Monday, February 20, 2012

Lock Up The Lazy (Editor)

Yesterday's print edition of the Express Tribune carried this item in 'News In Brief' in its Life&Style section:

"We regret the inadvertent publication of the article titled "Celebs with mental disorders"by Saba Khalid in our print edition of February 18, 2012 and subsequently on our website. The article has been removed from the website. It was published without exercising proper editorial judgement. We sincerely apologize to our readers who were hurt or offended by the mistake".

Screengrabs of the 'inadvertent' article (possible title for Mohsin Hamid's next book?) can be found in this post by blogger Nabiha Meher Sheikh.

Screen-grab of article on Express Tribune website via Nabiha Meher Sheikh's blog

It features lines like the following:

"Bipolars shift their moods from manic highs to depressive lows. There is a lot of self destructiveness and impulsiveness exhibited in all their relationships. Her partner Brad Pitt has suffered the brunt of her craziness as his physical appearance and career have gone downhill. She's played an integral role in breaking up Brad Pitt's marriage to Jennifer Anniston. The first manic or depressive episode occurs in early adulthood and Jolie was absolutely koo koo in her younger days".

There are also tidbits about Veena Malik's 'exhibitionism' and Meera's 'language disorder'.

Ms. Sheikh, who herself suffers from bipolar disorder, led the way - via tweets- in rightly taking the paper to task for these ill-informed, insensitive, downright offensive attempt at humor. Kudos to the publisher for immediately taking note, retracting the article, and issuing the above apology. Kudos also for recognizing that the burden of responsibility lies more with the supervising editor who demonstrated bad judgment than with the young writer who probably simply did not know any better. This is not the first time Express Tribune has alienated some of its readers with its ham-handed approach to something as nuanced as mental health issues - we did a post on a similar exercise in poor editorial judgement some time ago. We hope it will be the last.

But we should also acknowledge that ET is not the only Pakistani periodical, and Saba Khalid not the only Pakistani writer, to treat mental illness as a bit of a joke. Whatever scant coverage there is tends to be poorly researched - "Women more prone to mental illness"- and badly written - "The mental problems have become serious problem in country because people cannot afford the treatment." In weekend magazines variations on the theme tend to be only the most cursory nod to ticking yet another box in the list of 'important issues' the folks in features must come back to now and again.

Even that most venerable of columnists, Khaled Ahmed, can be accused of making his contempt for the notion of 'bipolar' clear on more than one occasion in lines like this classic from an op-ed titled 'Why Muslim States Fail':

"Dictators with mental bipolar disorder — historically mistaken for charisma — who aimed to achieve romantic goals have crumbled, leaving in their wake equally romantic mobs of youths demanding what they presume is liberal democracy."

Are we to assume that all those editors, cubs and columnists who scatter bipolar, depression and schizophrenia like confetti in their copy actually want to 'lock up the crazy'? Or should we just assume that, in Pakistan, there is a lack of awareness about the scope and seriousness of life from the neck up and work towards rectifying it?

Ms. Sheikh and others who wish to fight for their right to not be ridiculed, misunderstood, or misrepresented deserve support and empathy. It must also be said, though, that that support and empathy will not come easily if, as Ms. Sheikh did on her Twitter feed, the aggrieved party responds by declaring the offending writer must have been "raised by jahils" and -in a gross invasion of privacy - sharing details of their targets' plans for the summer and threatening to wreck them.

Surely, the idea is to make them not want to lock people with mental issues up, isn't it?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pathetic Express

I don't watch Kamran Shahid's show. I really don't. That's why I had to be told by another Pyala that I should probably see what happened on his show on Express TV yesterday. Having now seen the show in its entirety, I can safely say that my initial position was well-founded.

Here was a show on Balochistan, whose dire situation is, thankfully, finally receiving some space in the media that has long shut its eyes hoping uncomfortable truths would all just go away. Recently there have been a few eloquent and blood-curdling pieces in the print media as well as no-nonsense coverage on some television channels. Some of the best coverage in the mainstream print media has been in Dawn: Here is veteran journalist I. A. Rehman today on "Balochistan's Agony", here is writer Mohammed Hanif's heart-rending front-page piece on February 11 on "The Baloch Who Is Not Missing", and here is Dawn's strong editorial on the same subject a day after. Some of the best programmes on Balochistan have been on the channel everyone loves to hate, Geo. Geo's Lekin, hosted by Sana Bucha, has raised difficult questions about Balochistan a number of times and a recent edition of Aapas Ki Baat provided a very balanced primer on the issues via the programme's in-house analyst Najam Sethi. Even Hamid Mir on Capital Talk has done a series of hard-hitting and much needed programmes on the subject.

Let's just say Kamran Shahid's Frontline will never make that list of thought-provoking programmes.

I watched the first half of the show uncomfortably, not because of the issues that were being discussed, but because of the host's obvious duggapan - I'm sorry but there is no other word that comes to mind for him. He has a knack of making even valid questions seem like cluelessly crude rhetoric. But while discussing a situation as much of a political tinderbox as Balochistan has become, possibly the last thing an anchor sitting in the Punjab should be doing is making incendiary statements with little sense of how they could and would be perceived. In any case, while it was a tense viewing experience things did not completely deteriorate, thanks mainly to the patience of both former Chief Minister Akhtar Mengal and the PPP's Lashkari Raisani, who answered fairly provocative questions without erupting.

