Originally published at Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan Blog. Republished with permission.
On July 15 Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her brother, claiming that it was a matter of family ‘honour’. One of Pakistan’s most famous and outspoken social media stars, Ms. Baloch used social media platforms to express herself, where she would share her thoughts, opinions and visual media. Her posts would at times poke fun at male Pakistani public figures and celebrities, and often were an exposé of the “hypocrisies of a patriarchal society dominated by a narrow-minded, self-righteous moral police”, according to the blog No Country For Bold Women. This self-righteousness, a part of public media and social media discourse in Pakistan, regards the right to privacy and to anonymity as mere obstacles to getting the “truth” out, regardless of the very real consequences that it can have. By violating her right to privacy and broadcasting detailed personal information, without any understanding of what that could entail, a woman was killed - and there is still no conversation about privacy in Pakistan.
The self-righteousness that killed Qandeel still persists in the wake of her death however, and thus compels us to question the facilitating factors at play. Not only does the murder continue to be remarked upon with heavy victim-blaming sentiments, there are opinions that have voiced support for her murderer, and against her “lifestyle”. These remain, for the most part, unchallenged in the media. These include statements by senior commentators such as Haroon Rashid at Dunya News and Shahid Masood at ARY (news channel), among others, both of whose statements appear to blame her for her own murder. Politicians such as Fauzia Kasuri of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaaf/Movement for justice) who condemned her death but made misogynistic statements about her lifestyle and that she required ‘psychological counselling’. Fauzia Kasuri and a few others have since deleted their statements on social media platforms, but there exist proof on blogs such as No Country For Bold Women.
The constant refrain in the wake of Qandeel Baloch’s death has been that while it was her brother killed her, the media and Pakistani society have her blood on their hands. This is not an unfounded opinion. The provocative and often adversarial nature of the media in Pakistan has often blurred the line between what is in the public interest and what conforms to journalistic ethics, for the sake of greater viewer or readership figures. The public and the media can be fickle in regards to celebrity regardless of geography, often looking to break down celebrities that they may have celebrated or reported on in the past by uncovering and broadcasting personal information that can put them at risk. This is dangerous enough in all circumstances. The socially conservative and patriarchal nature of Pakistani society ensures that anyone that publicly declares themselves to be feminist and progressive and who point out the hypocrisies of said society, will find themselves fearing for their lives, without protection from the state even when they have requested said protection. The lack of proper measures for the right to - and the protection of - personal privacy, as well as a basic society-wide lack of understanding of the concept of privacy, played just as much a part in Qandeel Baloch’s death as the flawed and fragile hyper-masculine concept of ‘honour’.
“Qandeel’s Cinderella Story: She is not a Baloch her real name is Fouzia Azeem she is dishonouring Baloch people”. This tweet, which since has been deleted, was by Hamir Mir. Mir is an influential veteran journalist with Geo News in Pakistan. This lapse in journalism ethics is particularly galling as Mr. Mir has found himself in danger on a number of occasions for his reportage and commentary and should have understood the necessity of anonymity and safeguarding the privacy of an individual. By revealing her real name it highlighted a disturbing lapse of journalistic ethics, and opened her up to greater risk of attack.
In the days leading up to her death, a man claiming to be her ex-husband approached the media, revealing details about their marriage and child. Ms. Baloch confirmed the marriage, and went on to explain that it was an abusive situation that she had to leave. Furthermore a politician in Dera Gazi Khan sent her a legal order, “demanding that she apologise for ‘bringing shame’ to the Baloch race, stop using Baloch as her surname and pay him Rs. 50 million [...] otherwise, strict action will be taken against you." This led to death threats that prompted her to seek protection from the government, to no end, and caused her to make the decision to leave Pakistan after Eid-ul-Fitr with her parents.
This cannot and should not be placed solely on the shoulders of one journalist however, but a wider media culture: on June 23, Daily Pakistan ran a profile on its website (still available at the time of writing), that carried a scanned image of her Pakistani passport, with her details readily available. Further to this, an Urdu-language piece by Siasat TV extensively exploited Qandeel’s private life for their viewers - as with the Dunya article, this too is still readily available online today.
These examples of violations of Qandeel Baloch’s privacy and anonymity have led to the creation of No Country For Bold Women: a blog that has recorded these and other examples of invasion of privacy, of victim blaming before and after her murder, so that evidence is kept for posterity even after the originals have been erased. When one understands the social context in Pakistan, the broadcasting of her personal information by the media - already a violation of journalistic ethics and objectivity - takes on a more horrific tone. That violation of privacy can and did lead directly to her death at the hands of her brother, as much as toxic masculinity and the predatory media.
The damage has been done. The question becomes, however: what can and must be done in the wake of Qandeel Baloch’s murder?
The media often regards itself as a valuable part of a nation’s fabric, productively contributing to the social ecosystem. A free press is rightly a vital part of democratic discourse, but a feral press that decides to dictate or echo questionable morality does not aid that discourse. Freedom of the press does not necessarily mean freedom from consequences of the outcome. We are not calling for the muzzling of the media, but there must be accountability. There must be a sea-change in the way that journalistic ethics – or an apparent lack thereof – are adhered to in Pakistan.
* The examples of violations of privacy, victim-blaming, and the interviews referred to in the post can be found at the No Country For Bold Women blog (visited on 20/07/2016)
** More details on online harassment and violence in Pakistan can be found in this report by Bytes for all, Pakistan on technology related violence against women http://www.genderit.org/node/4435
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