Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lessons from Maya Khan

I thought about simply updating the previous post but decided that this deserved a separate entry.

So, after much pressure from social media, activists, oped writers and blogs as well as the odd well-deserved editorial in mainstream papers, it seems the message did finally get through to Samaa TV's management. Maya Khan and her team have been fired by Samaa and her programme stopped. The following is the letter from Samaa CEO Zafar Siddiqi which was shared with the media:

Dear All
Your feedback is appreciated. As a responsible corporate citizen, Samaa TV did what was required under the circumstances. We do not and have not in the past or intend to in the future to take our viewership or reporting requirements without the seriousness that they deserve.
You would appreciate that as an organisation with a functioning management team, we had to conduct certain legal requirements over the past week and internal review processes (which are operational in nature) before procedding further. 
As a result of which I can inform you: 
We asked Maya to apologise unconditionally which she did not.
The CEO asked her to do that on Friday which she refused.
As a result of which the following will be put in place on Monday, Jan 30th: 
Maya and her team will receive termination notices.
Her show is being stopped from Monday morning.
Our deeds and actions taken since this episode occured are there for the record and hope this will settle issues as far as the station is concerned. 
A lot has been written about the race for ratings. Well, we do [not] absolve such behaviour irrespective of ratings that the show was getting. 
With best regards and thank you for your understanding. 
Zafar Siddiqi
Chairman CNBC Arabiya
Chairman CNBC Africa
President CNBC Pakistan

There are a couple of things to gather from this unfortunate episode:

1. Social pressure works! While Mr Siddiqi must be fully appreciated for being willing to listen to and understand the voices of outrage and for taking swift action, none of this would have been possible without the pressure that built up over the issue. What made the pressure effective was the multi-pronged strategy which involved not just raising the issue with PEMRA, but also writing directly to the Samaa TV management, the petitions and threats of protest as well as the momentum that organizing a consensus provided via Twitter and Facebook and various oped pieces in mainstream papers. It was this momentum that forced the mainstream to raise the issue even in editorials. Let no one doubt the power of a group of people to change things.

2. The importance of thoughtful media management. Even as Samaa quickly issued a clear apology once the matter achieved notoriety, the issue might have been 'handled' with less drastic results had Ms Maya Khan not issued a half-hearted mea culpa (while grinning) at the same time which only made people question Samaa's seemingly sincere apology. On top of it all, her programme's producer, one Sohail Zaidi, was quoted by the BBC defiantly stating that he was "not responsible to anyone but himself." Ms Khan and Mr Zaidi ended up being responsible for making their own cases worse.

3. The importance of perspective and proportion. Some activists and social media types did get carried away in their anger. To be sure, Maya Khan and her unashamed cohorts did infringe on other peoples' privacy and harrass them. But posting details and pictures of Maya Khan's personal life or the personal cell phone numbers of Samaa TV management on public forums was certainly not the way to go. Thankfully, there were calmer heads within activists who immediately called out their fellow activists on the irony of responding to someone's egregious actions by acting in the same coin.

4. Need for ongoing media monitoring. One of the main reasons this blog was set up was because we felt the need for such monitoring at a time when media was booming in Pakistan and there were precious few willing to raise a voice against well-funded media houses. Obviously, however, we neither have the resources to monitor all of the media nor any official mandate to take action on issues we come across. All we can do is play a part in publicising issues as we see them. But what is really needed is for an independent body - hopefully comprising of civil society experts in the media - to oversee public complaints. PEMRA has the official authority to take action but is often criticised variously for being either overly bureaucratic, under the government's thumb (and thus partial), or too beholden to the large corporate media houses. It would be in PEMRA's interests to help set up an independent body, along the lines of the UK's Offcom, to help it monitor content and handle public complaints. This would not only reduce pressure on PEMRA but provide its decisions with the stamp of fairness and consensus it needs.

Hopefully, some of these lessons will be learnt.


Anonymous said...

To point out here double standards was very much necessary. So I think showing those pictures was fine.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of folks out there who thought posting pix of Salmaan Taseer's family (at private events) way back then was fine because it pointed to double standards (go figure). Two wrongs dont make right.

Jawad said...

5. Importance of guarding public space (particularly for women). Hundreds of people may use the park, but all it takes is one cray to decide that they should not. Many people pointed out that what Samaa did was a crime against the couples. But very few pointed out that it was also a crime against public space.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps then every mohalla should have a secured public lovers park, where only couples can enter.

Anonymous said...

I too am glad that Samaa TV finally took notice and got rid of the brain-dead Maya Khan but I do think that in the "peer pressure" that has ensued some of the journalists jumping on the bandwagon are not much more competent than Maya. Case in point being Mohammad Mallick---editor of The News. I just saw a discussion on Sochta Pakistan with Farzana Bari, Quatrina Hossain and Mohd Mallick all questioning Maya. Farzana Bari has a very clear understanding of social issues and the capacity to sit on a regulatory board of the UK's OFFCOM kind, as do the Cafe Pyala members, but the two journalists slinging allegations on Maya on the show were only marginally brighter than her. The most interesting aspect was Mohd. Mallick going off after his very dubious role in the memogate fiasco---can't wait till he is on the end of the phone line being questioned for irresponsibility the way Maya was today. Both Quatrina and Malick thought there is no need for regulatory authority! I wonder why---I suggest Pyala does its next take on that.

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Anonymous said...

waiting your post about Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and her documentary and media role about it... i think, no one even mentioned her documentary ever before (correct me if i am wrong) and when Oscar nomination is announced.. everyone is singing......

Anonymous said...

I have met zafar siddiqui and he is all about rating. If there was no outcry on the matter, Maya Khan would still be churning out similar content

Naushad Shafkat said...

Good observations about the Maya Khan fiasco. The setting up of an independent body to oversee media excesses is the need of our times. The media has grown into a monster that even it fiercest protagonists may come to regret very soon. It is heartening and encouraging to note that the saner elements can have their voices heard and bring results.
Just one thing; Is it correct to say 'acting in the same coin'. I thought you could only pay someone in the same coin. Sorry no offense meant.

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Your Dude said...

Fortunately for Pakistani TV station Samaa, Maya Khan was able to do just that.

Okay, so maybe I’ve got too much of a flair for the occasional hyperbole, but a recent stunt by the talk show host left many Pakistanis completely bewildered and disgusted. In late January, the morning show host led a team of over a dozen “aunties” into the clutches of moral decay and social destruction commonly referred to as “parks.”
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Anonymous said...

Maya answers the critics??? Bilal Lakhani is on twitter saying that Maya Khan will be coming on Kamran Shahid's show Monday night on Express news.

Rumour has it that she is going to join Express and this is going to be her 'big apology' to win back fans and critics with rhona dhona and insincere words of regret.

Shame on Kamran Shahid for giving her this platform. Hasn't HE learnt from the Balouchistan show that ratings aren't everything?

Maya shouldn't be allowed back on TV after what she's done...

Junaid Akhlaq said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Junaid Akhlaq said...

I really respect and admire all the writers of CP for their enviable command over the English language. However, today I read something here that can only be called one thing - OOPS!

I couldn't help smiling at it and couldn't resist the urge to comment on the very rare typo in this post when you talked about the Samaa CEO's LATTER.

It was both funny and refreshing.
At least now I can let go of my inferiority complex over my level of language and rest assured that you really are human :)

XYZ said...

@Junaid Akhlaq: Well spotted Junaid. Have made the correction. And yes, we are human after all :)

Sheikh Chillis said...

All the public pressure, letters, facebook haranguing of Maya lead to her getting an even better morning show spot on ARY Digital.


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