By Farman Nawaz
Just like in Pakistan, same-sex marriages are considered immoral or contrary to the local customs in China. However recently a Chinese court has accepted to hear a case regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. As such, the case got substantial coverage. However, in the Pakistani version of the International New York Times, the picture accompanying this news story was censored and a blank space was left on the front page of the newspaper.
It is very strange to leave (and see) a blank space on the front page of a major newspaper. This type of journalism is a new phenomenon in Pakistan. It verifies the hard reality of Pakistani journalism that it is growing under the yoke of fears and traditions. For instance, if it was not possible for the newspaper to publish the picture which included two men kissing on the stairs then perhaps at least a cartoon could have been placed along with the news story, showing the desire for gay marriage or same-sex marriage. The blank space on the front page, on the other hand, creates many questions. Does it mean that Pakistanis want to read and hear about same-sex marriages but they don’t want to see it? Does it mean that the mind of the relevant editor was blank at that time? Does it mean that the newspaper wanted to convey a message to the world that Pakistanis are narrow minded? Does it show the fears of liberals in Pakistan?
Journalism is the art of generalising the major events of the time so that the common people can easily understand the language and information of what appears in the news. Leaving a blank space however is not journalism. It sensationalises the news as well as the hard facts of a society. Homosexuality is not only an issue of morality but an issue of medical and psychological nature as well. Homosexuality has been a part of our society since forever. According to a Huffington Post story published in 2013, “Homosexuality is not tolerated in Pakistan, but the country leads Google searches for gay porn”. According to Daily Pakistan, a documentary film “Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan” is prepared to explore the history and modern culture of LGBT Pakistan to provide a deep insight into this hidden world.
In the modern world sexuality is given a legal protection and so is the case with homosexuality. Even in India, this week the Supreme Court referred a petition to make homosexuality legal to a five-judge bench. In every society there are some no-go areas for journalism. For example, holocaust denial in the western world and criticism of religion in the eastern world are both taboo topics. The censored picture regarding same-sex marriage from above is also against the religious norms in Pakistan. The law in Pakistan which criminalises consensual same-sex relations dates back to 6 October 1860 and was formed under the colonial rule of the British Raj. The censored picture could trigger a social uproar against the newspaper. Such events have happened in the past. For example, the Frontier Post English daily from Peshawar was attacked on 30 January, 2001 for publishing a satirical letter. Similarly the daily Mashriq was attacked when it published cartoon of a religious political leader.
It is a fact that secular and liberal viewpoints are not given a space on the pages of newspapers and news channels in Pakistan and the liberals have to wrap their ideas in religion and customs to make them worth publishing. Defending traditional values ingrained in society versus accepting new trends and norms is a hidden war in Pakistan. The mainstream media of Pakistan is not ready to take part in this debate openly due to threat of social uproar from the society but people have found social media more accommodating for discussing their liberal viewpoints. Pakistani society is not ready for accepting new trends and the possible reason is the stronghold of religion on the social life in Pakistan. Although English journalism is inclined towards more modern viewpoints, Pakistanis will have to wait for decades to see these debates in mainstream Urdu media of Pakistan.
The writer blogs at farmannawaz.wordpress.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org