Bloggers vs thanedars

Published: January 30, 2012

The writer is a partner at Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz and an advocate of the Supreme Court. The writer can be reached at http://twitter.com/#!/laalshah. The views presented in the article above are not those of his firm

As many people know, Maya Khan used to be employed by Samaa TV as the host of a show called “Subah Saveray Maya kay saath”. Last week, she and about 10-15 other women descended upon a park in Karachi, cameraman in tow, after which Ms Khan proceeded to first approach and then harangue ‘couples’, the term ‘couple’ being loosely interpreted as any woman either sitting or walking within five feet of an adult male.

Ms Khan’s theatrics set off a veritable firestorm in Pakistan’s burgeoning social media. A number of bloggers wrote furious letters to the world at large, five thousand people signed an online petition to Zafar Siddiqui, the Chief Executive of Samaa TV, and a series of very agitated columns appeared in the English media. In my own case, I was angry enough to offer my legal services for free to anyone desirous of challenging Ms Khan’s theatrics in court, an offer accepted first by Nighat Dad at Bytes for All, and then by other organisations.

But just as the final touches were being put on the petition, news arrived that Ms Khan’s employment with Samaa had been terminated. Given that Marvi Sirmed and some other brave spirits had also been agitating within Pemra for action, the issue was whether there was any point in proceeding. After some discussion, the general conclusion that — at least at this stage — there was little to be gained from flogging a dead horse.

Let me make it clear though that this issue is not forgotten. Our media explosion has so far not been accompanied with any real sense of limitation or propriety. In some ways, this is exhilarating. But in some ways, as shown by the Maya Khan episode, there needs to be some minimal sense of propriety, otherwise the media winds up becoming a tool for hypocrisy and bigotry.

From a legal perspective, there are also serious issues that need to be examined. Where, after all, does the right to privacy come from and is it indeed protected by our Constitution?

To begin with, there is no doubt that the Constitution recognises a fundamental right to privacy. In Presidential Reference No. 2 of 2005, PLD 2005 SC 873 a nine-member bench of the Supreme Court had declared the Hisba Bill passed by the NWFP Assembly as violative of the fundamental right of privacy enshrined in Article 9 (Right to Life) and Article 14 (Right to Dignity of Man).

The real questions that arose out of the Maya Khan episode were thus more complex. What are the contours of the right to privacy? And, how is that right to be balanced against the freedom of the press and Pakistan’s ostensible status as an Islamic country?

Our fundamental argument was based on Article 4 which says that every person has a right to be treated in accordance with law. The applicability of this norm to young couples loitering in a park may seem odd but we were trying to invoke the reverse aspect of Article 4, that is the right of every person to be left alone by others except to the extent authorised by law. In short, our argument was that it was Maya Khan’s burden to show the basis on which she was harassing people, not the burden of those being hounded out of a park to show the legal basis for their being allowed to walk together in public.

In terms of the balance between privacy rights and media rights, the short answer is that there is no clear dividing line. Instead, what is ‘appropriate’ depends considerably on how society responds to media intrusion into the private sphere. However, we were trying to establish three basic points.

The first point is that privacy rights differ depending upon the people involved. The media thus may have a legitimate interest in poking into the private lives of public individuals — note, “may” — but that certainly does not justify the media intruding into the private lives of entirely private individuals. None of the young men and women taking a walk in the park was inviting media or public scrutiny and none of them were candidates for public office. Maya Khan’s intrusion was thus unjustified.

The second point that we were trying to establish is that irrespective of where the line between private and public is to be drawn, the Maya Khan episode was certainly well on the wrong side of any line a reasonable person would draw. And it is in this context that we wanted to take advantage of public anger to show that Pakistani society does not support vigilante action in the private domain.

Our third point was in relation to the religious angle. In this context, our point was simple: the Supreme Court had already stopped a provincial government from setting up a ‘morality police’. If so, how could individual television personalities become self-appointed ‘thanedars-at-large’?

