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Pakistan Deaths
Pakistan Cases

In my previous avatar as an instructor of journalism at IBA, I would begin every first lecture with a discussion on "who is a journalist" - some choices included copy editor, columnist, reporter, blogger, social media editor, TV anchor. They were always vibrant discussions and time and again, something would happen in Pakistan and we'd find ourselves returning to this question.

During our study together, we'd also question a journalist's role and the purpose of journalism. I was often guided by the work of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Essentials of Journalism, who wrote: "the purpose of journalism is not defined by technology, nor by journalists or the techniques they employ, [but by] the function news plays in the lives of people."

As head of Aaj News' digital content, I realize Pakistanis have never had more access to information but this hasn't translated to them being better informed.

In a bid to chart out policies and strategies that reflect our legacy media outlet and practice storytelling that represents Pakistan's diverse demographics - and viewpoints - I thought I'd turn to the Constitution.

It is a bit of a surreal experience to read the first few articles of Pakistan's Constitution. Where is this country where you can move freely, speak freely, report freely, not fear loss of your dignity - and this is all the first 20 articles. It hasn't felt this way in a long time.

Every day there are examples of people's right to express themselves being challenged. If it's not the law - the FIA, PECA or soon the dreadful PMDA - it's the righteous defining what you can or can't say, wear, behave and so forth.

There is so much to report on. And so many organizations who don't want us to tell you/your stories.

Take the case of Mystical Shayari, a band comprising a young man and a woman who say they were posting their art - a provocative photo shoot where they dressed in scanty clothing though nowhere near nude in Islamabad - on social media when they were forced to take it down after they received death threats on August 2. The shoot was clearly a form of expression and could have just been met with ridicule and scorn. Instead, an editor at the country's one of the largest media organizations chose to go to Twitter and tag the DC Islamabad asking for the couple to be arrested because "they displayed extreme obscenity in public". Frankly, I've seen fashion designers commit more extreme obscenity in their clothes or the prices but I haven't thought it merited a complaint to the authorities. Because I believe there's a market for everything and everyone. Even those seen as weirdos.

This brings me back to the Constitution.

At most Mystical Shayari acted in a manner the young are wont to do in their desire to be heard, seen, counted. It may not have been the revolutionary statement we've seen student protesters make during Vietnam or, more recently, March for Our Lives. Or the young in China in 1989 who took to Tiananmen Square to demand civil liberties. However, Mystical Shayari exercised their right to express themselves and for that, they deserve criticism, not punishment. Like artists before them, and those with them, they used their bodies as art, allowing observers to imagine a variety of perspectives in the messages.

Art is a powerful tool in conveying social and religious contrasts in society. It often provokes with its political commentary; it challenges what is deemed moral (and by whom) and in doing so often rejects what is considered respectable.

Mystical Shayari's expression can shock, as it did, the journalist and his minions; I found it weirdly beautiful. However, it's baffling as to why the DC administrator chose to serve one group's right not to be offended and not the band's right to expression. At the time of submission, social media users were cheering and protesting news of their arrest.

Except they weren't arrested.

This is where news organizations can step in. They recognize when something is newsworthy and ensure its fair representation. I don't mean through a lens of he said/they said but also explaining the larger picture - in the case of Mystical Shayari - of the ease with which lynch mobs gather on social media, the institutional support they receive and then, how quickly the matter is forgotten. Until the next case.

You may laugh this off as a case of the weirdo kids, but before long, you'll be the weirdo that no one comes out to support.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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