Maya Khan’s Confession

Today, Maya Khan broke her silence.

And much as I want to do away with even the unpleasant memories of that whole saga, a follow-up seemed in order, saying, “Maya, it’s still not ok.”

For those of you who missed it (as the said show’s timings coincided with the repeat of the Red Carpet event of the Oscars), Maya Khan was on Express News TV’s show “Frontline” hosted by Kamran Shahid. A weepy, washed out Maya vehemently protected her stance. She alleged that all the people she raided in the park were “paid actors” and that the entire episode was scripted. And that it was done in good faith to highlight a growing social evil. And to support her “facts”, she had some of those paid actors on the show with her.

Frankly, this is even more worrisome! I would totally be ok with it if that show had disclaimers saying “re-enactments” or “professional actors are playing the part”. But to sell this as reality was an act of deceiving the viewership, and yet again proved that it was not just Maya at fault, but the entire crew of the show and the tv channel as well.

What this has done is horrendous! I and anyone watching this show will not know whom and what to believe in the media any more. A friend skeptically said that maybe the channel on which this rebuttal was aired is now hiring Maya and so wants to clear her name before that. Other theories are also surfacing.

Personally, I don’t know what to believe . And I wish I could say I don’t care, but I do. Bluffing with the audience is against the basic most ethic of media reporting – honesty. If disillusionment permanently creeps in, the audiences will be cynical even about the truth. That will be a permanent collateral damage.

This nasty cut-throat game of competing for ratings is a whirlpool. Maya Khan was unfortunate that she took so much heat for it. Other anchors, hosts and channels do similar things. Maya’s case was a classic example of what needs to be remembered – do not underestimate your viewership! They have a brain, and know the difference between right and wrong, and can take the media to task.

But the silver lining, I believe, is that through this example of Maya, the other shows will in the future be very scared of over-stepping certain boundaries.

As for what Maya did, whether was scripted or not, was simply wrong. But what was equally wrong was people in a reactionary state of mind plastering pictures of Maya Khan’s personal life all over the internet, and indulging in character assassination and mud-slinging, thus repeating more or less the same mistake she committed, albeit in a different way – of encroaching another person’s privacy which needs to be treated with sanctity. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Pakistan’s media has gotten too much freedom way too soon – from a press in chains to a press with no brakes and just an accelerator paddle! This, and similar incidences, are classic examples of the fact that we are unable to contain ourselves in the given freedom. In Maya’s incidence, there are great lessons for all of us who claim to be media persons. That we need to be both more cautious and conscientious when it comes to making decisions on what to share with the public, and what not, and how. If we don’t do that, this will backfire against us, as it did in Maya’s case.

First published on Chaaidaani on 27 February, 2012. Click here to view the original post.

About the author: Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer, blogger, columnist and activist who feels passionately about human rights, health and social issues. Her interests include Islamic education and the study of religion. Farahnaz is a wannabe photographer, enjoys chaai, traveling, reading, friends and motherhood.

Winning The Oscar: A Big Deal?

Euphoria. Excitement. Waking up at wee hours of the morning, and an excited nation praying with baited breaths waited hopefully for what was an expected and well-deserved win.

And it finally happened! Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s documentary ‘Saving Face’ has won the Oscar.

And the euphoria is now viral. On Twitter, Facebook, blogs…..and that’s what we all are talking about, incessantly. Especially the Pakistani women.

Agreed that this is a great honour, but is it such a big deal as we are making it out to be? Turns out it is!!!

