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A recipe for ‘ethical media’

Published Jan 27, 2012 06:55am

-Photo Illustration by Eefa Khalid

Maya Khan’s ‘chasing-couples parks’ episode that aired last week caused quite a stir in Pakistan and even received coverage abroad. However, it was a series called “Where is your daughter?” that aired in October on the same show and channel, that is truly disturbing.

In this particular episode aired on October 5th of last year, the recipe for “Beti ka Achar” (pickled daughter) with ingredients that will create the perfect obedient daughter or daughter-in-law is given in grueling detail.

The ingredients include one daughter, a fist-full of trust, a pinch of ‘anger’ salt, a tablespoon of crushed ‘question’ pepper, and a spoon of good breeding ‘essence’. The narrator of the recipe recommends that you keep the mixture in a corner of the house where there is shade and no sunlight; otherwise she warns the mixture might go bad.

There is something especially sinister about educated women who were born into liberated and privileged families in Pakistan advocating this nonsense on live TV. Do they believe that only they are God’s chosen few who have the right to be independent and work?

But this wasn’t the only ridiculous, insulting and chauvinistic recipe aired on her show, two days later they ran another recipe for “Beti ki Curry”.

Along with the first unappetising achar recipe, they also ran a report in which a girl named Misbah is accused of killing her father with her boyfriend. In the report a police officer alleges that Misbah was being ‘treated indecently by her father’ and the reporter goes on to say that Misbah says her father ‘used to make her do things to him.’ I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like accusations of sexual assault. But instead of investigating further, the Maya brigade ignore this detail and focus on the ‘rebellious’ girl killing her father with her boyfriend.

Maya Brigade Background

Maya Khan’s parks episode aired on January 17th, started making the social media rounds on Jan 21st. Within 12 hours, the video went viral and was addressed in op-ed’s and blogs on mainstream media (Dawn, BBC Urdu). Thousands signed an online petition and letters were sent to Samaa’s chairman.

Soon Samaa issued an apology, featuring a rather reluctant act of contrition from Maya Khan. Blogger and journalist Beena Sarwar gives more detail about the social media movement here.

As someone from inside the industry, I say rather guiltily that I have seen many things go on air that should have never made the light of day. I have also rarely seen a news channel willing to apologise for its misconduct or misstep. So Samaa’s apology is a brave and welcome change.

But, I also believe that if the ‘parks’ video didn’t go viral, we would not have built enough pressure through social media to make Samaa take notice and issue an apology. Samaa will surely scrutinise all of Maya’s shows in the future.

Imagine if the “Beti Ka Achar” video went viral in October, maybe the parks episode wouldn’t have happened.

Beyond Maya Brigade

What I am getting at is Maya Khan is a symptom of a larger problem, where our news channels are a slave to ratings rather than an ethical guideline or code of conduct.

The problem with these morning shows, not just Samaa, is that they bring in a lot of revenue through advertising. Many news channels run their operations off the money they make in these shows, but the show often operates in “no man’s land”, with little or no editorial oversight and accountability from the newsroom. (As an example the Maya Khan episodes with the “Betiki Curry” recipe (04:05-04:20) and the “Beti ka Achar” recipe (05:16-05:24), both run with disclaimers saying the content of the show does not necessarily represent Samaa’s views.)

That is simply not on, if the show is airing on a news channel, and that is what Samaa is registered with PEMRA as, they have to be held responsible for all content.

My appeal is that we cannot lose steam with the parks episode. We have to continue to build pressure, for all news channels to realise that they cannot afford to sacrifice ethical standards for ratings and money.

Furthermore, now the New York Times is reporting that ‘four local non-government organisations (are filing) a civil suit against Samaa TV in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, hoping to galvanise the country’s top judges into action.’

At the start of an ethics series currently being published on, I wrote a post called The Great Ethics Debate, detailing the larger issues of adopting a code of conduct for our channels and the dangers to media independence if a government body enforces codes in Pakistan.

With this latest petition in the Supreme Court, the time for news channels to get their houses in order has become all the more pertinent. Here are three tangible suggestions from the original post tailored to the latest Maya fiasco for these channels:

1. The editorial staff in news organisations need to draft their own ‘code of conduct or editorial guidelines’. News channels can use the Society of Professional Journalists code, which had been adopted by news organisations around the world as a starting point. Once complete they need to make their guidelines available on their news sites. They also need to open their codes to greater public scrutiny, maybe through a comments section on their website.

2. The ‘letters to the editors’ format in newspapers needs to translate to our TV screens for news channels to be held accountable and to be considered ethical. This can be done by opening up ticker streams to viewer feedback. Some news channels already do this; but unfortunately, many are usually moderated to show the good, rather than the bad. This feedback mechanism should be taken seriously. News outlets should respond to the criticism they receive either through a half-hour weekly show hosted by their editors with live calls or through short segments scattered in their news bulletins.

3. News channels need to train their reporters and staff. Few media professionals come into the field with an education or training in journalism. News organisations need to fill the gap, by offering training courses to its employees. (From 2004 till 2010, the broadcast industry grew six-fold to 24/7 news channels. Our universities offering journalism courses did not grow with the same ease nor did they adjust their curricula to the needs of 24/7 live news.)

By advocating these three concrete steps, which are key ingredients to an “ethical media” recipe we will protect the media’s independence and prevent further ‘Beti ka Achar’ recipes from being propagated by Maya-like brigades in Pakistan.


The great ethics debate is a six-part series on ethical journalism. View part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here and part five here.

