Maya and the media

Published: January 26, 2012
The writer is a media and PR consultant based in London. She has a master’s degree in media anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies

The writer is a media and PR consultant based in London. She has a master’s degree in media anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies [email protected]

This is not an op-ed entirely about Maya Khan; it is also about the inflated television culture we inhabit in Pakistan and how all-encompassing it has become. Sociologist Jean Baudrillard has famously pointed out that modern ‘reality’ is so intricately bound up in the media that it is increasingly constituted by it. Hence, the images we see on television become the lives we live. A live broadcast, of course, makes the overlap even more compelling; certainly the unedited chaos of Samaa TV’s park invasion has spilled over into viewer’s homes.

When presenters like Maya Khan are given too much power they become society’s judge and jury, with trials that are played out on television in much the same way as political talk shows practice political interventionism. The real question, of course, is how do we regulate such power while shielding the media from state pressure and simultaneously protecting society from media vigilantism? As her fall from grace illustrates so many of these issues, Maya Khan is a convenient take-off point for this discussion.

In the 10 days since she and a haranguing mob of ‘citizen-journalists’ (I use the term loosely) invaded a local Karachi park in search of dating couples Khan has been trending on both traditional and digital medias. In keeping with the unforgiving nature of a viral medium, the vitriol has been plentiful.

There is also blogger Mehreen Kasana’s eloquent open letter to the presenter where she pleads the case for young, ambushed love. I find Kasana’s dispatch particularly relevant, since it hints at how Khan seems to have taken up cudgels on behalf of her perceived viewership (housewives and mothers) without any real effort to understand why younger people need spaces in which they can interact. In response to this media backlash, Khan has recently made two public ‘apologies’, neither of which come across as particularly apologetic — at no point does she acknowledge any specific wrongdoing on her part.

As more videos from “Subha Saveray” come to light it is clear that Khan’s obsession with prodigal daughters (as opposed to wayward sons) is not new. Take for instance the “Do you know where your daughter is?” campaign (October 2011) where the presenter and her panel chastise young girls perceived as unruly. Mothers receive empathy while daughters are routinely interrogated. It is also a one-sided, castigatory format which eschews alternative perspectives. Khan’s park foray is merely an organic development of this worldview.

Yet, Maya Khan is not alone. She represents a comfort zone from which our television networks operate. Mornings throughout Pakistan are the domain of chatty, perky and often intellectually-challenged breakfast presenters with what our channels consider broad appeal. Content providers feel this sort of female presenter appeals to the housewife demographic. The issues with such shows are multifarious; either they are deliberately frivolous (which stereotypes female viewers) or, as is the case with Khan’s park run, dangerously judgemental. Khan, a former actor, plays reporter but is clearly unaware of basic journalistic ethics. Perhaps, her inspiration comes from political talk shows, which tango rather often with libel but the presumption of guilt throughout the episode is alarming. Khan and her vigil-aunties are unanimously accusatory, running after couples shouting, “Don’t deceive your parents!”

That the channel has offered an unconditional apology, disavowing the content of the show and promising this will not happen again is commendable, but for those who remember Mehr Bokhari glorifying Mumtaz Qadri on the same channel last year, it seems to not have learned lessons well.

What Pakistan urgently needs is a well-defined media standards body like Office of Communication in the UK that governs with a crystal clear code of practice and standards. Is Pemra up to the task? Certainly its ‘Code for Media Broadcasters’ is scarily vague. And it was quite happy to accuse channels of “provoking anti-national sentiments” during the PNS Mehran attack. If Pemra is to function as a fair media regulator it will have to rewrite its Code in clearer, more detailed language without potentially manipulative rules. Perhaps then our channels will make sure that their Maya Khans think before they speak.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2012.


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Reader Comments (41)

  • ali
    Jan 26, 2012 - 11:35PM

    i dont know why every one is creating such a fuss about Maya khan !!


  • fifi the bird
    Jan 26, 2012 - 11:36PM

    very well said maam.


