Syed Talat Hussain
I have heard that Samaa television management has laid off their morning show host for her incredibly audacious attempt to violate all privacy laws and norms when she took cameras into a public park and started to chase couples asking them loaded questions and condemning them at the spot for being ‘immoral’. I think it is a step in the right direction. The issue was never about an individual or a group of people doing a wrong thing. It was all about a consistent pattern of editorial behaviour that could not be justified on any rational, legal, ethical and editorial grounds.
My show last night on Dawn television captured these issues. The choice of the topic was not mine, but of the viewers who expressed their outrage and anger through various forums. In a way, therefore, the programme was designed by the public reaction that came from different walks of life. The host tried to become a self-appointed guardian of public morality, which is a difficult and tricky subject and should not be taken up in game-shows. The most damaging part of the inquiries that the host was conducting in the park was that it conveyed the impression that everyone who was sitting together or was walking around next to each other was involved in some ‘immoral’ activity.
Many people called me and said that after watching the show they have become suspicious of their own children and believe that they too would perhaps be sitting in the park just like those who were seen on the camera. Some suggested that they had pulled their daughters back from colleges because there were not sure whether the girls were studying or flirting around in the park. The destructive nature of the message that the show host was able to convey contrasted sharply with her own outlook on life, which while a personal issue, became part of the public debate as it did not support her advice to most of the young persons she interacted with.
The other problem with this particular show was that strange and questionable content was allowed to go on air—such as the fake spiritual leader (pir) who was roundly endorsed by the anchor but later on was discovered by the police to be a fraud and a threat to public peace and order. The unashamed manner in which such content was sent on air suggested that the show host actually believed that she could do this and easily get away with it. I am quite pleased that the public has responded well to outrageous content. This is the only way to keep unruly and dangerous behaviour on television in check. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion but no one has the right to do it at the cost of others rights and their privacy.