Like a Meera. Oooh.

Like a Meera. Oooh.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009
by Mosharraf Zaidi

There’s a lot more at play in the Meera circus than just sex, lies and videotape. Meera, while a useful instrument of allegory, is hardly instrumental in any serious discourse about Pakistan. Yet hordes of sympathetic old men are lined from here to the numerous gates of the walled city of Lahore, each making a valiant attempt to defend the talentless (unless overexposure counts as a talent) Pakistani Paris Hilton, from a predatory news media. Oooh.

Meera is a deer in the headlights of course. Poor thing wouldn’t know a t from a cross and an i from a dot. Meera has broken barriers, rocketed through the glass ceiling and trailblazed a Mallika Sherawat-esque path for future Pakistani vixens largely on the back of naviete and virgin-like innocence. Oooh.

Let us, in this Holiest of Holy Months, do the right thing by Meera. Grant the besieged woman her claims of purity. Grant her also the right to speak English with whatever mystery accent she pleases, because, well, she’s pretty. But we cannot grant the woman all of Rome, nor her defenders, this place called Pakistan.

Meera’s appeal, in a country that is so drearily overburdened by both its Hindu roots and its Muslim canopy, is obvious. Meera will go where few Pakistani women have gone before—on film, on You Tube, on cell phone cameras, and on anything else that will generate buzz. Watching the edifice of Meera unravel is temptation too big, and clearly too strong, even in the Holy Month.

Why can’t the entire Meera fiasco be about an opportunistic and talentless actress take it to the next level in her ability to captivate an otherwise uber-righteous nation of saints? It can’t because crusty old Pakistan will not cede a single opportunity to mock and malign the news media in this country. Old Pakistan hacks, with pens in one hand and carte blanches for the military and political elite of the country in another, are out in full force defending Meera. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with Meera’s virginal innocence. Meera is to be defended because if she is not, Pakistan’s news media will devour her whole. And this would be a travesty above all others. Crusty please.

The full scale blitzkrieg on the Pakistani media of course is not new at all. For months now, owing both to events past and events foreseen, Old Pakistan—a strange cocktail of traditional power brokers, scions and members of the political elite, apologists for the military’s senseless parades into civilian domains—has sought to delegitimize the most potent instrument of change available to Pakistan’s emerging urban middle class, the news media. Stain the credibility and veracity of the news media, and the entire Pakistani middle class narrative would stand delegitimized.

The campaign to achieve such an outcome has been long, sustained and brutal. It has of course, had to rely on some truly egregious attempts to stretch the truth and reconstruct reality.

My all-time favorite is the purported media sympathy for terrorism, based on its ideological right-wingedness. Not so long ago, before Pakistan’s brave soldiers took on the terrorists in Swat, a sustained campaign by old Pakistan helped to paint the news media as having a deep and demonic addiction to radicalism, extremism, fundamentalism, obscurantism, sectarianism, and fanaticism. These aren’t my -isms. These are some of the isms that were being used liberally by Old Pakistan (about which little but its scruples is liberal). By the spring of this year, the murmurs had reached a crescendo. One rarely had the opportunity to meet a foreign diplomat or donor or aid worker or multinational executive without being asked about the Pakistani media’s evil right-wing slant.
Then, all of a sudden, along came May 8th, and within days, Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike witnessed wall to wall coverage of Pakistan’s fallen soldiers, wall to wall promotions about Pakistan’s commitment to beat back terrorism and a whole new kind of anti-terror jingoism that at some level was alarming in its own right. It turns out that Pakistan’s news media did not have any right-wing tilt at all. On the contrary, when it came to Pakistan versus terrorism, the news media was instrumental in helping coalesce a major national consensus about the need to take the military fight to the Taliban in Swat, and indeed beyond. The same news media, that in March of 2009 had allegedly demonized the Pakistani military with its fervent support for rule of law and the restoration of the Chief Justice, was, only two months later, in May 2009, helping reconstruct the Pakistani military brand in Pakistan, with its coverage of Swat.

Old Pakistan’s obsessive compulsion to discredit the Pakistani news media of course, aren’t restricted to fabrications about its alignment with the wrong kind of politics. One of the most frequent instruments that Old Pakistan relies on, to discredit the news media, is to question its appetite for breaking news. The insinuation is that turning a legitimate profit, one that no news paper or television news channel has ever denied being interested in, is somehow a disservice to the reporting of news. Fancy, indeed. In a country where the proliferation of illegitimate profits is frequent, but its prosecution, rare, it’s more than a tad ironic that by profiting through its labour, the news media is somehow a villain.

