When tabloid journalism meets copy-paste journalism
If you searched Meesha Shafi on Google today, you would have seen a series of Indian publications claiming that the Pakistani singer has been given a three-year sentence in a defamation case filed by Ali Zafar. The case was filed after Meesha had gone public with sexual harassment claims against the fellow singer. It is the most high-profile MeToo case of the country.
Times of India and IBTimes reported that a Pakistan court has handed a three-year sentence to her.
What was the source of the news for Indian publications, especially when no Pakistani outlet has reported it? We tried to find out, and what transpired was a chain of bad journalism where the news outlets had copied other tabloids without verifying facts, or understanding how court cases work.
Wall Street Journal published on March 12 a report on Meesha Shafi, titled “Pakistani Singer Faces Prosecution for Accusing Pop Star of Groping Her.” The report explained how Meesha “set off the country’s most high-profile #MeToo debate when she accused a fellow pop star of groping her. And now she was being prosecuted on a criminal defamation charge and is facing possible prison time.”
DailyMail took parts of the WSJ report to form the headline that claimed Meesha “faces three years in jail”. They quoted the WSJ report as well.
The headline said “Pakistani singer who accused pop star of groping her and sparked country’s #MeToo movement faces three years in jail for ‘criminal defamation’.”
India’s publications took it a step further, and claimed that the singer has been handed a three-year sentence. India’s IBtimes and Times of India reported that Meesha was given a three-year sentence, while ZeeNews reported that she faces three years in jail. ZeeNews quoted MailOnline/DailyMail, while Times of India quoted “a report”.
All of them are considered major news outlets in India. IBtimes is “produced in 7 editions in 4 different languages”, and ZeeNews is a part of the ZEE MEDIA CORPORATION LTD, a major media corporation in the country. Times of India is the news product of Times Internet, which claims on its website that it is India’s largest digital products company.
Because the court has not indicted her or any of the other respondents in the case, DailyMail using “faces jail” for Meesha is incorrect. Perhaps in a bid to not plagiarise word-by-word, the tabloid re-wrote it but got the gist wrong. WSJ wrote, “If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to three years in prison,” while DailyMail omitted the first part and used the second part in the headline, rendering it devoid of context. DailyMail is a UK tabloid, which has faced accusations of publishing unverified news.
Further, the singer has only been charged by the Federal Investigation Agency. The FIA is an investigation agency, and cannot hold anyone guilty or innocent on its own. Like police, it has to submit challans and charge suspects, and ask the courts for bails, remands, and convictions.
Meesha Shafi’s lawyer Asad Jamal clarified that it was fake news. He tweeted a statement that said it is regrettable that Times of India published a hoax and that no accused have been indicted by court.
This is with ref to the fake news claiming that my client Meesha Shafi has been sentenced to 3 yrs imprisonment.
No such verdict has been passed by trial court in the frivolous criminal defamation case instituted by Ali Zafar against several women.
Read complete statement below pic.twitter.com/49vRSXtvFe
— Asad Jamal (@LegalPolitical) March 15, 2021
The Supreme Court of Pakistan approved for hearing in January Meesha’s workplace harassment case against Ali Zafar. This meant that the court was ready to debate whether Zafar’s alleged sexual harassment of Shafi counted as workplace harassment.
Earlier, the Lahore High Court and Punjab ombudsperson had rejected Shafi’s appeals on the grounds that the alleged harassment was not covered by the workplace harassment law.
The court issued notices to Zafar and the Punjab government. The judges ruled that the points raised in the case must be examined by the court.
The suo motu notice taken to define sexual harassment was clubbed with the case. The hearing was adjourned indefinitely.
The agency said these people were unable to provide witnesses to Shafi’s sexual harassment.
Zafar filed a case against Shafi and seven other people at the FIA’s cyber crime wing for running a vilification campaign against him on social media.
He provided Twitter account handles and screenshots as evidence of the campaign. The challan accused them of making sexual harassment complaints against Zafar on social media.
The eight people named in the case were booked on September 29 under Section 20 (Offences against the dignity of a natural person) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and Section 109 (Punishment of abetment) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Offences against dignity of a natural person (1) says that “whoever intentionally and publicly exhibits or displays or transmits any information through any information system, which he knows to be false, and intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy of a natural person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to one million rupees or with both.”
In April 2018, Shafi took to Twitter to accuse Zafar of physically harassing her on ‘more than one occasion.’ “This happened to me despite the fact that I am an empowered, accomplished woman who is known for speaking her mind,” she said. In response, Zafar filed a defamation suit against Shafi.
He denied the allegations and wants her to pay restitution for the damage to his reputation and leveling false allegations against him.
Since then the two have been engaged in a legal battle. In a recent development, the Supreme Court approved Shafi’s workplace harassment case against Zafar.