To begin with, the first reason is simply that Pakistan and Pakistanis are sick of all the “bad news” about them, both locally and internationally. Pakistan makes headlines, for sure. But mostly for a suicide bombing, for a drone attack, for an earth quake or a flood, for an air hostess trying to take with her dozens of cell phones at JFK Airport, for honour killings and violated women and extremism and radicalization. I can never forget how a fellow female journalist from Africa, in the course of a seminar I was attending in Washington DC in December of 2010, kept observing me for a while, then made the first move and came and said Hi and then said,”you smile a lot. You seem normal. How can anyone be normal in Pakistan?”. Well, Sharmeen’s win is an answer to that. Not only are we normal…..we are alive and throbbing and kicking! It is refreshing and replenishing to know that for every bomb blast and hate campaign news bulletin, there also comes along a Naseem Hameed, an Irfah Kareem, a Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. The inherent human spirit is celebratory in nature, not morbid, I believe. There is only so much one can mope and cry about. Good news like this gives us a breather. So yes, this is a big deal.

It is also a big deal because Chinoy is a woman. Contrary to popular belief, Pakistan is not THE most woman-unfriendly country in the world, but is not the friendliest either. We have our issues when it comes to women. Pre-dominantly, it still is a patriarchal society. Domestic violence, rape, acid throwing still happen. Women face both harassment and discrimination at work place. Men (not all, of course), still are the spoilt brats in a lot of cases. This is February 2012, and in Mianwali’s by-elections, women are still being barred from voting. But even then, we’re not so badly off. We’ve had the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world, the first female speaker of the National Assembly. We have an Asma Jehangir who scares the hell out of persecutor-type men. We have formidable talents in the likes of Mehreen Jabbar. We have women politicians who do us proud with some, if not all, of their feats – Marvi Memon, Nafisa Shah, Shazia Murree to name a few. And now we have a Chinoy who, being a woman, brings home the Oscar for the first time. In Chinoy, the woman who works her way up on the corporate ladder among sleazy flirts and the female activist who struggles to highlight women’s issues finds hope. So yes, it is a big deal. Though I must add here that not all men are patriarchal, chauvinistic sleaze-balls. We are blessed, as a nation, with an increasing number of level-headed, emotionally secure men who are the back bone for our success stories. I do believe that behind every successful woman, there is a man who believed in her.

Chinoy’s success is a big deal also to those wonderful, strong, resilient and beautiful women who are victims of the horrendous atrocity called “acid throwing” which is one of the cruelest forms of evil a human can inflict on another. It is a big deal to people who fight against these crimes – people like Dr Mohammad Jawad, the reconstructive surgeon from UK who comes back to homeland for “payback time” and does what he can to make a a few lives better. For activists, this documentary’s success is more than just an Oscar. It is something that pulls one back from disillusionment when one works day after day to make lives better with no apparent result in sight at times.

But while we are relishing this happy moment for Pakistan, exchanging muabarakbaad and excitedly seeing Chinoy and ‘Saving Face’ trend on Twitter, my inward hope is that the documentary which will now make people sit up and watch it, does not become a mere “tsk tsk, poor Pakistan” to the audience in the West. I hope it will be seen as an emblem of resilience, and not another addition in Pakistan’s list of problems. See it as a sign of the better days to come in the life of this brave, proud nation, who can and will have better tomorrows. We don’t need sympathy. We need hope.

First published on Chaaidaani on 27 February, 2012. Click here to view the original post.

About the author: Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer, blogger, columnist and activist who feels passionately about human rights, health and social issues. Her interests include Islamic education and the study of religion. Farahnaz is a wannabe photographer, enjoys chaai, traveling, reading, friends and motherhood.

Winning The Oscar: A Big Deal?

Euphoria. Excitement. Waking up at wee hours of the morning, and an excited nation praying with baited breaths waited hopefully for what was an expected and well-deserved win.

And it finally happened! Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s documentary ‘Saving Face’ has won the Oscar.

And the euphoria is now viral. On Twitter, Facebook, blogs…..and that’s what we all are talking about, incessantly. Especially the Pakistani women.

Agreed that this is a great honour, but is it such a big deal as we are making it out to be? Turns out it is!!!