Looking back on the affair, I am actually happier that we did not have to file a petition. The firm action taken by Samaa against Maya Khan has caused more ripples in the media world than any judgment could have done. Let’s be honest: television anchors contemplating similar shenanigans are far more likely to be worried about being fired than about becoming the subject matter of Supreme Court petitions.

For media analysts, there is a further point to be noted. Pakistan’s social media world has often been derided by ‘real’ journalists as being just an elitist farce, just like Pakistan’s English print media is routinely scoffed at by Urdu and television journalists as being out of touch. In this case, the outrage was almost entirely confined to Facebook, Twitter and the opinion pages of the English print media and yet, the force of this outrage was enough to cause a television channel to fire their anchor. This shows that social media is not as disconnected from the ‘real’ Pakistan as ‘real’ journalists like to believe. It also shows that social media is becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Time will tell whether the Maya Khan episode is just another flash in the pan or whether it reflects the first inklings of maturity in our media. Let’s all hope it’s the latter.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2012.

Reader Comments (28)

  • Parvez
    Jan 31, 2012 - 12:03AM

    Nicely written.
    When a wrong is set right and discipline is brought about through the interaction of the public in a speedy manner, it reflects of a democratic working on a small scale.

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  • Muhammad Usman
    Jan 31, 2012 - 12:45AM

    I condemn may a khan and her program but what a shame channel and CEO did not take any responsibility and sacrificed her to escape blame. firing maya khan is not the solution. fixing editorial policy and live programs is the issue. where is the editorial team of sama tv.

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  • Londoner
    Jan 31, 2012 - 1:15AM

    My hunch is it is just a flash in the pan.

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  • Ahmed
    Jan 31, 2012 - 1:35AM

    Thank you for shedding light on this issue. I think most of us are unaware of our own rights and end up suffering due to this ignorance. Let’s hope we can evolve into a better community that respects freedom and privacy of individuals.

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  • Jan 31, 2012 - 1:42AM

    Mullah Supporters of Maya Khan also need to be made aware of that under Shariah Laws – not the Pakistani ones privacy is guarenteed by Islam.

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  • ak47
    Jan 31, 2012 - 1:48AM

    what i feel is missing is the lack of accountability of the channel management. Samaa has a history and a present of showing sensational content, same as number of other channels. What is alarming is that these are news channels that show irresponsible content. Self accountability even does not exist and content depends solely on the anchor where even the producer is mostly glorifoed coordinator..well tv is really immamture esp. News..and my point, how is zafar siddiqi and the mangement be made accountable for this, last time also tgey just fired meher..is this spree of irresponsiblity and then placing blame on anchors going to continue????

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  • Dogar
    Jan 31, 2012 - 2:06AM

    Very comprehensive, good job!

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  • Ali Wazir
    Jan 31, 2012 - 2:53AM

    I beg to differ and wont be part of the Lynch Maya Bandwagon.

    She did not deserve to be fired. Her two apologies was more than enough. She did the same what Mali chachas and Chowkidars , and police walas have done for millenia to couples in parks at 10:00 in the morning. In Bad taste but not illegal.

    A park is a Public space you can film there if you want. When she chased couples, its the couples who chose to run, others did not and faced her asinine questions. The producer to his credit took long shots and avoided disclosing the Identities of the Couples.

    She did have a tepid defence for her actions i.e Parents (main audience of Maya Khan Show) need to be aware of what there children are up to lest something goes awry. There is far worse stuff coming on TV these day, to be honest. Do not understand what all the Fuss was about.

