A TV presenter in Pakistan is under fire for giving away abandoned babies to childless couples on his hit religious quiz show.
Televangelist Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain has gifted two babies so far during the month of Ramadan, in what some are describing as an attempt to boost viewership during the Islamic holy month's fierce battle for ratings. Part game show and part religious programming, Liaquat's show Amaan Ramzan on TV channel Geo News is very popular in Pakistan.
The infants were presented on the show by Muhammad Ramzan Chhipa, the head of the Chhipa Welfare Association, who told British newspaper the Telegraph, “We have lots of babies that are just abandoned, left in the garbage or other dirty places.”
One of the couples who won a baby girl were reportedly overwhelmed and moved to tears, according to news reports and tweets after the episode.
The host opens the show by saying [ur] in this video uploaded on YouTube by WWN:
Babies that are thrown into garbage dumps, by people among you, who think they have committed a “sin”, I request that you please don't throw them in the trash, even if you think they were born out of sin, please give them to orphanages, so they can be united with people who deserve them, people who want to nurture them and raise them.
Though helping a childless family adopt an abandoned baby is certainly commendable, Pakistani social media rose in outrage, forcefully criticizing Liaquat for treating babies as prizes to be given away.
Tribune Blogs sub-editor Imaan Sheikh (@SheikhImaan) expressed her sheer shock by tweeting:
WATCH AMIR LIAQUAT'S PROGRAMME NOW. Aaj bacha giveaway hai. [Today is the baby giveaway] No joke, they're giving away a tiny baby.
— Imaan Sheikh (@SheikhImaan) July 21, 2013
Journalist Zarrar Khuhro (@ZarrarKhuhro) was no less surprised:
Wait a minute…did Amir Liaquat actually give away a BABY on his show? Tell me this is a joke. Right?
— Zarrar Khuhro (@ZarrarKhuhro) July 25, 2013
Among the popular Pakistani televangelists, Liaquat is no stranger to controversy. He received heat after it was revealed several years ago that his post-secondary degrees were earned from a widely unrecognized diploma mill. In 2008, he also faced accusations of inciting violence against the minority Ahmadis after dedicating an entire show that was largely critical to the sect.
And in 2011, Liaquat made waves when a behind-the-scenes video of him cursing and cussing was leaked.
However, there were those who lauded Liaquat's Ramadan baby giveaway as helping bring orphan children to childless families. The government does not collect formal numbers on orphans in Pakistan, the only statistics available are those collected by private orphanages. Most orphaned babies are taken in by close family members. But increasingly, “abandoned babies” end up in orphanage cradles. In 2012, according to Pakistani press reports, 171 babies were abandoned at the country's largest orphanage Edhi. Another 485 newborn corpses were found dumped across the country, either because their parent's couldn't afford to raise them or because they were born out of wedlock.
According to medical student Tahani Zaidi (@TahaniZaidi):
The couple on Amir Liaquat's show, adopting a baby girl. I know them personally. Moved to tears :’)
— Tahani Zaidi (@TahaniZaidi) July 21, 2013
After the baby giveaway episode, Liaquat was back in the limelight when he invited a much-lambasted and much-ridiculed singer, Taher Shah, to his show. Shah recently made many headlines when he released a song titled “Eye to eye“, which went viral fueled by its “so bad, it's good” quality.
On the show, Liaquat made fun of Shah while he performed the song, playing with Shah's hair and hugging him throughout. During the live transmission of the particular episode, Shah could be seen visibly embarrassed, while Liaquat appeared thoroughly amused.
This triggered yet another volly of criticism on social media, demanding that the TV host be forced to apologize to Shah. Samad Khurram (@SamadK) tweeted about the incident:
Amir Liaquat puts a live snake on Taher Shah while he interviews him in a religious programme. This is how the world ends!
— Samad Khurram (@SamadK) July 25, 2013
There were those who took Liaquat to task rather more severely. Journalist Omar R Quraishi (@omar_quraishi) tweeted:
I must say Taher Shah handled himself very well with the onslaught of Amir Liaquat's buffoonery
— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) July 26, 2013
I'm really disappointed at today's Amaan Ramazan transmission. First they call people and beg them to come to their show and later when they manage to show up leaving all their activities, they treat them like a child. Amir Liaqat should be thankful to me for not saying anything negative about him or his show on air (which was righteous for me). Sad to see this kind of irrespective behavior done on a so called Islamic transmission.
The events raise many questions about the role and responsibilities of private TV channels. What is the ultimate red line in the hunt for higher ratings? Are religious scholars backed by major media houses exempt from any and all ethical responsibilities, even when they're on a live show?