  • Shafaq Tariq
    Jan 26, 2012 - 11:41PM

    Well said Fifi. There is going to be a serious lawsuit against Maya and the producers for breaking so many laws. Breaching privacy, lying that the camera and mics are off and God knows what not


  • Afaf Waris
    Jan 26, 2012 - 11:46PM

    I totally agree with your article. I also strongly believe that our media especially electronic media is still very immature and that is the reason that they focus on tactics to gain TRPs for the shows. They are reluctant about the consequences of the shows or contents being presented. They depict a very pessimistic picture of our society which is continuously sending the wrong image abroad. Even Pakistanis abroad are very pessimistic and critic about Pakistan and many of them have developed this view from our news channels.
    I hope that PEMRA soon realize what lacks in their code of conduct policies and they soon develop and adopt a more strong and vigilant policy in this regard.


  • salarmaiwand
    Jan 26, 2012 - 11:47PM

    thank you for keeping the activism for media consumer rights alive. I feel so happy to witness this activism and outrage against the violation of our rights. may this campaign be infectious. thank you once again.


  • Anonymous
    Jan 26, 2012 - 11:50PM

    Good to see Ms Haroon’s columns in ET, I didn’t notice that before. Mysterious & Intelligent Lady


  • Mirror
    Jan 27, 2012 - 12:28AM

    It was good to read an objective piece with some sense and direction. Suggestions, however are not for this Pakistani society. We, as a nation, are living in a state where change in the existing setup of running the government and bringing about legislative changes is only driven by the interest of ‘Oligarchic’ state of politics. Media also, is an important element of this oligarchy. Remember! Media is not a social service sector of society; it is business and money.


  • Ali Akbar
    Jan 27, 2012 - 12:40AM

    “This Op-ed is not entirely about Maya Khan”…if by entirely you meant the last two paragraphs….and ET, could you please let us know what this article added and brought to light compared to the material that was published say, yesterday?? If the author wanted to write about the need to regulate media and maybe creating a media watchdog, why not begin with an appropriate title (instead of Maya and the media) and present coherent arguments cogently??


  • Yawar
    Jan 27, 2012 - 12:41AM

    I’m a regular ET reader, who also reads Dawn, but only because of Nadeem F. Paracha’s articles. Express has done a wonderful job getting its columnists write on this Maya issue, but rest assured, the best and most comprehensive piece written on Maya episode was no doubt by NFP.


  • Shamy
    Jan 27, 2012 - 12:59AM

    Well said !!


  • Gumnam
    Jan 27, 2012 - 1:52AM

    Article mainly driven by words or phrases and thus with less matter (more like a complaint). Fiffi herself proved that prog was within boundaries of pemra so as such nothing illegal!!!


  • Anon
    Jan 27, 2012 - 2:20AM

    Have you self righteous liberals done your token activism by beating the Maya Khan issue to death? Honestly there are worst sketchy atrocities taking place in the media industry which you ppl happily keep a lid on.
    Everyone knows the show is a joke, and she’s gotten her due backlash, can we now move on please?


  • Kadir
    Jan 27, 2012 - 2:26AM

    This is a thought provoking article and asks the right questions. We need LEGISLATION against Maya khan and her type. Pemra and other watchdog groups must see that such shows are punished through our courts. This asking for nikanama rubbish is for animals and degenerate enemies of our country.


  • EyeRoll
    Jan 27, 2012 - 2:29AM

    @For the author and the commenters:
    The moral outrage war drums that are being repeatedly beaten over Maya Khan are a bit of an overkill. Legally, what she did to those poor park kids amounts to harassment but invasion of privacy? Hello this is a public space, invasion of privacy becomes irrelevant. Such things are so common in the west, where you’ll have the paps ambush you to break a story, or cover you or even film you for reality tv.
    So lets stop overdoing the Maya Khan thing, the women has already made a fool out of herself, and legally speaking the kids are entitled to bring harassment charges. Invasion of privacy doesnt make much sense in such cases.


