We are sorry, Owais Baig

Published: December 6, 2012
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To broadcast the clips of a man dangling from a burning building until he falls to his death shows the level of empathy and social awareness that our media lacks. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT

I was viewing the Facebook profile of a young man from Karachi. Looking at the publically shared pictures, I came under the impression that he loved his nieces and a nephews. His name was Owais Baig.

He appeared to be a typical Karachiite with swarthy, intelligent facial features- looks that gave away small details of his life. You could tell that he was a young man, still studying, working alongside and looking for a better career and just trying to make it in a city of 20 million.

Then I looked at the video of him dangling from a burning building, which ironically belongs to a company that sells life insurance. I looked at the crowd below, entranced by the dance of death. I saw this same man looking down helplessly; to me it was becoming unbearable. I looked away and a few minutes after wards, I heard grown men scream. I knew the whole story, we all know it.

As much as I want to talk about why the people did not help him, why the fire brigade failed for the umpteenth time, I won’t. But I do want to talk about the role that our media played in this whole situation.

To broadcast the clips of a man dangling from a burning building until he falls to his death shows the level of empathy and social awareness that our media lacks. Now, I won’t the blame the whole media, but those involved in this game would get an idea. When we say “O kuch nahin yaar, bus aik do hee marray hain” (Oh man, its not a big deal, just one or two have died), we know that we have been desensitised by the media.

We were glued to our screens when Owais fell to his death.

His death was plastered on thousands of TV screens nationwide. A couple of apologetic TV programs, wailing and mourning and we are back to our daily routine, thinking little about the trauma that Owais’s family went through during the coverage.

They have been scarred for life.

Owais’s parents, brother, his beloved nieces; they have gone through a trauma that few of us would ever face. And unsurprisingly, our media bigwigs remain unapologetic.

In a program by Matiullah Jan called Apna Apna Gareban, the director of a local news channel unapologetically defended his news channel’s decision to air Owais’s video clip. And the atrocity doesn’t stop here. Right up to the time of writing, not a single statement by any media house has been broadcasted, seeking apology for airing disturbing visuals.

Somehow, the image of Nero fiddling away while Rome burns flashes across my mind.

It’s not as if we lack laws and regulations, it’s just that our TV channels show blatant disrespect towards implementing them. It is specifically stated in PEMRA (Amendment) Act 2007, article 20, clause C that the person who is issued a license by PEMRA must ensure that:

“All programmes and advertisements do not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency”

Forgive me, but I assume that our TV channels do not think that the live broadcasting of a young man’s death nationwide constitutes something ‘offensive’.

This September a Fox News presenter’s YouTube clip went viral. It showed a driver being chased by US police in Arizona when suddenly the driver stops the car, gets out, runs a few yards and then shoots himself in the head.

As soon as the presenter realises what the man is about to do he screams,

“Get off. Get off. Get off it. Get off it. Get off it. Get off it!”

And when his channel accidently shows the video he comes on air and responsibly issuing an apology on live television,

“… we really messed up. And we’re all very sorry. That didn’t belong on TV. We took every precaution we knew how to take to keep that from being on TV. I personally apologise to you that that happened. Sometimes we see a lot of things that we don’t let get to you because it is not time appropriate, it is insensitive, it is just wrong. And that was wrong and that won’t happen on my watch…”

Dear TV channels,

If Fox News – which we all know is famous for its biased and right wing stance against Muslims- is capable of such professionalism then I believe you have got a big ethical dilemma on your hands.

Let us therefore not talk about enacting new laws and regulations, as they already exist, but let us enforce them. Let us force our media houses to publicly apologise for this particular error so that they recognise their professional code of conduct and never indulge in such indecency again.

It is time to apologise to Owais Baig and his family.

I do apologise- sincerely, from the bottom of my heart – to Owais Baig and his family.

May his soul rest in peace. Ameen.

Read more by Jamaluddin here or follow him on Twitter @einsjam 

Jamaluddin

Jamaluddin

A student of Information Systems Management at Latrobe University, Melbourne. He tweets @Einsjam (twitter.com/Einsjam)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.