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?


Hamza said...

uh...for the record those summer plans are available in Saba Khalid's blurb on the Express Tribune blog page, so no invasion of privacy happened. in fact, even her email address is available on the same page:

you may want to consider amending your conclusion accordingly.

Kamil said...

"Gross invasion of privacy"?

I suggest you double check your sources. As Hamza has stated, the information that she referred to was made quite public on Saba Khalid's own cyberspace page.

Furthermore, your preachy "she-should-have-taken-the-higher-road" tone towards the end of this article doesn't accomplish much, aside from equating Nabiha's anger (which, in itself, is representative of millions of people around the word that are silenced because their disabilities are so misunderstood) with a childish tantrum.

Nabiha's reaction was absolutely, 100% understandable and kosher. Until you've lived in the shoes of someone suffering from a mental health disability, surrounded by a society that mocks and trivializes such conditions, you cannot and will not understand how offensive and hurtful Saba Khalid's article was.
After saying silent for so long, people in Nabiha's position need to be encouraged to make their emotion felt and heard- not scolded about it. It also bears reminding that this article was published in an English newspaper that caters to the presumably educated "elite". Ignorance due to lack of education cannot and should not be accepted as an excuse in such a scenario.

If anything, Nabiha deserves to be commended for her well reasoned email to the Tribune. Believe me when I say that in the heat of anger, it could have been a LOT more abrasive- and still justifiable.

MSS said...

In my opinion, Ms. Sheikh's bigger point - the need for people to be less prejudiced against mental illnesses - is not well served by taking a detail from a writer's bio and publicizing it to a wider audience with an attached threat. Ms. Sheikh's response on our twitter feed that the 'threat' was not in fact a threat but just a statement is disingenuous. We can only assume that when she wrote 'Saba Khalid is heading to New York uni for the summer? Well they'll be hearing from me and many mental health patients first!', she did not mean postcards about the weather in Pakistan.

Similarly, comments about the writer's family not being 'decent' etc also undermined Ms. Sheikh's position. Ms. Khalid erred, and badly, in making awful jokes about real illnesses, but it was at the end of the day, meant to be humorous. She deserves, and has been, censured. Anyone wishing to take it further, and make it exceedingly personal, is demonstrating more than a little appetite for a witchhunt which, again, would not serve the wider cause of making people more sympathetic towards mental health issues.

Re your statement that 'Until you've lived in the shoes of someone suffering from a mental health disability, surrounded by a society that mocks and trivializes such conditions, you cannot and will not understand how offensive and hurtful Saba Khalid's article was', by that rationale everybody who supports anything from gay rights to women's rights to animal rights to shia rights to baloch rights must at some point have been gay, female, furred, shia or baloch. Furthermore, you seem to have missed another crucial point, i.e, we DO encourage people in Ms. Sheikh's position to express themselves. We just ask that they too follow the rules of 'civilized' discourse that they wish others to follow. And we are not biased enough against people with bipolar disorder to think that they are always incapable of doing so.

Anonymous said...

Wait so despite being told she didn't invade privacy you will still say she did? even when you have been informed you are not correct you will not admit mistake. How did she do so? she only stated summer plans that she found on the tribune website. ms sheikh would have had to first be a party to saba khalid's private life which she isnt.

secondly saba already went to new york and those are such old plans that even if nabiha writes to them it doesnt matter. she was ranting and did not write to anyone. read her timeline before accusing. she was having a proper melt down and tweeting her rage. her real views are the blog post. surely peoples who are sensitive to bipolar disorder understand the difference between ranting and what they actually then advocate.

and i don't see the problem with mental health patients writing to a university to object to someone who has been admitted if they find something offensive. the writer put it in print.

read her update. she never said the writer was problem and does not want her fired at all. she says people need training and is she wrong? you seem to agree its are again making false accusation. witch hunt is a great stretch. in her blog she says she wishes people to get sensitivity training. she is actually saying no one knows better.

pyala folks when you pick on someone with mental illness ranting while angry instead of reading their updated views then you cant pretend to be sensitive especially when you are making a hahaha but look saba had a valid reason to say 'lock up' because this mad woman behaved in such a bad way kind of mockery yourself based on false accusations of 'invasion of privacy' that never happened!

her blog post implies she will do something positive in general like training i think. i consider that civilized. what is NOT civilized is making a false accusation, being proven wrong but refusing to change it.

easy to slander anyone in pak but shame on you for picking on a bipolar woman but dont forget to add your "we are sensitive" disclaimer

Anonymous said...

