Imran Khan's wedding: How the media failed

Updated January 10, 2015

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In this handout photograph released by the PTI, Imran Khan and new wife Reham Khan pose for a photograph during their wedding ceremony at his house in Islamabad. —AFP
In this handout photograph released by the PTI, Imran Khan and new wife Reham Khan pose for a photograph during their wedding ceremony at his house in Islamabad. —AFP

Tu ghanti big ban di, poora London thumakda...
Oh jaddo nachche pehn di, poora London thumakda...

Kabhi kabhi mere dil me khayal aata hai, kee jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye…

Bollywood classics and the latest romantic pop songs blared against images of Imran and Reham Khan as a sense of festivity occupied most channels yesterday. As low-key and simple the marriage ceremony was, it managed to kick up an even bigger storm in Pakistan.

Jon Boone of the Guardian noted and wrote:

For Pakistan’s news channels, it was the equivalent of a starting pistol fired on a sudden royal wedding, but with no footage to satisfy the audience.

They did their best, overlaying with fireworks the few available stills of the couple, while traditional wedding music played over the video of impromptu celebrations thrown by Khan’s supporters around the country.

Also read: #ImranWedsReham – the media’s mysterious ways, on-air and online

Features on the new Mrs Khan and her biographical information ran as tickers on several channels, along with footage and pictures.

Astrologers were called in to foretell the future of the marriage; Imran and Reham’s faces were morphed onto pictures of gaudily dressed bride and groom, relatives of the couple were contacted and of course, social media also ran amok.

From following Imran Khan's sisters and issuing news of their absence at the Nikkah (journalist Shiraz Hassan aptly called it ‘Phupho Journalism’) to inviting astrologers to argue over the strength of the new union between the two individuals (going as far to predict when a khushkhabri will come); Pakistan’s media once again succumbed to the temptations of trashy sensationalism.

And once again, it has thrown light on the long way it has to go before being a beacon of real, responsible and mature journalism.

The judgmental comments on Reham Khan were expected, of course.

Privacy is an alien concept for us, ethics are only for other people to follow and everybody else's business is our business. Little wonder, then, that the marriage was made the subject of such a reaction and response.

See: Analysis: Conflict narratives and media complicity

But what was more shocking this time was how our characteristic transiency of emotions was put on display once again; a nation freshly out of the barbaric murder of 132 children less than a month ago found it easy to slip into joy. The celebratory mode espoused by the media and the obsession amongst the people was nothing less than abhorrent.

Pakistan seems to have completely internalised the norm of apathy in the form of temporary outrage and temporary grief, which are proudly flaunted in the glossy garb of 'resilience'.

I won't get into the 'how soon is too soon' debate around the Peshawar tragedy. We probably all have very different answers to that.

But is even this much not beyond debate that videos of people jumping with joy were, if not outright disgusting, at least in really bad taste?

KP, where the attack happened, is not just any province but the only province to have voted Imran into power.

Take a look: When will our news channels learn to cover tragedy?

Maybe it is too much to expect Pakistani institutions and people to put up a show of sobriety; to, for once, hold a monstrosity so close and alive in our heads and hearts, that we are able to drive a stake through it once and for all.

It is often said that USA had one 9/11 but Pakistan has one every day; yet such a spectre as was witnessed after Imran and Reham Khan’s wedding would never have been witnessed in America less than a month after 9/11.

They never forgot, and we, as always, already have.