And then all hell broke loose. Kamran Shahid took Jamhoori Watan Party head and son of slain Baloch leader Akbar Bugti, Talal Bugti, on line and this is what followed with All Pakistan Muslim League representative Barrister Saif:

Now, there are times when really one is at a complete loss for words. What can I really say here that is not totally, utterly and absolutely self-evident?

Yes, Talal Bugti's regurgitation of his old rhetoric calling for the vigilante killing of General Musharraf (which we have criticised before here) was uncalled for, but Barrister Saif's violent and blatantly vulgar response was in this case even more reprehensible and condemnable. If there is a bigger villain, however, it is Kamran Shahid, the producers of his crappy show and the management of Express TV who allowed this exchange to go on air. Note how all of them were content to let this utter hogwash continue for a full two and a half minutes after it became clear that things were getting out of hand. Why? Simply because it is now considered a good ratings booster to have such conflagarations on television. And if people cross the line, all the better. In fact, Express has had a similar experience before with Talal Bugti which is obviously why they decided to pit him once again against a Musharraf supporter.

It's about time that PEMRA woke up and put an end to this sorry trend that almost makes you yearn for the sobriety of the old Pakistan Television. Pathetic. An uttterly pathetic excuse for a 'talk show'. And even more pathetic that such ratings chicanery should be played out on a topic as important as Balochistan.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Love, Pakistani style

It's been a busy day for lovers around the world. In Malaysia, authorities arrested 80 umarried Muslims from budget hotels and parks. The catch would no doubt have tripled if they'd dared to go upmarket. In Pakistan, the transgendered community distributed flowers and luddoos in a hospital. And in Uzbekistan, the state picked bromance over romance and cancelled an annual Valentine's Day concert and aggressively promoted the birthday of the Mughal Emperor Babur instead.

But you know the world really is going to hell in a handbasket (with a little red bow and some flowers) when you turn on the TV to cleanse your palate of the faux-sentimentality of February 14th with that most bitter of things, local politics, and find Hamid Mir on Geo's Capital Talk wearing a red shirt and talking about how what Pakistan needs now is love, sweet love. If that isn't surreal enough for you, consider the intro, in which some of our elected respresentatives unite to wish us Happy Valentine's Day because...

"Dekhain mohabbatain bantnay kay liye kisi din ki zaroorat nahin hoti hai lekin jo mauqa milay uss ko avail karna chaahiye."

The disparate elements which combined to make this possibly the strangest Capital Talk ever - the juxtaposition of deaths in Turbat with love elsewhere, Hamid Mir's unlikely Cupid, Tehrik-e-Insaf's Abrar-ul-Haq's mealy-mouthed hypocrisy (referencing his leader Imran Khan's 'liberal fascists' line yet again), PMLN's Pervez Rashid's mullah-teasing, PPP's sedate Nayyar Bokhari and Sunni Ittehad Council's (SIC's) Sahibzada Fazal-e-Karim's apoplectic response to any love which dares speak its name - continue throughout the rest of the episode.

Highlights include nuggets about how one must love with 'limitations' (Abrar got famous because of rather naughty love songs but is now humming a different tune). The SIC man speaks more on how "aik padri ki yaad main yeh din manana ghair sharaii, ghair Islami hai" [it's unIslamic to celebrate this day in the name of a priest] and how celebrating the day is equivalent to flouting the Two Nation Theory. There is also a random clip from the recent Difa-e-Pakistan rally in Karachi in which a Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) member threatens that "media ka qabiristan issi maidan ko bana diya jaye ga" if presswalas don't give enough coverage to the "mohibban-e-watan" [this ground will be made into a graveyard for the media if it doesn't provide enough coverage to the patriots], after which Hamid Mir reads aloud an apology letter from the spokesman of that (banned) outfit and then deadpans that he - and presumably all the presswalas he speaks for - accepts the "peghaam-i-mohabbat" [message of love] they have sent on Valentine's Day.

In between, the Sahibzada (whose organization was recently outed as the recipient of some $36,000 in US funding) declares that you know there is no rule of law in a society when na-mehram boys and girls are able to send each other roses. And once every five minutes somebody or the other goes back to the latest murders in Balochistan, thus giving Mir the opportunity to again point out that what the rest of Pakistan needs to do is give it more flowers.

No, Mir sahib, we need to stop sending them funeral wreaths.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Small Robbery

Sometimes the most eye-popping stories are seemingly inconsequential ones tucked away on the inside pages of mainstream papers. Here's one from page 3 of the daily Jang yesterday.

Basically, there was a robbery at the house of Jang sub-editor Afsheen Nighat, while she and her family were out. So far, nothing much out of the ordinary. Robberies happen all the time in Karachi or any place for that matter. But what stands out is what was stolen. Here's a translation of the operative part of the small single-column story:

"According to details, while [daily Jang sub-editor] Afsheen Nighat and her family, who reside in Block 10-A Gulshan-e-Iqbal, were participating in a religious gathering at a neighbour's house, more than 80 lakhs worth of valuable (sic) platinum and gold jewellery, over 200,000 US dollars, over 1,000 British pounds and 30 lakhs worth of prize bonds and Pakistani currency were stolen from their house. However the thieves did not even touch the Irani and Egyptian currency also present in the house and it remained safe. A report of the incident has been lodged with the Sharae Faisal police station."

If that didn't make you cough out your beverage of choice, I don't know what will. Whatever one was doing with such unbelievable liquidity at home, I don't even know of anyone with PLATINUM jewellery! Sub-editors sure do better than they used to. As they say on Twitter, FML!