To begin with, the first reason is simply that Pakistan and Pakistanis are sick of all the “bad news” about them, both locally and internationally. Pakistan makes headlines, for sure. But mostly for a suicide bombing, for a drone attack, for an earth quake or a flood, for an air hostess trying to take with her dozens of cell phones at JFK Airport, for honour killings and violated women and extremism and radicalization. I can never forget how a fellow female journalist from Africa, in the course of a seminar I was attending in Washington DC in December of 2010, kept observing me for a while, then made the first move and came and said Hi and then said,”you smile a lot. You seem normal. How can anyone be normal in Pakistan?”. Well, Sharmeen’s win is an answer to that. Not only are we normal…..we are alive and throbbing and kicking! It is refreshing and replenishing to know that for every bomb blast and hate campaign news bulletin, there also comes along a Naseem Hameed, an Irfah Kareem, a Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. The inherent human spirit is celebratory in nature, not morbid, I believe. There is only so much one can mope and cry about. Good news like this gives us a breather. So yes, this is a big deal.

It is also a big deal because Chinoy is a woman. Contrary to popular belief, Pakistan is not THE most woman-unfriendly country in the world, but is not the friendliest either. We have our issues when it comes to women. Pre-dominantly, it still is a patriarchal society. Domestic violence, rape, acid throwing still happen. Women face both harassment and discrimination at work place. Men (not all, of course), still are the spoilt brats in a lot of cases. This is February 2012, and in Mianwali’s by-elections, women are still being barred from voting. But even then, we’re not so badly off. We’ve had the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world, the first female speaker of the National Assembly. We have an Asma Jehangir who scares the hell out of persecutor-type men. We have formidable talents in the likes of Mehreen Jabbar. We have women politicians who do us proud with some, if not all, of their feats – Marvi Memon, Nafisa Shah, Shazia Murree to name a few. And now we have a Chinoy who, being a woman, brings home the Oscar for the first time. In Chinoy, the woman who works her way up on the corporate ladder among sleazy flirts and the female activist who struggles to highlight women’s issues finds hope. So yes, it is a big deal. Though I must add here that not all men are patriarchal, chauvinistic sleaze-balls. We are blessed, as a nation, with an increasing number of level-headed, emotionally secure men who are the back bone for our success stories. I do believe that behind every successful woman, there is a man who believed in her.

Chinoy’s success is a big deal also to those wonderful, strong, resilient and beautiful women who are victims of the horrendous atrocity called “acid throwing” which is one of the cruelest forms of evil a human can inflict on another. It is a big deal to people who fight against these crimes – people like Dr Mohammad Jawad, the reconstructive surgeon from UK who comes back to homeland for “payback time” and does what he can to make a a few lives better. For activists, this documentary’s success is more than just an Oscar. It is something that pulls one back from disillusionment when one works day after day to make lives better with no apparent result in sight at times.

But while we are relishing this happy moment for Pakistan, exchanging muabarakbaad and excitedly seeing Chinoy and ‘Saving Face’ trend on Twitter, my inward hope is that the documentary which will now make people sit up and watch it, does not become a mere “tsk tsk, poor Pakistan” to the audience in the West. I hope it will be seen as an emblem of resilience, and not another addition in Pakistan’s list of problems. See it as a sign of the better days to come in the life of this brave, proud nation, who can and will have better tomorrows. We don’t need sympathy. We need hope.

First published on Chaaidaani on 27 February, 2012. Click here to view the original post.

About the author: Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer, blogger, columnist and activist who feels passionately about human rights, health and social issues. Her interests include Islamic education and the study of religion. Farahnaz is a wannabe photographer, enjoys chaai, traveling, reading, friends and motherhood.

Dakota Fanning For Marc Jacobs: Too Provocative?

Are you offended by this ad? Many people are.

After receiving 4 complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned this magazine campaign in the UK.

The advertisement is for the Marc Jacobs fragrance ‘Oh, Lola!’ and the model is 17-year old US actor, Dakota Fanning.

Here’s the official statement from the ASA:

“We noted that the model was holding up the perfume bottle which rested in her lap between her legs and we considered that its position was sexually provocative. We understood the model was 17 years old but we considered she looked under the age of 16. We considered that the length of her dress, her leg and position of the perfume bottle drew attention to her sexuality. Because of that, along with her appearance, we considered the ad could be seen to sexualise a child. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and was likely to cause serious offence.”