    SAMMA(Part of CNBC Corp surprisingly) should not have pandered to the Mob.Recommend

  • Jalib
    Jan 31, 2012 - 2:57AM

    While I agree with the sentiments of this piece vis a vis Maya crossing the line along with the legal aspects that the author (an expert in the legal domain without question) has edified us with, I think his assertion towards the end is completely incorrect. Some sections of the English media are without question deeply out of touch with what happens in the rest of the country (and have de facto eaten up oriental notions from the Western media, which serious thinkers and academics in the West themselves have criticized and proven wrong). But my aim is not be contrarian here, for that is an entirely different debate. As per the author’s own evidence a mere 5000 people (not 5 million or even 5 hundred thousand in a country of 180+ million) people signed this online petition. This just proved how small the elite ruling oligarchy of this country really is, and this is why the ordinary Shakoor-ur-Rehman on the street is in the state that he is in.

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  • Lobster
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:02AM

    Instead of targeting only one person, why don’t we focus on the issue that media organization have no code of ethics. They don’t have moral courage to agree on set of rules!

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  • Moody
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:02AM

    While Ms. Maya Khan’s show was completely out of line, it still seems that she could have gotten away with murder as Hamid Mir did, after being caught on tape inciting Taliban for Khalid Khawaja’s murder, had she been a powerful news anchor and not just a morning show host without friends in media and high places. In Hamid Mir’s case, the media by and large downplayed the story and gave him benefit of the doubt despite the gruesome consequence of his phone call.

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  • Farida
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:22AM

    I love the way our media is …. instead of taking responsibility of doing wrong on their own shoulders they can let the blame go on one person ..come on shouldn’t it be the team work shoulnt have any committee to approve what should be aired and what not..Does samaa has any sense of responsibility to show at the point …I am very disappointed no one is pin pointing the channel for this deed of action …Its time to wake up

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  • Umar Khan
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:36AM

    A good article, though from a legal point of view, I am not convinced by your argument of connecting Article 4 to Articles 9 & 14. The rights you are referring to are the rights of the citizen with regards to the State, not with regards to another citizen. Pakistan, unfortunately, does not have a UK type Human Rights Law which gives each citizen vertical (against the state) as well as horizontal (against other citizens) rights. The UK, too, was stuck, until the introduction of the Human Rights Act, in this dilemma of positive freedoms (thx to HRA) vs negative liberties (pre HRA rights)!

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  • Uza Syed
    Jan 31, 2012 - 4:50AM

    Naqvi Sahib, couldn’t you still advise those interested in making this a test case for citizen’s right to privacy by making SAMAA Tv the employers of this anchor person as a joint respondent here—-after all without their permission (actual or assumed) she just won’t or couldn’t do this show. I’m just curious.

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  • Arifq
    Jan 31, 2012 - 7:41AM

    First step has been taken, that is a good omen. Well done sir!

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  • Omair
    Jan 31, 2012 - 8:09AM

    Well written – one can wish and only wish that they did the same for Meher Bukhari on the count of inciting murder and praising a murderer.

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  • MS-Mariya Suhail
    Jan 31, 2012 - 12:14PM

    Mr Naqvi I don’t agree with you regarding not registering a case against Maya. The lady is still not apologetic and continues to say that MAYBE I MADE A MISTAKE. In the past we made a mistake of not filing cases against Meher bokhari and the result is Maya khan.

    I urge you to reconsider registering case against Maya khan and make her an example for current and future anchors. Samaa TV took more than a week to fire her and gave two lousy apologies.

    Maya needs to be sent to jail. Samaa TV needs to be fined millions as this Tv has broken rules earlier.

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  • Abhi
    Jan 31, 2012 - 12:51PM

    This is really surprising that this time liberals won!
    There is not even resistance by fundo brigade, I wonder what happened?
    How come nobody supported Maya khan even in comments section, while there were plenty of support for other vigilante group who banned music/cd shops and other stuff.
    I hope some expert shed a light on this phenomenon. Is it because of social media as Mr Naqvi claims?