Wrt Anon above, I just wish Ms Sheikh would stop writing about herself in the third person.

Kamil said...

Absolute nonsense.
Saba Khalid's PUBLIC profile on the herald tribune is no less private than a twitter account. If anything, tweets eventually get buried and forgotten- the byline of a person's bio does not. You calling it an "invasion of privacy" is flat out wrong. Period.

I find it hilarious that you call on Nabiha to be civilized but then think it's fine to lie and exaggerate facts to serve your own agenda. Hypocrisy is so much fun!

Also, how dare you trivialize what Saba did and attempt to pass it off as humor? Oh hey, miscarriages- that's a real hoot and half, right? Lets make light of a couple of genocides (Bangladesh was a real riot, eh) or human rights violations too.
What, don't find it funny? Gee, lighten up I was only trying to make a joke!

You also know full well that Nabiha's tweet, written in a moment of extreme anger, was not a threat to Saba. She's fully entitled to her anger, and you attempting to trivialize it by telling her "Grow up" simply makes you seem condescending.

I TRULY hope that you yourself are not the second anonymous poster taking jabs at the first one. I know for a fact that it isn't Nabiha and you have ZERO right to make false assumptions.

" by that rationale everybody who supports anything from gay rights to women's rights to animal rights to shia rights to baloch rights must at some point have been gay, female, furred, shia or baloch."

Fallacies of logic are fun for you too, I guess. You do not have to BELONG to any of these groups in order to support them. However, I fully believe that you are incapable of understanding what they go through in their respective environments until you have actually experienced it yourself.
That goes doubly for people with disabilities that are not instantly visible.

I'm done commenting on this self-righteous piece- it reeks of hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

rebecca martin said...

I feel that people so easily slap a label on people these days. I have had bipolar for many years and people are quick to judge. I think it is important that people understand these disorders before they label people.
If you want more information about bipolar check out

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Anonymous said...

ajeeb hi tamasha hai.. aik channel maya khan ko fire karta hai tau dosra hire karta hai... urdu paper main aik journalism ka column publish karo.. english main usi kah against phir blogs likhwao.. looog jab bhoolne lage tau phir us journalist ka column publish kar do....

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Anonymous said...

hey pyala how come you're not contesting the fact that Maya Khan has been hired by ARY News? Samaa did the right thing by getting rid of her, Express milked it by staging a redeemer and now ARY hires her and Cafe Pyala has nothing to say????!
Same thing when Meher Bokhari was hired by Dunya TV, everyone who had been firing gaali's at Samaa suddenly kept quiet.

Write something about it. The bitch is still roaming free. We didn't win.

I hope you read this, and don't dismiss it as unimportant because it is very very important.

Thank you

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Anonymous said...

hey wake up pyala people! no news on nadia, dr shahista....

what is this kahani now?

sarwar said...

thank you for sharing

Anonymous said...

Pyala I am a fan and I think you are doing a great job over all.

However MSS posts are very mean spirited and downright hypocritical. You are preaching to us to be ethical but you have yourself done something very wrong by lying about someone. I would not have known had I not come across this blog post by nabiha:

Now I wonder if you'll ignore this and pretend you did no wrong?

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Omar said...

The last line of your post is EXTREMELY OFFENSIVE!

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

You spent a whole post talking about how terrible this kind of discrimination is and how the jokes are inappropriate... AND THEN YOU MAKE ONE YOURSELF?? Wow. Real smart.