The perfume maker and distributer of this fragrance, Coty UK, disputed the ASA’s ruling, saying they had yet to receive any complaints about the ad in question. They also said the perfume bottle placed in between Fanning’s legs was “provoking, but not indecent.”

Of course, any publicity is good publicity and the one foolproof way of ensuring people see your ad is, ironically, to make sure nobody sees it. More often than not, banning anything leads to instant widespread coverage.

So what do you think? Offensive or just attention-seeking behaviour?

Meet Shahnoor Ahmed

Shahnoor Ahmed, CEO of Spectrum Y&R and Chairman of the Advertising Association of Pakistan, talked to us about social media, Katrina Kaif, chicken karahi and more.

With what seems like the experience of having given a hundred interviews, Shahnoor Ahmed begins answering our questions seamlessly, flowing from one topic to the next without pausing to think. Perhaps our questions are too generic. Or perhaps he is just that passionate about what he does.

We jump right into the customary background check. When did he first get sucked into the world of advertising? In the 1970’s. And what was it like back then? “Well,” he takes a deep breath and sighs. “A long, long time ago… it’s like a fairytale!”

It’s a cloudy day and the fickle sun moves in and out of view of the window, setting the scene for a trip down memory lane.

1970’s to Present Day: How Times Have Changed

Shahnoor Ahmed began his career with a clean slate. With no agency to inherit but armed with a deep love for advertising, Ahmed started off at Asiatic (now JWT Pakistan) with Anwar Rammal and went on to SASA. After an unsuccessful startup that he claims “crashed very badly” and a very, very brief stint at Paragon, he joined Javed Jabbar’s MNJ International, where he worked along side many of today’s advertising giants. Spectrum Communications was born in 1978.

“The advertising landscape has changed dramatically in many, many ways,” he says. When he started out, television had just come to Pakistan. Everything was done by manual typesetting and getting material and putting things together was much harder. Clients’ expectations, too, were equally suited to the times.

Now, clients want instant gratification; a turnover of two hours is two hours too long. “Why can’t you just email it to us?” he mimics.

Nevertheless one thing remains the same: “Everyone is still looking for the big idea.”

Social Media: The Way Forward?

In the 70s, agencies were responsible for film production, media buying, outdoor and print media. All these functions have since splintered off into separate pools and many current agencies have a solely creative-strategic function. Now, they need to have a social media function too. “It is not that they are becoming irrelevant,” Ahmed clarifies, “They need to keep themselves updated.”

“Some things you can judge by looking at the writing on the wall,” he states. “We can see that digital is the way forward just like we could see that media buying houses were becoming a reality. You have to admit that it’s a reality especially when you find current small businesses using digital media.”

He seems impressed by 14th Street Pizza, a Karachi-based pizza delivery service. “Twenty or thirty years ago, you could not open a pizza place and say that I will reach the kind of clientele I want and not waste money targeting anyone else,” he says, referring to 14th Street’s policy of delivering only to select neighbourhoods.

So is it now time to step down and hand over the reins to somebody from the Facebook generation? “No!” he disagrees passionately, “The only option left is to learn or die. If something new comes in you have to learn it in order to survive. If someone resets the button and upsets your whole apple cart and some of your apples are in the air, you have to gather them back and in that process a lot of people take your apples away. That’s just the way it is.”

In fact, one of the first things you’ll notice when you walk into Shahnoor Ahmed’s office is his Sony laptop open to Facebook. This is a man ready to jump through the digital divide.

Creativity at Work

He recalls his first ever campaign with a smile. It was for a headache pill containing three different ingredients. They split the screen three ways for the print advertisement. Back in those days, this in itself was an achievement.

Now that he’s got a whole team that deals with the actual generation of ideas, he is more involved in the strategic side. Even so, a great idea is a great idea, and when creativity strikes he’s ready to put it in motion.

