On Sunday night, ABC TV news reported the “honour killing” of Pakistan’s provocative social media celebrity Quandeel Baloch, skillfully avoiding mention of the practice as an application of Islamic law. It’s a small thing, but a big red flag to the ABC’s refusal to name and shame Islam for the atrocities perpetrated in its name.
Baloch, 26, set out to challenge what she termed “deeply conservative Muslim Pakistan” by posting photos and videos on her Facebook and Instagram pages. She had more than 120,000 Instagram followers, mostly young girls who yearned to break free of traditional societal restrictions. The pictures would scarcely raise an eyebrow in Western countries, but were regarded as so offensively raunchy in Pakistan they led to death threats and appeals for government protection. Baloch knew what she was doing, saying on her Facebook account she was “trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of Pakistan.” Whether she recognised the threat from her own brother is not known.
The ABC’s news item concluded (emphasis added): “Hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan every year by family members. It’s usually a punishment for breaching the strict cultural rules governing women’s behaviour.”
It’s far worse than that. In 2015, some 1100 women are known to have been killed by relatives in what Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission declares were premeditated murders. While murder is punishable by law, punishment is suspended if the family forgives the murderer, who after all, is one of their own. In the case of Baloch (pictured at left in one of the poses that cost her life), brother Waseem expressed no regrets when caught, saying he had to defend the honour of the family. No doubt he will walk free. Farzana Bari, Director of Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, says there has been a complete failure of the state and society to deal with honour killings.
But these atrocities continue to prompt a conflict of emotions for the ABC. Its bubbling feminist outrage is anxious to expose honour killings, but its complacency on Islam must mute the Muslim aspect of the crime. So we see the News Division resorting to the phrase “strict cultural rules”, a deliberate religio-political bowdlerisation of the fact the crime was ordained by strict application of Islamic law, faithfully observed by many tribal groups.
Over the years, the ABC’s Editorial Guidelines and Code of Practice have been so watered down that it is now almost impossible to ping such distortions. But it could still be argued that the ritual suppression of references to Muslims and Islam breach Standards 4.1 on due impartiality, and 4.4 because it misrepresents the true perspective of practices in Pakistan.
Yes, it’s a minor matter, but part of the ABC’s larger problem: its reluctance to acknowledge Islamic responsibility for terrorist acts, the practice of many of its broadcasters to sneeringly disparage commentators who draw attention to problems emanating from Islamic teachings, and its general refusal to discuss openly the subversive teachings of Islam as a threat to Australia and the West.
It has to be said: the ABC runs protection on Muslims and Islam. It puts the Islamic name on its crimes only when it is no longer possible to avoid doing so.
Geoffrey Luck was an ABC journalist for 26 years