  • Aiman
    Jan 27, 2012 - 2:51AM

    When I saw the show, I found Maya in rather an adventurous mood. The women with Maya were not there for social duty but seemed instead having fun attacking others privacy and passing their comments. Media persons cannot-in any way- show a one-sided story ! And this was exactly that. These so-called hosts have no real issues to talk on and mumble mindlessly. First educate yourself then start preaching.


  • bufattah
    Jan 27, 2012 - 3:06AM

    Perhaps Maha Khan is a manifestation of the underlying issue. We need an independent & empowered media regulatory body. Too much goes unchecked, reporters and the media establishments that support them are clearly looking to sensationalise everything to fill their coffers and add to their fame. Even in UK there is a massive issue with press standards, anybody interested can google the ongoing ‘Leveson Inquiry’, we should aim to fulfil our needs by adapting their model and not adapt our model to fit theirs!

    For those advocating that this article is not in good taste either, is not supporting an effective system of codes and regulation a common cause with those in disagreement over Maha Khan?


  • JI rocks
    Jan 27, 2012 - 3:21AM

    Women such as Maya Khan pretend to be pious when it comes to other people’s daughters. But Maya Khan’s own behaviour on television has been against the tenets of Islam. In another video, she danced with an unmarried male — if we apply the same pious standards to her behavior, then such vulgar display of her body should also be construed as unIslamic.

    Maya was trying to do moral policing by going afer couples in parks. But in doing so, she and the other women went to the park without the company of their family males. Such unaccompanied visits for women are deeply immoral and unIslamic.


  • Ilmana Fasih
    Jan 27, 2012 - 3:40AM

    ” chatty, perky and often intellectually-challenged breakfast presenters ” Thank you for saying this awesome phrase, Fifi. Rest was absolutely true too.


  • Shakky
    Jan 27, 2012 - 4:09AM

    @Gumnam: “Within the boundaries of PEMRA” and “nothing illegal” is not the same thing as being ethical and responsible. Your comment illustrates the case made by Ms. Haroon – that PEMRA is inadequate and needs to be tightened.

    As for Maya Khan, the woman’s antics were reprehensible and her breach of ethical conduct is made all the more shameless by the manner in which she has tried to justify her actions through fake apologies. Doesn’t say much for her principles. She is a parody of a journalist.


  • Uza Syed
    Jan 27, 2012 - 5:14AM

    Citizen at large must take this matter as seriously as it is and we have to make sure that an example is made out of this, perhaps, untrained and insensitive anchor person Maya Khan and her employers the TV Channel. You can not be allowed to take liberty to interfere in people’s lives and infringe upon ordinary people’s ordinary rights. Human rights are most definitely violated and violators must be taken to task for breaking laws. An inquiry must be conducted to acertain the role PEMRA has played, or not played, here. I suspect PEMRA is equally responsible here, either they connived here or just didn’t care resulting in gross nehligence. It’s very encouraging to see that society is becoming more and more concerned and active as a community to protect itself. People like author of this op-ed. have done great job and deserve a big —-Thank you!


  • ali
    Jan 27, 2012 - 7:00AM

    You are right the fight is bigger than Maya. But we have to start somewhere.

    Please sign and promote my petition in your writings.

  • student in london
    Jan 27, 2012 - 7:57AM

    thanx for being the voice of public…..agreed with your article….. i was just shocked when i first watched this video …


  • B Zia
    Jan 27, 2012 - 9:45AM

    Ms Fifi, if u r indeed the same fifi of the junoon’s heerayyyyyyyyyy. That song was super. Thank You for that, and again, and again, thnx.


  • attique
    Jan 27, 2012 - 10:44AM

    MOst of the morning show presenters are portraying a self low inferiority complex attitude to all the viewers. Whatever they do, talk, dance etc….is just devastating our kids, girls, wives and daughters. I feel pity on their life styles… that how you all behave and live your lives too?? Immature and vulgar dancing to the Indian tunes dont show us modernaized and elite pakistanis. Such Vulgarity and Indescenecy on channels…… There is one I can say who is Arooj nasir, she does a good job. I have not seen any indescenet activity on her show ever since.
    Others please learn and grow up………you are not the role models………….


