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January 12, 2019

Confusing directives


January 12, 2019

What is Pakistani culture and is it even possible for a country as diverse as ours to have a monolithic culture? This is not a question that can be easily answered and certainly not by the government. A healthy culture develops organically, can quickly change over the course of a single generation and is advanced by those who are willing to challenge the status quo and question the ways of the old. Yet the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority seems to have taken it upon itself to be the sole arbiter of our culture and what depictions of it are allowed on our television screens. It has now issued advisories to television channels, saying they are flouting traditional values and airing inappropriate content. The Supreme Court too, in a different case, upheld the ban on Indian content claiming that it undermines our own culture. A confident culture is one that does not need protecting from outside influences and can in fact incorporate them. While Pemra has advised that compliance with the 2015 Electronic Media Code of Conduct be ensured alongside other provisions, we need greater clarity. The mention of ‘socio-cultural norms’ is also confusing as these vary widely in our diverse society and can be interpreted in many different ways. It should also be noted that attempts to censor or block content or creativity over the media has rarely resulted in positive outcomes.

True art is meant to challenge its audience. Some of the themes that have earned the ire of the regulators are important to shine a light on problems in the country. Even if there are valid objections to any single show, the last thing we should want is for government committees to be micromanaging the content on our screens. Television dramas are far from perfect. They can often be puerile, sexist and insulting to the intelligence of viewers. But there are also many shows that force us to reckon with and highlight widespread problems like ‘honour’ killings.

There are those who worry that such content shows the country in a negative light. The true problem, however, lies in the prevalence of these evils, not in their depiction. This having been said, there may be some rationale in ensuring that shows or plays containing content which is inappropriate for the young be restricted to specific hours. For example in many nations anything regarded as adult content is aired only after 9pm and contains a warning about violence, drug use or other content they may contain. Pemra’s job should be to make sure that channels follow the law and do not indulge in hate speech. Such directives as the ones recently issued do nothing more than adding to the existing confusion.

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