The Network for Consumer Protection, a Pakastani consumer protection organization, has won a judgment against Newsweek Pakistan for publishing an article that both implicitly and explicitly promoted tobacco use and the use of Philip Morris products. In the opinion of the Inquiry Commission of the Press Council of Pakistan, this violated the country’s Ethical Code of Practice.
“Tobacco control advocates are celebrating the ruling,” says Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control, “because it strikes back against the tobacco industry’s use of opinion pieces by influential people as a means to circumvent laws, such as Pakistan’s, that ban tobacco advertising.”
The offending article, “My Favorite Mistake: When Syeda Abida Hussain Fell in Love with the Marlboro Man”, is a first-person testimonial by the well-known Pakistani politician that dwells more on the upside of her “mistake” than any downside to smoking. Although the tone is light, she paints a highly misleading picture: attributing some of her success in politics to her husky smoker’s voice, pointing out that her non-smoker father died of cancer at 55, and poignantly describing sharing a last cigarette with her mother just six hours before she died at the much older age of 76.
The article appeared on 24 February 2012 and TheNetwork for Consumer Protection filed a complaint immediately, but the final ruling of Islamabad Inquiry Commission of the Press Council of Pakistan only came on 17 June 2015. While Newsweek Pakistan’s Editor-in-Chief Fasih Ahmed denied that there was any violation if the article was read correctly, the Commission found against it and ruled that the magazine must publish an apology promptly on the same page and space.