Satire, local practitioners of the craft bemoan, dies this side of the Suez. That is a defeatist attitude, of course. There has been plenty of tanz in these parts, much appreciated and even a part of folklore.
Conversely, confusing satirical news for the real deal is a phenomenon much documented in the west as well. Hobbyist bloggers maintain records of instances of genre leader The Onion taken seriously.
But, all said and taken into account, perhaps things actually are much worse on this front in Pakistan.
It has happened a lot to The Dependent, this paper’s satirical sister-publication. With leaders of the PML-N and the PTI sharing satirical news items in earnest.
The latest person to fall for it is Reham Khan, who has called an article about her to be “deliberate misinformation.” She also went on to add that she intends to sue the paper, presumably for libel.
To explain: though The Dependent provides its take on current events throughout the week online, it also has a print edition that appears every Sunday. It is an ersatz newspaper and laid out like one. It may only be four pages, but it has sections for sports, politics, culture, local news, and, like a real newspaper would, it even has an op-ed page, with its own editorial and op-ed column. These columns are parodies of real people. It is this op-ed section that has attracted Ms Khan’s ire.
Each page of The Dependent prominently mentions the line: “The Dependent is a completely satirical newspaper. The articles within are not true and are meant to be taken in good humour.”
On the front page, in addition to the aforementioned disclaimer at the bottom of the page, the masthead of The Dependent on the top runs a ribbon with “SATIRE” emblazoned on it. And then, there the Editor’s Note on the bottom-right of the front page, which reads, “The Dependent is a completely satirical publication. The articles within are not true and meant to be taken in good humour. The Dependent is an ‘equal opportunity offender’ and we would urge all concerned to humour our attempts at humour.”
Moreover, online, where the paper has considerable traction, every featured image has the word satire, written in upper-case, designed into the image. And a disclaimer both at the top of the body text of the story and at the bottom.
The publication, it is clear, takes pain to ensure that no one takes the articles to be anything but satire.
A netizen, however, managed to slip through all the safety nets that paper’s team had put in place and took a photo of the print edition at an angle that did not include any disclaimer about it being satire. The article was a column “written” by Reham Khan.
Ms Khan’s protests about it being deliberate misinformation are unwarranted. Many public figures have been skewered in a similar fashion by paper’s op-ed section, including Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam (who “writes” another column in this issue) and, of course, Ms Khan’s ex-husband.
Legality aside, one could still empathise with Ms Khan, considering many did consider the article to actually have been written by her. But this misunderstanding is certainly not deliberate misinformation on the paper’s part. As a public figure herself, she would do well to recognise that any soundbite of hers could be cut, spliced and taken out of context to mean something it clearly didn’t.
However, Ms Khan also makes another allegation: that the piece was “blatantly sexist.” That merits some navel gazing on part of the satire publication. For libel, there can be an excuse; for having bad taste, none. Moreover, misogyny has been internalised to such an extent, even by progressive individuals, that they sometimes don’t note it in their own behaviour.
While the team at The Dependent tries to mine – unsuccessfully till now – for “sexist” content, perhaps Ms Khan should also mine her own book for the same. The I-heard-from-somewhere allegations against some of the PTI’s female politicians (the easiest thing to do in this part of the world) could also be qualified as sexist. Blatantly, even.