Pakistan online protest ousts TV "vigil-aunty"

by Toby Manhire / 13 February, 2012
The success of a campaign against Maya Khan's efforts to trap dating couples in public parks has been hailed as a watershed moment.

Pakistan’s leading television “vigil-aunty” has been forced off-air following a concerted social media campaign.

Maya Khan, breakfast host on Samaa TV, had invited controversy by pouncing on couples gathered in Karachi parks, and challenging them to prove they were married.

Thousands of viewers voiced their outrage at the approach online, with a digital petition garnering more than 5,000 signatures.

Adds Faisal Farooq at the New Pakistan website:

Some of the social media activists termed her “chief of the moral police” while a few compared her vigilantism to the “Lal Masjid mindset” [the religious radical approach attributed to Islamabad’s Red Mosque].

Additionally, some Facebookers started uploading Maya Khan’s private snaps in which she was seen dancing with male friends, and doing hugs. A series of questions and mocks were also carried out along with these pictures, asking her to explain what was she doing with these people.

Network executives sought an unconditional apology, and when Khan refused, she was shown the door, marking a “watershed moment in Pakistan’s broadcast media and social media history”, according to Faisal Kapadia in a post at the Global Voices website that wraps up a range of the local blogs and Twitter posts on the subject.

But while there was much self-congratulation in social media circles, more broadly in Pakistan attitudes towards privacy remain cavalier, writes Qurat ul ain Siddiqui in a blog for the newspaper Dawn. “Amidst the frenzy, what has escaped notice,” she writes, “is that the programme was by and large representative of how our society tends to deal with individual freedoms”.

The significance goes wider than just online protest, marking an important moment in the development of Pakistani civil society, writes activist and blogger Kiran Nazish at Tehelka:

A group of civil society members took shape. The Citizen for Free and Responsible Media (CFRM) emerged as a group of activists, academics, lawyers and journalists, including unadorned citizens that collectively forfeited against Maya’s actions and ran a campaign to ensure that she identifies such behaviour as unethical and apologises.

Which, when she didn’t, aggravated the situation and caused her to get fired by the channel along with rest of the team on her show. The following days CFRM continued pointing out and campaigning against other programmes with questionable content or anchoring style and caused two resignations from the anchor and producer of popular prime time shows.

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