As if there aren’t enough human rights violations in Pakistan, sections of the media have joined the ranks of the violators, accosting individuals on the streets, barging into private homes, accusing people of being gay or bullying them to prove otherwise. The show, part of a vigilante series sensationally titled Khufia (Secret), was broadcast on Dec 15 on a new channel called Abb Takk – here is the programme link (if you can bear to watch). These vigil-aunties can do this because the people they target are poor and resourceless, with no armed security guards. (Here’s the link to the PEMRA feedback form and the Abb Takk email address: firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to register your complaint. Please do share a copy with Citizens for Free and Responsible Media, at this link). My article on the issue in The News, Pakistan and Hardnews, India. More below.
“On the streets and inside people’s homes this anchor queried the TV channel’s victims as to why if they were men their mannerisms were effeminate; the look in their eyes and their gestures feminine. But every time sickening, offensive and criminal programming like this is aired, critics focus their attention only on the public faces of these crimes perpetrated by entire teams. Equally, if not more, culpable are the department heads and custodians of editorial policy, or the owners when they set policy,” comments Gul Bukhari in her article The nonhumans. And yes, it’s worse than the Maya Khan and Maria Zulfiqar Khan episodes earlier.
The host, Uzma Tahir, apparently a former drama artist, clearly has no journalistic training or sense of ethics. Demonstrating her own ignorance about the issue, sge harangues a Khwaja Sira (transgender) on the street, repeating asking her in the most offensive tone, ‘Are you gay?’ and even mimics her. There is sensationalist music with camera zooming into the poor Khwaja Sira’s face. Apparently the earlier episodes are along the same lines. “They were more like the Gestapo than a news team,” comments psychologist Ali Kazmi.
This is not about gay rights but about the citizens’ right to privacy in their own homes. No ratings-hungry, morally outraged TV anchor has the legal or moral authority to barge in with television cameras and get individuals arrested for whatever she thinks they’re doing within their own premises. The police have no right or authority to accompany them on such raids. Such ‘chappa mar’ shows are a clear violation of the rule of law, individual rights, right to privacy, media ethics and responsibility.
Here are some of the host’s most blatant violations in the show of Dec. 15:
– The host barged into private properties
– forcibly revealed people’s faces on camera(even as some tried to cover their faces)
– chased after people and forcibly made them appear on camera (which made one Khwaja Sira scream)
– demanded that they admit they’re gay males or prove that they have ambiguous genitalia
– allowed the police to beat and arrest them
– accused gay men and trans women of spreading AIDS
– said that effeminate behaviour is a dead giveaway that a man is gay
– urged parents to watch out for signs of homosexuality in their kids
– urged the country’s religious leaders to take note of homosexuality and condemn it (like we really need the religious lobby to step in here)
– was incredibly rude and overbearing towards the people into whose houses she illegally entered.
What’s good to see is the huge outrage about this episode. Some responses below.
Saleem Asmi, former Editor of Dawn, sent in this complaint to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulataory Authority (PEMRA) at the feedback form on their website: “The Abbtakk crew’s invasion of a private home is unacceptable. The way they humiliated the residents was obnoxious. Nobody has any business to question anyone’s lifestyle or personal preferences. Pemra should take firm action against all those responsible.”
I also sent in a complaint to PERMA as well as to the Abb Takk feedback site. Also, Citizens for Free and Responsible Media, Pakistan has sent Abb Takk this letter, endorsed by many prominent people; letters are also being sent to PEMRA and others.
We are writing to convey to you our shock, disgust and disappointment at the episode Khufia of Dec 15 on Abb Takk TV in which the host – she cannot be termed a reporter or journalist – Uzma Tahir harangues people on the streets and ‘raids’ private homes, accuses private citizens of immorality, demands that they accept that they are gay, and insults transgender people, demanding to see ‘proof’ of their sexuality.
We are sure you will agree that no one, not even a camera-armed TV person, has the right to invade people’s privacy in their own homes, or accost them in the streets and make such demands.
The show in question is unethical, immoral and illegal – and in the context of Pakistan, actually endangers people’s lives and liberty. We demand strict action against the producer and show host.
Television content must comply with the laws of the land and with rule of law as well as follow basic media ethics, which this show clearly violates.
- Adam Malik, human rights activist
- Adnan Sipra, journalist
- Afia Salam, freelance journalist
- Ajmal Hussain, Graphic Designer
- Ali Kazmi, psychologist
- Ameer Kayani, student
- Asadullah Khan, broadcast journalist
- Ateek UrRehman, peace activist
- Beena Sarwar, journalist
- Eilya Haidar, teacher
- Fareed Anwer Balouch, teacher
- Fatima A. Athar, student
- Hadia Khan, entrepreneur and social activist
- Hamid Bashani Khan, barrister
- Hassan Mujtaba, Student
- Hussein El-Edroos, Business Development and Training Manager
- Ibrahim Malick, Technologist and Columnist
- Khadija Ali, Human Rights Activist
- Komal Bukhari, Doctor
- Maria Shah, student
- Meera Ghani, policy advisor on climate change
- Mohsin Sayeed, freelance journalist and social commentator
- Muhammad Moiz, human rights activist
- Muhammad Sabir, Election Desk Officer, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
- Dr Mustafa Kamil Kidwai,Technology Consultant, London, UK
- Nadeem Farooq Paracha, newspaper columnist
- Nadir Cheema, SOAS, University of London.
- Nasrat Baloch, Army Major (retired)
- Naziha Syed Ali, journalist
- Osama Siddique Legal Academic and Policy Advisor
- Qaisar Shahzad, educationist
- Raza Bashir, banker
- Rumana Husain, artist
- Saba Eitizaz, Broadcast Journalist
- Saba Hamid, actor
- Sabeen Mahmud, entrepreneur and social activist
- Sabiha Mohammad, teacher
- Sadia Anwar, teacher
- Sidra Batool Kazmi, teacher
- Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director, Bytes For All, Pakistan
- Sohail Khurshid, software developer
- Shoaib Taimur, entrepreneur
- Shayan Afzal Khan, social entrepreneur
- Syed Amir Raza, business professional
- Syed Faizan Raza Rizvi, student
- Urooj Zia, researcher at Bytes for All
- Usama Saqib, student
- Usmann Rana, student
- Zahid Ali, trainee solicitor
p.s. Just came across this petition from India from a few months ago, which is very relevant to the current situation in Pakistan – Stringent action against media houses participating in voyeuristic reporting. An excerpt:
“The number of voyeuristic stories that pass moral judgement on the lifestyle choices of individuals is alarming. Not only are they unwarranted, but they infringe on the right to privacy of individuals, who are often not in a position to protest. Further, they are blatantly defamatory, in that there is no effort to determine the truth of the allegations levelled by these media houses against those they target. This runs counter to basic journalistic ethics.
“Keeping in mind the constant transgressions on the part of the media in this regard, and the absolute lack of self-regulation, we request that strong action be taken against reporters and broadcasting networks airing these videos, including monetary compensation to those defamed. We also request that all such stories currently hosted on the internet be taken down…. We request that in case of any further instance of such videos being taped and broadcast, the media houses responsible have their licenses revoked.”