Malala, China and Versailles - the wonderful world of Pakistani media

Mahwash Ajaz on the pitfalls of modern day journalism

Pakistanis love a good drama. And you can’t blame them. Everyone does. Everyone loves a good catfight. It’s an integral part of human nature. There can be an entire argument as to why that is - based on evolutionary psychology. And yes, while human beings have considerably evolved from wanting to rip an adversary’s hair out for getting the better pair of apples or finding the better hunt, our ‘civilized’ exploits include believing in conspiracy theories, peddling false agendas and, quite uselessly, leave audiences with nothing but fluff.

A while ago, Nadeem Paracha wrote a blog for Dawn in which he parodied the various conspiracy theories that surrounded Malala Yousafzai. Written in jest, that article went on to be quoted by various credulous beings across our nation and his work, filled with hilarious references to Malala being a Polish woman as per her DNA test results. Paracha’s article was quoted as ‘reliable proof that Malala is an agent’ in all earnest by many a gullible Pakistani. 
Read on. The ironic laughter continues.

A few months ago, a television anchor named Ameer Abbas began his program with an elaborate story about a Chinese engineer. Abbas claimed that the engineer was shot dead because of flimsy workmanship. Rana Sanaullah, one of the guests on his show, asked him to produce references and evidence for his anecdote. Abbas had none. On Twitter, Abbas continued to block anyone who asked him to do the same. 

Yesterday, on a program called Ikhtilafi Note aired by Dunya News, Dr. Babar Awan added another such incident for the ages. Dr. Awan claimed to have procured photographs from Hussain Nawaz’s (son of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif) palace. The program’s team went one step further. They added Habib Jalib’s “Main Naheen Maanta” as a voice-over to the pictures and Dr. Awan upped the ante by comparing these lavish photographs to the likes of 10 Downing Street and the White House - an argument which again does not serve a purpose. 10 Downing Street and White House are public offices, vacated and inhabited by incumbent premiers. A comparison of Prime Minister House/President House in Islamabad would have been a better comparison. Then again, if only this was the only nonsensical part about Dr. Awan’s diatribe.

The ludicrousness of Dr. Awan’s rant lies in the fact that he ‘procured’ these photographs from a Twitter account (see images above) of what is said to be the account of Rauf Klasra. What Dr. Awan missed was a crucial word: parody.

Rauf Klasra’s parody account has been Tweeting many photos and details of PM Sharif’s life and his family - such as PM Sharif’s castles and Hamza Shahbaz (CM Shahbaz’s son)’s poultry farms and the number of hens. Example: “Malik Riaz gifted Asif Zardari a 70 crore watch which was worn by Dilip Kumar in Anmol Ghadi”. The account parodies Klasra’s tendency to quote figures; it tweeted hence: “Nawaz Sharif used 1 billion rupees to buy saffron to put in his rice!” Some of the tweets are so out there that it takes perhaps two seconds or a very basic IQ to understand that these tweets are in jest.

But not for emotional patriots like Dr. Awan. Oh no. So quick to expose the corrupt leaders and the lies of Pakistan’s ruling party, he not only forgot that not everything you read on the internet is true, he used a parody account, no less, to ‘quote’. One of the photos actually has a picture of what clearly is a Caucasian looking ancient king in the bedroom. Mainly because that photo can easily be searched if you type “Queen’s Bedroom Versailles” into the Google search bar. 

This is nothing new: taking up pictures off the internet, photoshopping them to look like something completely different and then using these images to further your own narrative. Some groups did that while talking about Muslims being killed in Burma. Some used old pictures of Vietnam to pass them off as Nepal. Some used Palestine’s pictures to pass off as D-Chowk.

There are plenty of problems with armchair activism as it is. The Save Shafqat campaign was an interesting example of how social media hypes are often riddled with emotions and filled with questionable ‘facts’.

The problem of shallow investigation and irresponsible statements is even more disturbing if journalists jump on the bandwagon. These television channels have a reach that is global. Their audiences are people who will not run background checks on every word that they utter in their given forty to sixty minutes. It is up to these journalists, especially in this day and age, to understand the importance of verification when it comes to claims and allegations. It is imperative to their professionalism to comply to ethics.

Yet, as we tweet away our outrage along with our lunches, information is even more precarious than it was before. The kind of movements our smartphones seem to be bringing forward begs the crucial question: what is being said responsibly and what is being stated to enjoy a few moments of fame.

Mahwash Ajaz

Mahwash Ajaz is a supermom by day (and night), blogger, psychologist, art, history and movie buff with all the other time that's left

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