On December 28, 2019, filmmaker Jamshed Mahmood, popularly known as Jami, finally accused Hameed Haroon, the CEO of Dawn, of being his rapist 13 years ago. In response to this allegation, a press release with a statement from Haroon was published by Dawn online on the evening of December 30 and was carried in print editions the next morning.
It is a fact that Dawn has been accused of exhibiting partiality in the coverage of certain issues from time to time. What is also true is that some high-profile individuals associated with the group quite often display a sense of self-entitlement that is nauseating to say the least.
One can, however, most certainly vouch that no other media house in the country would have published the story if allegations were made against their owner and that is something highly commendable. Detractors will say that the story is basically Hameed Haroon’s statement camouflaged as reporting of the allegations. Some will even specify the disproportionate number of words in the story reserved for the alleged act as compared to those spent on its denial.
Whatever political polarity-tinted spectacles we don to view this episode, what remains undeniable is that not a single media house owner in Pakistan would have dared to have this published if it had concerned them—and this is definitely credit-worthy for Dawn.
Of course, this effort on Dawn’s part is ridiculously undermined by the subtext of the statement that is laden with ‘blame-it-on-the-Boys’ and ‘Attack-on-the-freedom-of-press’ rhetoric. Also absurd is the parting Editor’s note, claiming that an appropriate inquiry shall be conducted against his own employer, a point whose legality is questionable in a criminal offense. It is not editorial’s job but the management’s to conduct sexual harassment inquiries. So even though the intentions were hopefully meant to be noble, the execution could have been a lot more in line with ethical, editorial and legal standards.
What remains of paramount import is to not let the core issue be submerged by feeble conspiracy theories, toxic masculinity norms and most of all victim-shaming. An independent inquiry based on the principle that the shame is on the abuser and not the survivor needs to be conducted. There is no choice now but to take legal recourse, which is a process that demands patience. So, rest assured that in the next few days, more battle lines will be drawn, more abuse will be spewed and the national social media landscape will turn nastier and filthier.
Nevertheless, one will have to be undertaken, as allegations of a serious and sensitive nature have been made concerning two high-profile personalities. Brushing them under the carpet or keeping silent on the subject is not an option any more.