Summary of media consumer activism in Pakistan from Citizens for Free and Responsible Media, Pakistan, Saturday February 4, 2012:
We are a group of activists, academics, lawyers and journalists, citizens from all walks of life — essentially media consumers serving as an independent platform to voice public concern and through people powered reform, ensure that freedom and responsibility prevails in the media in Pakistan.
We, as concerned media consumers, came together united in our outrage against a morning show broadcast on Jan 17, 2012, links to which began circulating on facebook on Jan 20, 2012. In the next few days our online petition received over 5,000 signatories. In addition, we emailed a copy of the petition text to Samaa TV chairperson, Zafar Siddiqi with cc’s to several signatories (Annexure 1). We attempted to call and text message him en-masse in order to draw his attention too. He replied promptly, expressing his concern and regrets and promising that the channel would apologise (Annexure 2).
The following morning, Samaa TV broadcast an unconditional apology on behalf of the channel. However, the host Maya Khan’s words did not constitute a proper apology or acknowledgement of her transgressions.
We again emailed Mr Siddiqi, thanking him for Samaa TV’s apology and requesting an unqualified apology from the host (Annexure 3). He replied shortly afterwards, assuring us that guidelines had been put in place to prevent such transgressions from being repeated. He also said that since the host Maya Khan had refused to apologise unconditionally, her services and her show were being terminated (Annexure 4).
Many people also sent sms messages to Mr Siddiqi’s cell phone and called the Samaa TV offices, in addition to complaining at Pemra’s online feedback form. According to Pemra officials, they received some 400 complaints about that particular show. In addition, there was a threat of legal action against Samaa TV and contact was also initiated with corporations to withdraw commercials from such shows (both actions were stopped after Mr Siddiqi’s second email responding positively to media consumers’ complaints, but both remain real possibilities for future campaigns).
The degree of participation shown and encouragement by media consumers led us to come together under the umbrella of ‘Citizens for Free and Responsible Media (CFRM), Pakistan‘. We function as a non-hierarchal platform with decisions taken by consensus among the core group members, with inputs from media consumers who can now join us on our facebook page. People can also point out media transgressions and give their inputs here, to do their bit to “reduce the social cost of silence”.
The non-government organizations Network for Consumer Protection, Intermedia Pakistan (both headed by senior, respected journalists), and Bytes for All support our cause and had begun work on a legal petition against Samaa TV. Following the successful outcome of our social media campaign to force Samaa TV management to address concerns around the concerned morning show, they announced on Jan 29, 2012, that they would “withhold their planned legal challenge in the Supreme Court on privacy rights around this case, since one of the desired outcomes has already been achieved.” They stated that, “as now ourselves part of the Citizens For Free and Responsible Media, be available to lend any support required in realizing the objectives of this Forum.”
So far we have adopted a multi-pronged approach: online activism, as well as direct communication with the channel or person concerned, as well as lobbying through other channels. The possibility of legal action is not ruled out, nor is the possibility of approaching corporations to ask them to re-consider advertising in shows that violate basic ethics and human dignity.
A recent case we took up involves a reality show, Thori Si Bewafai on A-Plus TV. Within hours of our having started another petition the host of the show announced that he has quit the show, that the show was based on re-enactments and that the channel had not given this disclosure as they were ethically bound to do, and as per their agreement with him. (Annexure 6) (The channel subsequently removed the offending shows from its Youtube website and also the description posted earlier on its website copy pasted here verbatim before it was removed: “It’s hidden cameras reality television series that documents people who are suspected of committing betrayal /cheating on their partners on any term unfaithful to their close relative. Investigation by the headed by the team which carry out the task of spying on the suspected individual through different means and capturing all the evidence on the camera is the primary goal later on all the footages / investigation reports disclosed to grieved party / Complainant in front of camera. At the end of the show investigation team lead the complainant to the location where he/she will catch the subject red handed”).
CFRM’s goal is not to get channels banned or to get TV hosts or journalists fired, but to encourage channels to evolve their own set of guidelines and code of ethics in conjunction with senior producers, journalists and concerned citizens, to ensure that privacy and human dignity are not violated. We urge them to make these guidelines public.
We also urge them to incorporate a channel for media consumers to approach in case of complaint or redress, and appoint internal ombudsmen for this purpose.
We also urge the industry to revise the current ratings system, and align the ‘quality of content’ with the ‘quantity of viewership.’
Citizens for Free and Responsible Media (CFRM), Pakistan
(Click here and scroll down to access Annexures mentioned in this post)