If someone wants to know how the Pakistani media sows seeds of extremism in the general public’s minds, they have to go no further than watching Kamran Shahid’s interview with Veena Malik, aired on January 21, 2010.
Shahid’s television show, “Frontline”, was promoted with the tagline: “Did she [Veena Malik] tarnish the respect of her own nation?” This alone is enough to inform the discerning viewer that Malik will be walking into an ambush, not a fairly conducted, unbiased conversation.
The interview was arguably set up to ignite a debate along religious and cultural lines. Malik was made to ‘discuss’ her appearance on “Bigg Boss 4” with Mufti Abdul Qavi, who repeatedly questioned her morals and character. This gentleman’s favoured retort was: “Do you think you will be able to watch “Bigg Boss 4” with your son, or with your father?”
In fact, the interview seemed to be entirely focused on Malik’s attire, her relationship with male contestants on the show and how she insulted Pakistan’s ‘honour’. Conversation between Malik and Qavi quickly devolved into a petty religious debate — with Qavi shooting irrelevant, hypothetical questions at Malik like: “Will God be pleased with your character and your actions?” and Malik replying, “What I do is between me and God.”
So much can be said about this interview: We can talk about how it highlights the abysmal status of women in Pakistan, how it sensationalises a tiny blip on our cultural radar, how it reveals the hypocrisy of the ‘religious right’ and how it relies on dangerous religious rhetoric to boost TV ratings.
The interview is the epitome of unethical and irresponsible journalism and could further divide the nation by spreading hate and intolerance. It was irresponsible because it should have been conducted in an unbiased manner, and it wasn’t. This means Malik and Qavi should not have been asked leading questions. The host should have taken pains to ensure the conversation didn’t stray far from the topic that was ostensibly meant to be discussed. None of this happened. Instead, Kamran Shahid amusingly focused on trivial details. More significantly, the host failed to moderate the discussion, falling completely silent for long stretches as Malik and Qavi battled it out.
This interview is dangerous and will spread intolerance because it couches the entire discussion in religious terms. Malik must be given kudos for stressing that she appeared in “Bigg Boss 4” as an entertainer, not as a religious leader or a youth icon. However, any talk of the entertainment industry in general was completely ignored by the host and Qavi. Instead, the host and the Mufti focused on the ‘cultural and religious’ (which, in Pakistan, are interchangeable concepts) impact of Malik’s appearance on Bigg Boss. This treatment will draw a line right down the middle of society: Those who believe in Islam will be forced to form strong negative opinions about Veena Malik, and entertainers like her, because they will not wish to question a religious scholar. Those who question Qavi’s stance will be labelled ‘liberals’ — and this will be tantamount to them painting a target on their ‘liberal’ backs, as was proven by Salmaan Taseer’s assassination.
In fact, the treatment meted out to Veena Malik is a lesser degree of the unethical reporting that followed Taseer’s assassination. At that time, religious scholars invited to talk shows to discuss the governor’s assassination, seemed to have a singular purpose — to distance themselves from Taseer, and all but condoned the murder. Tolerant, moderate views were noticeably absent during that time, and were absent when Malik was on air, too.
Tomorrow, when fatwas are issued against Malik and crazed killers take it upon themselves to eliminate ‘immorality’ from Pakistan, who will be responsible?
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2011.