  • Naveed
    Jan 27, 2012 - 10:52AM

    Islamic Republic of Pakistan


  • Jan 27, 2012 - 12:38PM

    An issue over discussed.


  • Anon
    Jan 27, 2012 - 1:37PM

    finally, a voice of reason.


  • Parvez
    Jan 27, 2012 - 1:54PM

    Nicely written.
    The bet way to control the Maya Khans and errant TV shows is to publically criticise and debate the issues, this pressure through their own medium is what will slowly bring about improvement.


  • Citizen
    Jan 27, 2012 - 2:32PM

    We want an unconditional apology from the concerned TV and specially from maya and her moral police gang. This madness should be stopped and fundamental rights should be respected.


    Jan 27, 2012 - 3:59PM

    how can anybody defend MAYA regarding this issue


  • Jan 27, 2012 - 4:36PM

    Aoa, I just wanted to say few things

    “Played the clips of young couple on national television, who requested to turn off the cameras.” hmm… if they were clear from any guilt and they told their parents where they are going and not lied to them, then why they wanted camera to be turned off?

    Why we are going for two extremes?


    I really liked that tweet about MAYA KHAN topic
    @ammaryasir Ammar Yasir [RONIN]
    So predictable when foreign
    journos prefer writing a piece on Maya Khan (an overdone topic) than
    Arfa Karim. Of’course the bad image sells.

    Karachi, PakistanRecommend

  • Noor
    Jan 27, 2012 - 5:08PM

    Cant agree more with the term “intellectually challenged” morning show presenters. It can be broadened to some of the evening political talkshows presenters.

    Maya Khan and people like her should not be allowed near TV stations let alone in TV programs. This is not an issue over discussed we need to reflect on our behaviours as a nation and need to find ways to get rid of cancers which are corroding our souls.

    Even under strict sharia law no one (with the exception of courts or court appointed person) is allowed to ask anybody about Nikahnamas. If it is about Sharia then she was more under dressed than the girls she was questioning some of whom were wearing nikabs.Recommend

  • Marya Javed
    Jan 27, 2012 - 5:40PM

    Very well written- I, for one, am not for giving attention where its not due, but it certainly is due here. I am glad there are people out there who can argue with reason and suggest solutions too.


  • wahab
    Jan 27, 2012 - 8:19PM

    Media ethics if not followed can ruin lives. Maya Khan should be forced to resign from Samaa tv


  • Jan 27, 2012 - 9:55PM

    unbridlled journalism


  • Jan 27, 2012 - 10:10PM

    @Ilmana Fasih:

    ” chatty, perky and often intellectually-challenged “
    Are these qualities much different than those of a political candidate, being promoted as Mr Last chance?


  • Maaz Masood
    Jan 28, 2012 - 6:06AM


    You better stay shut up when you dont know anything and you cant figure out what this fuss is all about.. :@


  • Adnan
    Jan 28, 2012 - 3:48PM

    I suggest all pseudo liberals to let their daughters, sisters and wives to have a random date in public parts to let the world know that Maya Khan does not exist anymore.

    Ladies who hate Maya can do the same by letting their husbands,brothers and sons to have a random date in public Parks.

    Long Live Civiil Society


  • THE
    Jan 29, 2012 - 5:56PM

    Maya Khan has been fired from Saama TV and her ‘morning show’ will be cancelled starting Monday. I still think that she & her TV channel should be let off so easily and should be sued and made an example to the rest of the so called anchors in the media who think that they are the moral police of the society and can do a ‘raid’ anywhere they want.


  • Haniya
    Jan 30, 2012 - 3:13PM

    I really cannot understand the point of this whole exercise conducted by Maya Khan and her supporters. I mean, is it even worth the ‘issue’ to make such a fuss about to the extent of degrading individuals? perplexed since then


  • rashid
    Feb 19, 2012 - 9:56AM

    what a ignorant guy u r?
    if u dont no the topic then dont comment.


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