Last week, morning talk show host Maya Khan caused a public outcry after she chased (yes, literally) young couples in a public park in Karachi to ask them about their relationships and if their parents knew about them. In this video clip (in Urdu) you can see Khan, along with a cameraman and a group of like-minded women, running after couples and going so far as to ask a couple who claimed to be married to show their marriage papers.
The show, Subah Saveray Maya Kay Saath (Early Morning with Maya), and specifically Khan and SAMAA TV, became the object of a ferocious backlash from bloggers, activists, and media personalities as well as the general public, who say Khan abused her power as a media figure by acting as society's morality police.
Reactions range from complaints filed against SAMAA TV with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), an official petition to the Supreme Court by local non-governmental organizations, Facebook pages asking Maya Khan and SAMAA to apologize, comic strips, opinion pieces in Pakistani newspapers and an open letter expressing concern over dangerous implications of Khan's irresponsible vigilante journalism. This week, both SAMAA TV and Khan issued public apologies for "hurting" the audience's feelings.
Outraged critics argue that condoning such vigilantism on television can set a bad precedent for anyone to police and punish other members of society. Journalists Fifi Haroon and Nadeem F. Paracha point out that the moral policing problem lies much deeper in both society and media. For Haroon, anchors like Khan represent "a comfort zone from which our television networks operate." Because they cater to a housewife demographic, she argues, they are "frivolous" and don't offer alternative or challenging perspectives on issues such as "why younger people need spaces in which they can interact."
Paracha, on the other hand, outlines the historical roots of the moral policing phenomenon in Pakistan. He claims that educated urban middle- and upper-middle class journalists ironically assumed the role of "moral crusaders" in the 1980s, encouraged by the conservative Islamic political environment of the era.
This is not the first time the Pakistani public has reacted strongly to media abuses. In 2011, SAMAA TV's talk show host Meher Bukhari was accused of playing a role in inciting hate against Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer for his efforts to reform Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Following Taseer's assassination by one of his own security guards, Bukhari praised the assassin on her show. In a similar scenario, an angry lynch mob in the city of Sialkot brutally murdered two innocent teenage brothers after accusing them of being robbers.
Below are reactions from netizens on Twitter and a comedic response to Khan from Osman Khalid Butt in his video blog PG-Rated Pyaar Ki Dushman' (PG-Rated Love's Enemy) Starring Maya Khan. (Watch from 1:47 for comments/spoof relating to Maya Khan's morning show).