judgments on people facing charges. Let the process of law and justice take its course without handing out opinions of what you think happened. Every man is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Tell us what happened, what the man said, what the facts are, don’t tell us what you think happened, you are not that important and we are not very interested. 
You are not the police, moral or otherwise: You are not out in the field to tell people the consequences of their actions. Don’t tell them they are going to hell, don’t tell them their children are going to suffer a terrible fate and definitely don’t tell them that they deserve to die. These instructions seem to be too obvious to discuss, but as in instances like these we are unpleasantly surprised. As a reporter I want to know what the law says about such cases, what punishment can this man possibly get if convicted, and what are the statistics for child rape cases in the area. 
Let others talk: It might come as a surprise but the point of journalism is all about letting the people in the story talk. Please don’t show us a four and half minute piece with two words from someone other than you. Its a simple idea but one that many Pakistani journalists seem to forget. Brace yourself and let the people tell the story. The real job of a journalist is to ask tough questions. And yes, wait for the answers. 
Keep your notions and beliefs to yourself: In a country ruled by majorities, Pakistanis easily forget and discount all other cultures, beliefs, religions and ideas when they start talking. As a journalist you not only have to remember to talk to all sides of the story, you must also make sure that you keep your personal assumptions out of your questioning. Don’t assume what a person believes and to whom he is answerable. Don’t threaten him with religious consequences that might not even be his own. 
Also, while the rape of a six-year old girl is immensely disturbing, there is no way the rape of an adult woman will be less so. In this piece the reporter not only passes judgment, threatens and talks incessantly, she also says to the man facing charges whether he couldn’t find an older woman. That, is unacceptable. As a reporter, please be aware of each word that comes out of your mouth. That’s your job. 
Stay calm: Don’t make the story about your voice and your pain. The story is about the six-year-old girl, it is about her parents and it is about the society they are in. It is definitely not about how hurt you are about this, how angry this makes you and as a reporter there must be a concerted effort on your part to make sure this is not about you. Yelling and screaming just cheapens the story, reduces it to a street brawl, and the people in your story deserve more."

have three further comments:

1) Were the producers asleep? If they were, has anybody bothered to wake them up and ask them if they'd like a longer nap, perhaps at home? Bad journalism that makes it to publication or broadcast reflects bad organizational structure and bad organizational culture. Ultimately, the people most responsible for both should be the people at the top. At the very least, people at the helm should develop compulsory handbooks laying out guidelines for their staff. Channel heads have in the past come together to arrive at consensus about e.g. the depiction of dead bodies on television after public outcry. There is no reason why they cannot be proactive rather than reactive and develop broader journalistic ethics guidelines as well that their staff can refer to on a regular basis.

2) Anchor Sophia Jamal's complete ceding of all moral authority to The Almighty (there is only one God, and He apparently watches DawnNews) and her implicit sense of 'aik mussalman ki haisiat say' superiority is to me a cause for great concern. Quite apart from the fact that, as Ms. Zaffar points out, personal beliefs have no place in what should be fact based coverage of a legal case, or even no place in any 'objective' journalism, the 'we are special' mindset her rant exposes is not so different from the one she claims the man she is shrieking at inhabits. Also, whatever some of us might privately feel about madrassahs and beards, inflammatory - as opposed to objective and informed - comments about either in public achieve nothing except establishing our own prejudice. All madrassahs are not breeding grounds or safehouses for pedophiles, as implied. Gandalf and Che Guevara had beards too. Enough said.

3) This clip also underscores, for me, another aspect of journalism in Pakistan that has not been adequately observed or addressed, i.e. the toll ceaseless exposure to the harshest of realities takes on the psyches of those who must observe them. Every day, in every way, they come face to face with humanity's most coarse and brutal aspects. Some of them learn to develop a thick skin. Some of them can't. Kab Tak's anchor, who I have seen on other episodes be about as animated as a painted teapot, seems to have finally cracked. She probably deserves censure for overstepping the line, but she (and a whole lot of other anchors) probably also deserves counseling for PTSD.

Just in case you harboured the illusion that it's only Dawn News and young anchors like Sophia Jamal that need such counselling and guidelines, here's a clip of veteran television host Jasmine Manzur from November 10 on Samaa, going hammer and tongs at the self-confessed necrophiliac recently caught in Karachi. The clip amply demonstrates how, faced with an admittedly gut-wrenching and frustrating situation, television reporters can literally snap. Compare the low-key interview of the policeman in the beginning with the final (and pointless) scream-fest that kicks in around 12:45...


Saad Javed said...

Spot on.

Sheikh Chillis said...

You both think that these people "snapped" because they were overcome with emotion and could not help themselves. I don't think so.

The dreaded ratings game has started in Pakistan and according to Sadaf Abdul Jabbar on an Eid show, "I really feel the pressure of ratings, since I have started to do my own show. You invite guests who will fight with each other. The people want to see it".

