By Sonya Rehman
Being a cultural journalist in Pakistan isn’t all that easy, contrary to what some people may think. And the nasty cherry on top – for some reason or the other – is always larger, if you’re a woman. God help you, if you are.
Many seasons ago, Fasi Zaka wrote an interesting article (pinched in places with his signature Zaka-esque wit) in a local publication’s Sunday pages about what it really takes to be a ‘good’ music journalist.
And the points he’d raised? Right on target.
But now, months later, especially since my interaction with the entertainment ‘industry’ had been on a frequent basis, it made me think…cultural reporting aside, what does the little manual of the ‘ethics of celebrity-hood’ state? How should Mr. so-and-so, or Ms. XYZ deal with the media? What should the ethics of our local celebrities be?
Over the years, I’ve managed to hear of (and witness) quite a few hilarious stories that my colleagues, peers and journalist friends have shared with me.
One of the most recent ones was this: a well-known jewelry designer held an exhibition at a local hotel, and towards the end of it, the designer made her way across the room to the young journalist who was busily jotting down notes/pointers for her article.
Shoving a pair of zircon and gold earrings into the journalist’s face, the Aunty-jee cooed: “Aap bilkul meri beti jaisi ho, yeh lo…meray taraf seh gift…aap key liye”.
With saucer-shaped eyes and utterly horrified, the journalist backed away and refused politely. But not letting up, the woman kept persisting, with constant coos of “haye, ley lo meri beti”, (insert: background music from the film, ‘Psycho’), as her chubby fingers clenched the earrings and dangled them in front of the journalist’s frightened, twitching nose.
“Hai-YAH!” the journalist screeched – breaking out into a Bruce Lee pose and chop-sueying the earrings out of Aunty-jee’s chubby hands in quick succession. Okay, okay so I’ve distorted the facts a teensy bit, but the end result was that the journalist clamped her hand down firmly on the jewelry designer’s shoulder and refused (for the millionth time) through clenched teeth and a firm smile. That did it.
I wonder how it works abroad, but in Pakistan, quite a few ‘celebrities’ usually wind up giving expensive presents to local journalists in the hope to get good coverage. And get good coverage they do.
It’s this whole, sleazy give and take relationship that some mediocre journalists share with the equally mediocre artist. Sort of like a; ‘you scratch my back, and I yours’ thing. And here, I reiterate…it’s not just one party that’s at fault – it takes TWO; two to tango, two hands to clap, four hands to scratch TWO backs! Ick.
‘Rule number 1’ – the ‘Ethics of celebrity-hood’ manual states: let your work speak for itself. Don’t bypass the longer, honest, route by skipping down sleazy shortcuts. Wining and dining the journalist sure will result in immediate literary gratification, but in the long-run? You’ll lack integrity and respect.
In my own experience, I’ve also noticed that once articles about those in the limelight get published in print, the artists rarely take time out to thank the writer.
I used to find that really strange and somewhat upsetting at times – but after a while, I stopped having expectations – I simply ‘switched off’ and did my job.
But funnily, a few months ago, after an interview I did (with Shiraz Uppal) came into print, the singer immediately called – that very day – and humbly, thanked me. To say that I was surprised would be a thorough understatement.
Other musicians and designers – who I can count off both hands – have done so too in the past, but are too few and far between. And the large majority of the rest? Oh they take it as their God given right. Is journalism a thankless profession? At times. But it always manages to surprise, and that I guess is what keeps one continuously at it.
Therefore: ‘Rule number 2’ – common courtesy, darling, should prevail. Call (or even sms/email) the journalist and thank him/her for the write-up. Remember, the journalist is not your employee. Thanking the writer will aid you immensely in the long-run, and polish up your sorely lacking PR skills.
And lastly – how should local celebrities react to (constructive) criticism? Should they send a battalion of thugs over to give the journalist a jolly good thrashing? Or perhaps, should they indirectly wage psychological warfare by threatening the journalist via a third party?
‘Rule number 3’ – learn to deal with and take criticism like a man/woman. Do not resort to threatening the journalist, because he/she WILL fight back.
The pen is mightier than the sword – heard that saying? If you do not agree with some points the writer has made in his/her article – call and work it out. Be gentle. Be effective. Be communicative.
You cannot bully people…especially those who don’t work for you!
Sunday, Daily Times