Why ‘vigil aunty’ caused a storm: media freedom without an ethical code
The Maya Khan “vigil aunty” controversy has put the focus on the growing clash between conservatism and liberalism in Pakistani society, as well as pressure on the young, the growing reach of online media, and the uncertain growth of a mass media unsure of handling its new freedom.
Nosheen Abbas, BBC correspondent in Islamabad, spoke to young couples and summed up the clash of cultures in her report Why ‘vigil aunty’ caused Pakistan media storm
What young couples say
"It’s very difficult to go to places with a girl. Even if I want to hold her hand people look at you in a bad way.
"I am actually quite religious, even though I’m wearing jeans, but people would look at me strangely and say I’m not a good Muslim or person," one man says.
A young lady said: "Yes, I heard about what Maya Khan did, but I don’t care what people think. I will hold my husband’s hand, I am perfectly comfortable with it even if others aren’t."
Her husband said: "There are some places where I can show public displays of affection like holding her hand but there are also places where it is difficult to do that."
You do see public displays of affection in Pakistan, but rarely between men and women. It is more common to see young men, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, holding hands, fingers tightly interlocked.
Media now a third force, unsure of its own power
This episode also exposes the pitfalls of Pakistan’s media, freer than ever before and often referred to as the "third pillar of society".
But the public believes the media act as if they have unquestionable authority – which might go some way towards explaining how a group of women took it upon themselves to police people’s personal affairs in public, on live television.
Pakistan’s media are still finding their feet and lack a code of conduct.
For now, the courts may offer some people protection from intrusion.
Human rights activist Farzana Bari recently appeared on a state-run TV show quoting article 14 of the Pakistan penal code, which allows a person to take legal action against someone who publicly humiliates another.
But litigation is expensive and most people may simply prefer to be able to go about their affairs without being hounded.
The private media industry is burgeoning in Pakistan and has grown largely unchecked in a battle for ratings.
Many commentators argue that populist programmes – and in some cases "vigilante television" – are an inevitable consequence of such a system.
For others, Maya Khan is just a symbol of a conservative mindset intent on attacking personal freedoms.
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