Sahar Habib Ghazi worked as a TV producer and editor in Pakistan from 2005-10 and later launched Hosh Media. The volunteer-based organisation of bloggers and journalists recently put together a crash course on some of the stickiest ethical dilemmas journalists in Pakistan face.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (16) Closed

Salman Dasti
Jan 27, 2012 02:53pm
Good article. I strongly protest against these un ethical and selfish tv hosts and their programs
Jan 27, 2012 03:13pm
By seeing all morning shows and their hosts, i sincerely believe our media wasting so much of vital time slot with people programs worthy of nothing. Instead of using such time slot for betterment of society, these unguided and hosts make mockery. Please stop these non-sense programs.
Ahmar Qureshi
Jan 27, 2012 04:20pm
Lack of Media Savy; Propells frantic & illmannered so called "Hosts" disrespects the image of the country! There are much of the sinners & saints found in ourselves & society but no one has the right to harm others! One ought to be righteous enough in him/herself so others may adopt good, we are not judges to pass verdict or to malign others, first we have to re-fine our own selves... Very good article Sahar :-)
Jan 27, 2012 04:21pm
Good one! We definitely need people like you in our media.
Jan 27, 2012 05:30pm
You all seem to forget that in the crowded field of journalism and media,sensationalizing issues with masala and adding inane gossip and trash sells.It is a question of making money.That is if there is no control over this.
nazir alam
Jan 27, 2012 06:45pm
so very said in the history of pak
Jan 27, 2012 07:34pm
quest for viewership ... one crosses limits...
Jan 28, 2012 12:55am
I watched the clip of the program few days ago and I was in the state of disbelieve for few minutes I can't believe who came up with this idea. It disgusted me to see how host tried to preach something that she herself does not necessary follow or had not followed at that age. We have become bunch of hypocrites, we preach others something noble but we ourself do not necessarily follow it and Media is full of such people.
Asif Rehmani
Jan 28, 2012 03:58am
Its outrageous, there are several anchors on media now a days running these time wasting shows but this one was a height of low moral showing. If Sama TV or Maya khan are interested they should come to western part of the world believe me beleive me Maya will be running to every door as most of them are living with getting married and they even have kids.... yes Maya they even have kids and they not only go in parks they even hold their hands in public and also kiss each other and still they are un married so nikkah nama or marriage certificate is not possible to be produced, so you will be disappointed with this. Well once this is for sure if people like you try to interfere in the privacy of unmarried (with kids) couples you will be dragged to court on their privacy breach and I can bet you will be barred for sure to come on TV again..... aren't you glad you are in Pakistan where people are so innocent that they dont know their rights........
Jan 28, 2012 07:38am
Shame on Maya Khan and the rest of those women- did they realize how frivolous and indecent they sounded? This is harassment and they should be reported. Maya and her team should be fired!
Jan 28, 2012 08:40am
Totally agree with the article. If memory serves me right Maya Khan invited this character and his wife on her show some time ago, who claimed to be miraculously bestowed with some "Rotis", milk, and a prayer rug from the heavens. Turned out the guy was a total fraud and was arrested for his crimes. While interviewing this fraud molvi Maya never questioned his claims and instead was overcome with emotions and started to cry, her antics were just pathetic and deplorable, and I personally think all this uproar should've been risen at that time instead of now, maybe we would've been spared all this nonsense, but a welcome change nonetheless.
S. A. M.
Jan 28, 2012 08:44am
I totally agree with Ghazi that everything is not ept to be aired. the author has only talked of the morning shows. I believe it is about time the subjects of the drama serials aired on tv should also be taken seriously. When we see the tv dramas it appears that in our ountry only the people with loose charaters are living. wife being unfaithful to hubby & vice versa daughter/son cheating their parents then other relations betraying others. Then there isso muh focus on the issues of the people from the flesh trade. While I understand that these ar very issues but these are not the only things that are happening in our society. The writers should consider touching upon other topics as well.
Ayesha Mallick
Jan 28, 2012 10:46am
Some of these morning shows are downright sickening, I wonder why they have such a high rating and who really watches them? and you are right about this new crop of 'educated' ,liberal girls who act as if they are the moral police and can say and do anything under 'media ki azadi' . From the reporting of the air blue incident to shoving mikes and cameras into the faces of grieving relatives , what do these reporters really want to prove ? that they got the latest scoop first.
Mohammad Ali J
Jan 28, 2012 11:00am
This issue could have been handled in a much better manner. The show was not well done, but then neither are so many other shows. The outrage is only because of the feeling among liberal Pakistanis that couples dating in parks should be left alone to do whatever they're doing. This "movement" against Maya Khan is only serving to further polarize our society. Ask yourself what percentage of the audience these english language media outfits can claim. Then look over the urdu media and you'll notice this story is almost totally absent. That may have something to do with the fact that this "movement" only exists among a marginal group of english speaking liberal Pakistanis. The rest of the country may feel like its moral norms are under attack from an aggressive "elite". The fact that the NYT is informing Pakistan that four NGOs are now getting involved is going to make it to the radar of the Islamic parties who are not going to take this lying down. Thereafter, it becomes another division in Pakistan that we need to worry about, the majority conservatives vs the minority liberals. This does not end well! Some wisdom in how sensitive matters are confronted is sorely required.
Jan 28, 2012 12:06pm
It is high time that the media comes up with ethical guidelines. Thank you for your advocacy.
Jan 29, 2012 02:02am
Nice article... really Maya khan crosses the limit... and she should be punished for that... even her programs in Ramadan was also not acceptable at all....

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