“Right now creatives are found on YouTube,” he says candidly. “It’s a shortcut as clients are not investing enough money into research, which is very important.” As a result, marketing is greatly intuitive in Pakistan. Still, he feels that trying to get actual consumer insights is very important for a successful campaign.

As far as memorable campaigns go, he is particularly fond of Slice’s efforts featuring Katrina Kaif during cricket season. “As a man, I loved it!” he says with a grin and chuckles as he tells us about how his young interns seem to have opposing views.

Up Close and Personal

Ad Geek Daily: What was the last movie you saw?
Shahnoor Ahmed: Oh my God. In the last month I’ve not really watched any. I watched every one of the Oscar nominated films last year. I wanted to go see Thor. Avatar was brilliant. I hadn’t seen Indian films in a while and someone recommended Dabangg. Itni bakwaas thi (it was so bad) I couldn’t go beyond ten minutes.

AGD: Do you watch Mad Men?
SA: No I don’t but I’ve watched some episodes. I haven’t been sucked into it but I’ve watched a few.

AGD: Because of entertainment or its link to advertising?
SA: Entertainment. I like the idea that it looks like the 50′s and 60′s and I know because our agency’s headquarters are in Manhattan on Madison Avenue and they have a couple of floors that I’ve been on that are exactly like that… the old wood finish and tables and the stuff they haven’t refurbished. [The show] is very entertaining to watch.

AGD: Do you cook?
SA: I love cooking Thai and desi food. I do a great chicken karahi, Pathan style! I’m currently trying to collect old family recipes for a relative who is putting a cookbook together. I’m videoing a lot of it.

AGD: Cats or dogs?
SA: I have a dog. I didn’t like cats initially but lately there were some mice in the garden so we’re trying to attract a few cats back to the house. I have a labrador called Trigger. I’ve had him for two years now but I have always had a dog.

AGD: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
SA: Cornflakes, toast plus green tea.

AGD: No anda paratha?
SA: No, unfortunately. I’ve always said that if you have a breakfast that’s fit for a king then you sleep like a queen.

AGD: Tell us about the worst boss you ever had.
SA: I’ve never had a bad boss, or maybe it was that my passion for advertising went beyond such things. My quest to learn continues and when you have that passion to learn you can’t really have a bad boss.

AGD: Do you think it’s a good idea for married couples to work together?
SA: I work with my wife who handles the social marketing side of the business. We do a lot of pro bono work in the health sector. I thinks it’s a wonderful idea to work together and share each other’s burden. Now my son’s also working here.

AGD: Do you work over the weekend?
SA: I used to, a lot. I’m not doing it as much but if there is work running then yes. If deadlines have to be met and things have to be looked at then I will definitely be in here.

AGD: When do you typically come in every morning?
SA: Not later than 9.30. I leave around 7.30-8 in the evening. I go to the gym from here. I spend an hour at the gym. In the summer I come home and swim for half an hour. This is life and not a party!

AGD: If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
SA: The power to heal.

AGD: If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?
SA: A BMW sports car. [Laughs]

AGD: There’s an article about you on the front page of today’s newspaper. What does the headline say?
SA: Shahnoor Ahmed elected as president.

AGD: President of what?
SA: The rest you have to read! You only asked me what the headline would say.

AGD: How many petrol stations would you say there are in Pakistan?
SA: About 4500. A little less than 5000.

AGD: You sound very sure about this.
SA: We handle Chevron.

AGD: That explains a lot.
SA: The largest number is about 3500 PSO pumps, then there’s Shell and Caltex and the other little ones. I can cross check for you.

AGD: This was actually an exercise to test how quickly you could come up with an estimate. You threw us off completely! Any future projects we should know about?
SA: My new project is to learn the digital side of the business that is developing and be able to apply it effectively in time and not after everyone else. Don’t want to miss the boat. That’s something which is a target for myself so let’s see where it takes me.