10 May 2021
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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.

Time 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.

Here’s what happened,

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.”

When DailyMail failed at re-writing

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’.”

Enter India

India’s publications took it a step further, and claimed that the singer has been handed over three years in sentence. India’s IBtimes and TOI reported that Meesha was given a three-year sentence, while ZeeNews reported that she faces three years in jail.

Screenshot: TOI

Screenshot: TOI

Screenshot: IBtimesAll 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.

Why were they wrong?

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 plagriase 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.

Case details

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.

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 has issued notices to Zafar and the Punjab government.
The judges ruled that the points raised in the case must be examined by the

The suo motu notice taken to define sexual harassment has been clubbed with the case. The hearing was adjourned indefinitely.

Abdul Gh Lone