Why the BBC’s Lyse Doucet failed to understand Pakistan

Published: February 25, 2015

When I first looked at the headline “Book lovers defy the bombers”, I thought it was done as a joke. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB

One normally doesn’t expect someone like the BBC’s Lyse Doucet to indulge in ‘parachute journalism’, so when I came across this rather odious report by her for BBC, I was kind of taken aback. (For those of you who are wondering what exactly this ‘parachute journalism’ is, it relates to foreign correspondents going to a foreign land – normally seen as ‘exotic’, or in Pakistan’s case ‘very violent’, ‘un-liveable’ and so on – for a very brief period and doing a report for a western audience based on that very short visit).

When I first looked at the headline “Book lovers defy the bombers”, I thought it was done as a joke. In 2009, the London-based Daily Telegraph (one of Britain’s most widely-read and respected broadsheets) had done a report on Pakistan Fashion Week which was held in Karachi and it ran with the rather silly headline “Pakistan Fashion Week Defies Taliban with non-Islamic dress”.

That was silly on many counts, not least the fact that women in Pakistan had been wearing such attire – at least in the larger cities – for years and well before the Taliban came into the picture. Secondly, that story was written with no sense of context or understanding of what drove the holding and organisation of Pakistan Fashion Week in the first place. For instance, the models, clothes designers, and the people who went and saw the Week, did not do all this because of any conscious decision to ‘stand up’ to the Taliban, but mostly for financial reasons. People in this field in Pakistan want it, like those working in any other industry, to do well and prosper, so that they in turn can make a living from it. I think ‘standing up’ to the Taliban would probably be last on their scheme of priorities for wanting to be part of a fashion week.

The same logic applies to the holding of the Lahore Literary Festival, which is now in its 3rd year. Ably run and organised by some very good people – people who would want nothing better for the country’s still-fledgling literary and books scene – it is done not because people want to defy suicide bombers, but because they want a public space to be created where people can freely interact and talk about books, ideas and culture, something that is rapidly shrinking in today’s Pakistan.

The opening for the BBC piece, where the celebrated “chief international correspondent” tells lowly readers like us about how dangerous her overseas friends think Lahore to be, is sophomoric to say the least, and quite surprising given that one would have expected someone like her to be more aware of not only the actual ground reality in Lahore but also that many readers would probably find this kind of content offensive.

So, thanks, but no thanks, Lyse. I would any day read a piece – perhaps not as well written – by a local reporter on the festival than by a celebrated foreign journalist because at least the former wouldn’t engage in oblique value judgments which are nothing more than BS and insult readers more than anything else.

Correction: The piece previously stated that the Lahore Literary Festival was in its 6th year. The error is regretted and has been rectified. Our apologies for the inconvenience.  

Omar R Quraishi

Omar R Quraishi

The editor of the editorial pages of The Express Tribune. He tweets as @omar_quraishi (twitter.com/omar_quraishi)

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