Till Politics Do Us Part

The media in Pakistan has been relentless in its coverage of political leader Imran Khan’s divorce. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

Imran and Reham Khan’s divorce causes media meltdown

By Fareed Qureshi

In 2002, things were looking up for Pakistan’s media. Privately-owned television channels were booming; news outlets insisted they took the craft seriously and were setting out to eclipse the dry format of state-owned Pakistan Television. It was a veritable gold-rush; you couldn’t move for a platitude as to integrity or media ethics. You’d have thought it ushered in an era of uncompromising journalism. But you’d be dead wrong.

As news broke of Imran Khan and his wife, Reham Khan’s divorce, a flood of bad decisions poured forth from Pakistan’s media. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman and cricketing megastar had parted ways with his former BBC correspondent wife, after 10 short months of marriage.

Despite repeated requests for privacy from the two parties actually involved in the divorce, Pakistan’s media blanketed the nation with lurid coverage. Television pundits cast about for reasons as to the divorce – with no nod to the facts. Though the speculation was rife, there was a lowest common denominator: the woman was to blame. “Reham’s own naked political ambition became her undoing,” declared one newsman. “Reham’s western lifestyle and past were something Imran could no longer overlook,” said another, to the sagacious nods of “experts.”

The accusations that poured forth were merely one part of a complex web of veiled as well as outright misogyny. Television graphics in Pakistan around major news events are garish at the best of times, but the visuals used to depict the divorce displayed a lack of taste that had rarely been seen before. In the bottom left corner of each channel, you’d find a photograph of the couple on their wedding day. In a split second, though, a lightning bolt would shatter through the image, tearing them apart. The Urdu word for divorce, “talaaq” would then be emblazoned in bold, deep golden letters. This is no mere divorce; the media is trying to tell us. This, lest you’re in any doubt, is the gold standard of divorce.

Often erroneously described as more responsible, the English print media had tried to position itself as a beacon of rationality. But its misogyny showed up in ways that were even more insidious. Every article published on the break-up referred to the former Mrs. Khan as a “divorced mother of three.” At no point, however, did any article refer to Imran Khan as a “divorced father of two.” She is defined by her family; he, on the other hand, transcends definition. However you parse it, it’s impossible to miss the latent sexism at hand.

Unsurprisingly social media served up most of the vitriol for Reham Khan. Supporters of the PTI were busy attacking Reham as never having been a good fit for Imran Khan – for reasons unspecified. Others were busy incorrectly comparing Imran Khan’s divorces to Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s nine-year marriage to his wife Ruttie that ended in her death, in a bid to protect him. Few voices could be heard defending Reham, or claiming that divorce is a two way street.

Adeel Hashmi is the grandson of Faiz, one of Pakistan’s greatest poets, public intellectuals, and progressives. In his unabashed support for Imran Khan, Hashmi tweeted the following, “She could have had her name written in history. Instead she decided to be a mere footnote.”

In all this, the only dignified moment came from the former Mrs. Khan herself. A simple 10-word tweet, “We have decided to part ways and file for divorce.” One wishes others could also have afforded her the dignity she deserved in that moment.

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