A few days after six key members of music streaming site Patari publicly issued a statement announcing their resignation, evidence has emerged of practices at Patari that hint at unfair treatment of artists hosted on the platform.
A source within Patari shared with Images a screenshot of an internal communication within the company that refers to a request allegedly made by Ali Zafar to change the placement of a track listed at the top of Patari's 'new releases' list. The track in question is a collaboration between Faris Shafi (Meesha Shafi's brother) and Ali Sethi.
According to the screenshot, the request made by Zafar was entertained by Patari, and Faris Shafi's track was moved as per Zafar's request.
Images reached out to Faris Shafi and Ali Sethi for comment; the artists issued a joint statement: "We are dismayed by this blatant manipulation of a national musical platform. It forces us to reconsider working with Patari in the future."
Ali Zafar and his team had no comment.
This is the latest in a series of scandals and allegations that have rocked the startup. In April of this year, multiple women took to social media to accuse Patari cofounder Khalid Bajwa of sexual misconduct. Following these accusations Patari announced Bajwa was stepping down from the company.
Yet the public resignation issued by six of Patari's former employees on Sunday claimed that Bajwa continued to make decisions at Patari, and that this was one the reasons Patari "is a company where we can no longer work freely under the values that brought us to it – and which are now under threat."
The public resignation was followed up by a statement from Patari the next day, which listed the key findings of an internal audit that was constituted to investigate allegations against Khalid Bajwa and to find a way forward for the young company. Patari's statement stressed that as per their audit, Bajwa was no longer part of the company and that the organisation had zero tolerance for sexual misconduct or a toxic work culture.
However, after this, commentators on social media noticed that tracks from Ali Zafar's new film Teefa in Trouble were being promoted by Patari.
Zafar was accused of sexual misconduct by fellow artist Meesha Shafi earlier this year, and cases lodged by both parties are currently pending before the relevant authorities. In light of this, commentators on social media took issue with Zafar's tracks being promoted by Patari, seeing this as more evidence of the startup enabling a culture of harassment.
And now, the leaked screenshot above suggests Patari was entertaining requests by Zafar that sought to undermine fellow artists.
After what appear to be a series of bad decisions at best, can the young music streaming app recover and continue to ethically and responsibility promote Pakistani musicians?
Images spoke to Patari's interim CEO Rabeel Warraich (and key investor) for more information on the controversial screenshot and Patari's future.
Acknowledging the existence of the screenshot and the conversation therein, Warraich says: "Certain screenshots from a confidential internal Patari discussion were leaked with an intention to portray Patari as unfairly targeting one artist at the behest of another... the leak was not only unethical but also a serious criminal breach."
"Since the beginning, Patari has prided itself on not letting any individual incident affect its editorial policies. However, it's worth pointing out that there isn't really a strict policy in place and matters are typically dealt with on a case-to-case basis. Patari employees have always openly debated all sides of an issue, no matter how controversial, and taken a call on what the best approach would be. On occasion, those have been poor calls, but that is something expected of a young company. The fact that a debate happens on controversial matters is a healthy sign," he says.
"Given the ongoing case involving Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi, and Patari’s own situation with respect to Khalid Bajwa, there was a debate on whether Teefa in Trouble’s music should be hosted on Patari. The debate also brought forward considerations about others that had worked on that track but had no involvement with the case; however, ultimately a call was made to not host Teefa in Trouble’s music on Patari."
"There was a separate matter relating to the placement of the song tile of Faris’ song on the Patari App. There was again an internal debate which resulted in a call to temporarily move Faris’ song tile off the home page, so as to provide the company with the time and space to engage with the aggregator that provided us with the music, and explain to them the thought process behind the decision which was not personally targeted. After communication with the partner, Faris’ song was scheduled to be reinstated. It is important to note that, Faris’ track always remained on the platform and is still featured in the ‘New Releases’, on the app's landing page, throughout this debate," says Warraich by way of explanation.
"After stepping in as interim CEO, and being made aware of the leak, I checked the timing of the various decisions, which were all done before the aforementioned leaks," he adds.
"When you set up structures and governance mechanisms it requires people to abide by them. That's what was missing in the past: people could come out and say whatever they wanted and just because they had some association with Patari," says interim CEO Rabeel Warraich
"The decision making process on these situations is in some ways reflective of the leadership vacuum that the company has been facing in the last few months, and also the lack of structures and processes that should be in place at a company like Patari. In that respect, I need to hold my own hand up as well as a board member for failing to institute the kind of structures and controls that would allow a company like Patari to withstand a shock of the sort it has experienced over the last few months," he admits.
The interim CEO also clarified a few key points about Patari's organisational structure in the future: "The one question that is still asked is related to his [Khalid Bajwa's] equity. That matter is one which the board, which will actually be reconstituted to include independent members and to remove voting capacity of the co-founders, to decide on."
"For instance, I, in the capacity of Sarmayacar [the investment firm that funds Patari], won't be deciding about this myself. The decision about what happens to his equity will occur after the findings and recommendations of the audit are presented to the new board. And this is not just the case for Khalid's equity but all equity decisions. Because there have also been other departures over this weekend. But I can assure you that under no circumstances by the sequence of events that have transpired that Sarmayacar will end up with higher equity. If any equity is taken away from ex-employees it will be kept aside for the new management that will come in and to incentivise the team going forward," he says.
When asked whether Patari's current management and staff members were aligned with the group's values, and whether they would be prevented from making similar decisions in the future, Warraich says: "When you set up structures and governance mechanisms it requires people to abide by them. That's what was missing in the past: people could come out and say whatever they wanted and just because they had some association with Patari they could say they were speaking on behalf of Patari. I think those are the clear lines that are being drawn and you will see that a lot of the actions that will follow will also reflect a clear stance on this."
"The idea is really to try to bring together what the essence of Patari really was; to be a facilitator of Pakistani music and content to the people that are listening to it," concludes Warraich.