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  • AA
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:30PM

    I happened to have watched the clips of Maya Khan’s show where she is chasing “couples” in a public park and also trying to interrogate them, asking them silly questions, even demanding marriage certificates.The whole thing was mind boggling. How I wish someone from her victims had turned around and asked Maya khan if she could produce a certificate of her chastity. I think Maya Khan needs to be sent to Sufi Muhammad of Swat to be give some lessons in Sharia. And the channel should also not be allowed to wash off its hands so easily. It, too, bears some responsibility for this stupidity.

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  • Naveed
    Jan 31, 2012 - 3:34PM

    Well, I have few question to ask to our media.
    1. on what accounts you have a right to question any adult women and man sitting or walking together in park ?
    2. Does Religion allow an adult person to choose what he/she likes?
    3. whatever was done by maya khan was not against human rights ?Recommend

  • Feisal Naqvi
    Jan 31, 2012 - 9:01PM

    The case was drafted as being against PEMRA, Samaa and Maya Khan. The legal hook was that Pemra was failing to defend privacy rights by promulgating an appropriate code of conduct (in order to cover the state action angle).

    I didn’t think much point would be served in filing a case where people would think that sufficient action had already been taken. Currently, the Maya Khan episode stands as a strong lesson for TV channels. If we had filed the case and not managed to get a good order (which was likely in these circumstances), the effect of Samaa’s action would have been diluted. Hence, I thought it was better to take what was on offer and wait for another time.

    Another issue was that it would have been better if we could have shown prior action by the NGOs concerned in approaching Pemra re privacy rights. Prior to Samaa taking action, I thought the facts were outrageous enough for us to be able to override technical objections. But after Samaa had taken action, there was too great a chance that the court would not heard us on technical grounds.

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  • Cynical
    Feb 1, 2012 - 9:46PM

    @Muhammad Usman

    Completely agree.It’s the editorial board that should get the sack first before Maya Khan.

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  • Katarina
    Feb 2, 2012 - 7:16PM

    I guess that the main point is that why would a couple in a park have to prove that they are not doing something wrong. If people want to meet, go on dates, socialize that is their business and there is nothing wrong with that. That is why we have parks so that people can spend relaxing time, enjoy the nature and socialize.

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  • Farida
    Feb 3, 2012 - 3:01AM

    Salute to Samma TV …finding an easy escape through Maya Khan for wholly responsible for the act…how innocent the media is cannot stop any happenings going on air ….wonderful job done in keeping you reputation up….and cannot even take the partial blame at least…where were u guys when she was building your credibility ..no one gave her extra bonus ….nice escape by letting her being the the sacrifice goat

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  • humza
    Feb 3, 2012 - 3:09AM

    Maya you did a great job. Keep up the great work. We know that you were the scapegoat of samaa tv and you didn’t deserve to be fired.

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  • Yusra
    Feb 3, 2012 - 3:26AM

    Maya, we all miss you. We all LOVE your show, and we want to see you back on the air. You were not justified by the media.

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  • Farida
    Feb 3, 2012 - 8:27AM

    Maya has done a great job by bringing some issues through the channel…..public parks r for everyone reqardless of dating couples..but i would ask a question here… would u guys like to walk around with your teenager kids or sisters or daughters or mothers surrounding by these couples sitting in an inappropriate condition.????? I have lived in united states for last 22 years and i still dont feel comfortable walking by this kind of atmosphere…My request to all of u is to….go deep down and think about the issue and plz dont let our parks become bollywood studio….govt. is suppose to provide healthy atmosphere ..they failed so someone should point the problem……..great job..Maya khan …keep up the good work…If people need privacy they need to stay in their bedroom…dont make a public

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  • Adnan
    Feb 4, 2012 - 11:00AM

    Seems liberals are totally farigh these days after learning that their masters in US re in talks with Talibans and planning to exit by 2013. Since liberals have nothing at all to whine thus they are not getting into petty issue just for sake of making noise. I am a bit surprised now that a mature age person like the author is so farigh at all that they are writing lengthy articles on blogs and making tweets.

    Is this because economic condition is quite poor in US and these fundos are jobless now?

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