THERE are lessons to be learned from the furore over the case of five women who were apparently not, in fact, killed in Kohistan for allegedly singing and clapping in male company. The story was replete with red flags that should have prevented media outlets from jumping to the conclusions that they did. For one, the village in question is incredibly remote and quite inaccessible to journalists. Second, the video on which the claims were based raises obvious questions and could just as easily have been edited to tell a certain story. In no frame are the men and women seen together, and even their backdrops seem different. Based on such flimsy evidence, sections of the media then launched a campaign backed by the unverified testimony of one set of brothers.
This is admittedly tricky ground for the Pakistani media. Discrimination and violence against women are genuine problems in the country. But the fact that abuses do take place, and the importance of highlighting women’s rights issues, should not become an excuse to judge these stories by lower standards than others. There is also the problem of technology. Cellphone video recordings, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter can bring to light abuses that the media might not otherwise have access to. But the temptation to accept these sources at face value only means that scrutinising them is critical. In fact, elements of the story still remain unclear — only two of the five women have been seen in person by the delegation sent by the Supreme Court, and reports still differ on such details as when the video was made and whether or not a jirga did condemn the women to death. This was a story that required far more balanced coverage than it received.