In the year since she had been shot by a Taliban militant, Malala’s story had reached epic proportions. It began brewing even before she had reached the hospital bed in Pakistan—her father had to turn off all the television sets in the waiting area that evening, because they were all reporting the news of the shooting and he couldn’t bear to watch. The chief of the Pakistani army, who was aiding in the logistics of Malala’s treatment, followed her progress from his office on TV screens, “one tuned to a local channel in Urdu and the other to Sky News in English,” Malala writes. By the time she reached the children’s hospital in Birmingham, England, a few days later, “A Sky News helicopter was soon circling above, and as many as 250 journalists came to the hospital as far away as Australia and Japan.”
Lying in that hospital bed, Malala was truly a passive object of the news media—perhaps for the first time. But it didn’t last long. In March 2012, while she was still getting cochlear implants to regain hearing in her left ear that was destroyed by a bullet, The Guardian announced that Malala had signed a deal worth a “reported 2 million” pounds for her memoir. Christina Lamb, a journalist who had reported from Pakistan and other Asian and African countries, was chosen to be her co-author. The publication date was set for October 8, 2013, almost exactly a year after the assassination attempt and days before the announcement of the Nobel, for which Malala had already been nominated.
Between the book release, the anniversary of her shooting, other international awards, and the upcoming Nobel announcement, Malala was ubiquitous in the global media during the first week of October last year. She delivered an arresting performance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “We spoke up for our rights to every media channel, to every newspaper, that we could,” she told Stewart. “And we did not know at that time that our small interview would have an impact or not, but it had.” While Malala didn’t ultimately win the peace prize, between the flurry of media speculation leading up to the Nobel announcement and her book publicity, I Am Malala jumped to number three on The New York Times Best Sellers list.
As the Americans embraced her, back in Pakistan, the news media that had first catapulted her into the world of global news began withdrawing its love for her, painting her as just another pawn in the war of words between Pakistan and the US. An article in the Frontier Post, the oldest and most respected English-language daily in Pakistan’s northwest region, ran an article with the headline, “Malala: The New Dolly.” Malala is an “unnaturally engineered character to be used for geopolitical experiments,” it said. The Western media, in turn, pounced on the opportunity to cover the bad press Malala received in Pakistan. An article by Reuters explained the phenomenon simplistically: “In a nation thriving on conspiracy theories, some have even doubted the sincerity of her campaign.”
In the midst of all this, many journalists and editors wrote confessionals about their relationship with Malala and the Yousafzais. Jon Williams, the BBC’s world news editor posted a piece that stated, “Neither she nor her father was paid” for her blogging. And it was her father who had “decided to disclose her real name,” Williams noted. Christina Lamb, Malala’s co-author, wrote a long feature for the Sunday Times headlined, “My Year With Malala.” And the day before Malala’s book appeared, The New York Times posted another online video produced by Adam Ellick, the reporter who had made the original documentary, along with an article in which Ellick answered “the five questions people often ask me” about Malala.
This new film was titled “The Making of Malala”, and it was reedited footage from Ellick’s original work on Swat in 2009. “This is a story of a young girl, her ambitious father, and the media and the role we all played in her rise and the tragedy that almost took her life,” Ellick says in the introductory voiceover. The documentary focused on Malala’s father, who in hindsight reminded Ellick “of a parent pushing their kid to become the next tennis star or beauty pageant winner.” Ellick lamented the fact that he had not thought enough about Malala’s safety at that time, but he ultimately laid the blame at her father’s feet.
“It was the only time in my career,” Ellick wrote about his relationship with Ziauddin, “that a source was becoming increasingly interested in a story, while I was becoming increasingly tentative.”