Journalists themselves are a frequent target of Old Pakistan’s die hard pursuit of a discredited news media. If a reporter writes something positive about a person or a group of people, he’s a paid hack for that entity. If a reporter writes something negative about a person, or a group of people, he’s a paid hack for that entity’s opponents. No matter what journalists in Pakistan do, the easiest way to discredit them is to malign the motivation for why they are writing.

Luckily, the media is institutionally immune to attacks on its legitimacy. It has self-correcting mechanisms that will enable the articulation of increasingly sharper and more incisive versions of the truth. Those that seek to undermine the free news media in Pakistan don’t have any such self-correcting mechanisms. Old Pakistan operates out of an ever-shrinking space of narrow self-interest. That space, like the rural dimensions of this country, is shrinking fast. This is a losing battlefield for the forces of traditional power in Pakistan, and there is no armor that can stave off defeat.

Vociferous defenders of Meera are entitled to be starstruck by the damsel’s distress. But their attempts to discredit the news media for following a vacuous story that has commercial appeal are unfailingly linked to the larger project to demonize Pakistan’s premier middle class institution—the Pakistani news media. This is spilt milk. Crying is futile. Meera might be a virgin, but Pakistan’s middle class no longer is.


  1. Emrys

    Oh Meera mine, divine in time….Great piece – from the ridiculous to the sublime…one of your funniest yet. And you are so right about the Old and New Pakistan – and the New Pakistani’s genie in the (TV) Tube is well and truly free in the air and it would take a lot to put it back. But I do think there is nuance in the media’s relationship to the ‘isms’ you talk about – are you sure all are against that which wants to destroy the liberalism Meera so appealingly (re)presents?

  2. Pingback: Like a Meera. Oooh. | Tea Break

  3. Aalya Gloekler

    Don’t forget the motto, ‘innocent until proven guilty!’

    I do however make a distinction between the media and the media. There are all kinds of journalistic breeds out there and to paint them all with the same patriotic, freedom of the press brush would be overstretching it a bit, don’t you think? Nice article, it was fun reading!

  4. raymond

    i dont know why you guys use such a difficult words in your articles when you can use regular words which people use in normal conversations………..i dont know you write for americans british australians or for pakistanis. oh well just a suggestion……pls try to use words where you dont have to open up dictionary thanks

  5. Hassan Rahim

    Hi Mosharraf,

    I’ve been quite a keen reader of your articles and been very impressed and even moved at times by your writing. However, I find this particular article contradictory and missing the mark by some fair distance. In order to defend the freedom of media you’ve seemingly embarked upon the similar route taken by the ‘old pakistan’ which you are so vehemently criticizing in your article i.e. media can report anything that suits their commercial interests and anyone who disagrees with any content being projected is old bad pakistan out to extinguish the cherished flame of freedom. I am neither a bastion of old wilting pakistan nor a neo-liberal. I whole heartedly support free media, acknowledge the blood sweat and tears that have brought it to the stage it is right now and feel indebted to the great service it is doing for our society. I am also aware that it is a natural and perfectly acceptable fact that for every broadsheet there will be two tabloids and for every story of Abu Gharib there will be glossier, coke snorting account of Kerry Katona. What I find distasteful in this article is the way you have assumed a moral high ground with consummate ease and delivered your verdict of moral bankruptcy on anyone who dares voices his disagreement regarding media circus that surrounds this whole episode.

    May be I have read too much (read: wrong) into your writing, but the smug face of a Geo newsreader with self righteous smirk on his face while he derived his voyeuristic pleasure by showing some unfortunate ‘off the record’ comments made by Meera was plain painful to watch.

    ‘yeh woh sehar tu nahin jis ke aarzoo lay kar
    chalay thay yaar kay mil jaaye gee kahin na kahin’

  6. raymond

    please leave meera alone, she made some money had little fun, people lie and make money, nobody is perfect, leave her alone or ignore her

  7. Amber Saeed

    I didn’t think you could write something funny as well. Pfft. I love this one. Apart from the countless others, of course.

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