A gross editorial misjudgment

Published: September 18, 2012

The writer is Executive Editor of The Express Tribune

I would be telling the biggest lie of my life if I claimed at the fag end of my career in media, spread over 50 years, that never ever did I make any editorial misjudgment or committed a blunder. And if I recall correctly, I have never ever tried to pass the buck on to my juniors. In fact, I have always owned up to even those blunders committed by others working under my watch. I have never felt shy of owning these mistakes and blunders. Even those which were, in fact, no mistakes but were perceived as half-truths because of paraphrasing, a professional requirement forced on journalists fighting for time/space and against deadlines. And I have never tried to stand by my stories by twisting facts to suit my version of the story or to cover up my ignorance. I have always tried my best not to let personal ego determine my editorial judgment. I believe self-esteem, moral courage, integrity and credibility count for more than personal ego in professional matters. I am not an exception. Most of my professional colleagues can boast of a similar professional record. Many, perhaps, possess even more envious records.

The decision taken by most of us to first reveal the name of Rimsha and then later unveil her face without realising the consequences for the victim in the current hate-filled environment of religious obscurantism, I think, is one of those blunders of editorial judgment that we have come to commit routinely, taking pride as well in being first with the news or going one up in the mad race of breaking news. Perhaps, it was compulsions of competition — perhaps, the thought that ‘what if I did not and the others did’ — that made us all take such a decision. But situations like these could be easily avoided if all of us could sit together and agree to a bare minimum code of ethics. Most of us who work in the media are from the middle and upper/lower-middle classes usually brought up steeped in middle class cultural values, which normally do not disagree with religious values. So all of us, without exception, irrespective of caste, creed, colour, race or religion — know what is culturally acceptable and what is not in our society. And what should be avoided at all costs.

For example, we all know an obscene or vulgar depiction when we see one. Indeed, all those who attended the two consultative meetings organised recently (on the Supreme Court’s directive) by Pemra to find a universally acceptable definition of ‘obscenity’ and ‘vulgarity’ went round and round in circles debating the issue but could not put their fingers on any specific diversion in their respective definitions of these terms. The only divergence that has so far emerged is on the issue of who has the authority to define these terms. According to one section, the Islamic provisions of our Constitution accord this authority to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Those who disagreed with this position argued that it was the media’s responsibility to define these terms keeping in view our society’s cultural values, which though constantly undergoing change, would hardly ever dare take liberties with universal Islamic values.

The Council was set up in 1962 to Islamise the laws that ordain our lives. But despite the passage of 50 years, we are still living overwhelmingly under Anglo-Saxon laws. Indeed, the CII has a formidable task ahead and faces a more serious challenge to be wasting its time on such trivial matters like defining the terms ‘obscenity’ and ‘vulgarity’, which perhaps, corrupt no more than five to 10 per cent of our media time and space. Sure, the media needs to consciously and conscientiously try to minimise its occurrence as much as possible without, of course, undermining the artistic licence that allows depiction of evils in our society in a manner that is acceptable to a vast majority of our society. Many among us associate ‘obscenity’ and ‘vulgarity’ partly with women’s emancipation —what they wear and how they behave in public. But can anything be more vulgar, more obscene and more un-Islamic than poverty, illiteracy, honour killings, persecution of minorities and the phenomenon of blowing up of mosques, shrines and schools?

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • sabi
    Sep 19, 2012 - 12:59AM

    honesty is the best policy
    Kudos for realising mistake regards

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  • s shah
    Sep 19, 2012 - 1:16AM

    Very well written. Totally agree with the writer. Bravo!

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  • Noor Nabi
    Sep 19, 2012 - 2:35AM

    You, Sir, belong to a different generation. What is evolving to replace that generation is quite a nightmare. When one looks around and sees the countless TV anchors – each one trying to promote her/his agenda – one finds a very thin line that separates such efforts from vulgarity.

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  • Mirza
    Sep 19, 2012 - 2:39AM

    It is very unusual to hear an apology or admitting mistake by a Pakistani. In fact they have all the excuses to do the wrong thing which they try to prove was right. Most Pakistanis do not realize that even after getting caught red-handed the test cricketers kept lying and denying the facts. How can the foreign courts show any mercy to those who show no remorse and admit their guilt and keep lying through their teeth like hardened criminals. Thanks for being the bigger man and a true professional. The truth would set you free.
    One can only wish that the deep state can learn the same and come clean on the presence of OBL and the links to the terror groups.

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  • zaman khan
    Sep 19, 2012 - 7:01AM

    as usual illuminating more power to elbow

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  • Zalim Singh
    Sep 19, 2012 - 7:32AM

    your website is testimony to free speech. Bravo.

    Recommend

  • Raza Khan
    Sep 19, 2012 - 10:26AM

    Salute to you & to ET. Splendid newspaper with fresh look.

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  • WB
    Sep 19, 2012 - 10:31AM

    We live in a society where NO ONE wants to follow any rules and where the desire of making a quick buck has over taken all moral/religious ethics! What we need is a strong government that ensures implementation of it’s laws objectively.

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  • John B
    Sep 19, 2012 - 11:20AM

    To err in judgment is human, but it takes wisdom to see that error was made and it takes conscience to admit it. Good work.

    I would appreciate if the editorial stayed secular in principle.

    I am a firm believer that the fourth estate, by its definition, has no nation, religion or allegiance to any group except universal human conscience; sometimes, there is an overarching bias in articles when it comes to defending religion and no follow up on stories broke first in ET for whatever reasons.

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  • Indian Wisdom
    Sep 19, 2012 - 5:50PM

    @M Ziauddin
    Very beautifully written!!! Our respect..

    And as already commented by “Zalim Singh” your news site is testimony of honesty and integrity in reporting and journalism……

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  • Mirza
    Sep 19, 2012 - 6:57PM

    @Zalim Singh:
    @Indian Wisdom:
    I agree with you both. ET has been a great source of info and an example to the other media. It has provided an outlet to even poor little me! I was very disappointed by the other papers as they continued to ignore “people’s” voices. I am at a loss for words to praise the editors of ET.
    Cheers,
    Mirza

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  • Hasin Ahmed
    Sep 19, 2012 - 7:57PM

    Very well written. I have always held you in great esteem. All the best.

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  • Goatam
    Sep 19, 2012 - 8:19PM

    Very refreshing to read you after a long gap. Plz keep enlightening us. However, decision makers in this country have brought us on this stage of ANARCHY, by proper calculation. We hope some good sense may prevail to make this state a peace loving, progressive country!Recommend

  • meekal a ahmed
    Sep 20, 2012 - 1:50AM

    Loved you last sentence, Sir!

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  • Ahsan
    Sep 20, 2012 - 6:45AM

    100% true. Your last sentence sums up the bigotry of Mullahs and lack of political leadership and vision as the core of “vulgarity” in our society rather the superficial attributes of the word.

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  • just_someone
    Sep 20, 2012 - 7:22AM

    if you want to know of your blunders, then read your own newspaper. The Risha thing was big, but there is no shortage of screw ups at ET!

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