I think DAWN, Express, Samaa and other small fish are desperate. They don't have the manpower or resources to do in-depth analysis, background and footwork to produce a quality show. They want ratings on the cheap and they have discovered "Shock Journalism".

What Sophia Jamal did, Geraldo and Sally Jesse Raphael were doing twenty years ago. Only Sophia doesn't have a lynch-mob studio crowd yelling and shouting in the background. Yet.

Sophia Jamal and Jasmine Manzoor are not irresponsible, irrational or suffering from PTSD. They are embarked on a different journey. Where you go around beating-up disturbed people on the head with your moral superiority stick.

It will depend on the viewers, if they too wish to wield that jedi stick at home, vicariously, and feel better about their pathetic lives.

Sheikh 'Anarchy' Chilli

Anonymous said...

@ Sheikh 'Anarchy' Chilli,
Do you, honestly, think CafePyala doesn't know or understand that it's a ratings game? Or do you think Ms. Zaffar doesn't get it?
Of course they do - they all do. Every Mainstream Media house & every employee facing the camera know exactly what they're working for.

Sheikh Chillis said...

I can't believe you didn't get it. They are evaluating these "news" shows on the wrong scale. Like debating the journalistic credentials and modus operandi of a Geraldo with a Mike Wallace. Or Hard Copy with 60 Minutes. That's just silly.

Judge them for what they are and what they put out. Madaris putting on a tamasha for a quick buck. Sophia Jamal's show would make perfect sense if there were a bunch of middle-class aunties sitting in a studio, shouting "Sophia! Sophia!".

And can we please get real and stop treating society aunties, fashion dropouts or any floozie with a designer dress as a "journalist". Please ?. That will solve half of the confusion right there.

Anonymous said...

Similar to Marvi Sirmed, who losses her control when she couldnt defend gays rights and start pointing towards pedophilia in madrassas (although guests are saying again and again this thing is wrong and they condemn it) and support for Taliban.

Qasim Javed said...

I don't know much about this lady. And I am sure after watching this, I wouldn't want to, either. Doing this on national television doesn't make her a journalist, but sadly enough, this is what our audiences are thrilled by.

Anonymous said...

At a workshop for journalists recently - with folks from print and tv. When the debate steered towards ethics it became real clear who had been to journo school and who did not. Who suffered from the producer's demands and who resisted it.

The fact is the majority of the reporters and editorial staff do not have grounding in ethics. Its sad that most of these people entering the fields 5-6 years ago today hold some policy posts meaning the level of journalism goes down. There needs to be a strong reaction from the journo community over this and some need to tell producers/editors enough is enough!

my 2 cents


Anonymous said...

jo woh miss Sophia ney kia alag, the title of the video.. nice work whoever you are.. "mullahs protect rapists?" I want to know which mullahs are those? Did you see them anywhere? clearly the video had NOTHING of that sort to say, but you know what, I guess miss Sophia made her point well with all that screaming, enough to inspire you. Kudos.
cheekhna shayed us "mullah" ko bhi ata ho, but that doesn't mean if he screamed, he's putting up valid argument.

Anonymous said...

man, havent you heard or watched lekin / sana bucha ? or you dont wana watch it for any reason....:P

Azfar said...

Thankyou so much for highlighting Sopia of dawn news. I have notice several times she behaves in such a manner , that i have to double check , that am i watching DAWN News. Her episodes on past rainy days of Karachi and the chaudry aslams bomb attack, were just Bizarre .

Please also write a post on the recent trend by some morning shows hosts , to gather people and cry to just get ratings. Last Eid ul Azha i saw one on SAMA i guess, the host gathered many common people and famous personalities to cry for karachi victims who were murdered this year, then one on Ary where, school children of the defence bomb blast victim , were literally horrified by the host. They were little aging children, who are not even told real reason for killing. Host exploited by also inviting some parents. Common Agenda , Rattings !!

Ghalia Aymen said...

Believe me you all Its not in the hand of the producer to dictate and teach the anchor..as anchor is considered a God and these money making monkeys sitting on the policy making seats in TV have no intention but to earn money by any means...These anchors are with no knowledge of journalism but know how to push the management to raise their pays. I have seen producers walking behind the anchor repaeting G sir! G sir!....the producers only know how to use switching panel in PCR...and consider themselves producers... Pakistani Media needs a centure to get mature and educated.

Anonymous said...

hey pyala people.. lagta hai.. aaj kal you are not focusing urdu papers... jo kashmakash is going on amongst the jang kay likhne waaaloon main.. for and again imran khan... sana bucha.. salim safi.. haroon rasheed.... ata ul qasmi and list goes on.......

Anonymous said...

hey you guys work for ary by any chance?;)


dan said...

i've seen jasmen once interviewing that cook-the-husband lady... the way she was ripping her apart was anything but reporting... even screen writers and novel authors would stop short of taking revenge on their villains but she didnt stop.. that was the only time i watched her and now she is completely censored on my screen.