ISLAMABAD: Within days of imposing a ban on airing advertisements for contraceptive products on electronic media, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) realised that promoting birth control measures was part of the national agenda and could not be banned.

A revised notice issued on Saturday said that until a policy is devised by the authority, there will not be a blanket ban on such advertisements.

However, Pemra has now directed all TV channels and FM radio stations that such advertisements should not be aired in primetime, i.e. until 11pm.

The revised notice states that Pemra considers primetime “children[’s] viewing time”, and has asked that special care should be taken with regards to the use of language and visuals to ensure that they conform to local cultural values.

The Pemra board will now deliberate on the matter and issue policy guidelines for such issues.

The ban was imposed on Thursday after the electronic media regulator issued a notification directing TV channels and FM radios to “immediately stop” airing advertisements marketing contraceptives and family planning products.

The notification said the decision was taken in view of complaints received against commercials for contraceptives that were being broadcast on the electronic media.

The earlier notification by Pemra said, “[The] general public is very much concerned on the exposure of such products to the innocent children, which get inquisitive on features/use of the products.”

According to the regulator, parents had protested the broadcast of advertisements for such products and had demanded a ban on them.

However, the revised notification issued by the Authority on Saturday showed that the regulator had done some soul-searching following a backlash from civil society, particularly on social media.

“Pemra acknowledges that its recent decision to put a blanket ban on the advertisements of contraceptives has raised social, medical and population control concerns by civil society and many others,” the latest notice said.

Incidentally, it was also highlighted that the general public were not the only ones complaining; ‘state institutions’ had also registered their concerns on such issues.

Though Pemra officials declined to name these state institutions, they insisted that complaints against contraceptive advertisements had been received by the authority via post, email and on their helpline.

This is not the first time Pemra has acted against the broadcast of contraceptive ads. Earlier, the regulator took notice of a specific advertisement featuring model Mathira and highlighted the content they deemed objectionable in it. However, this was the first time the authority had tried to impose a blanket ban on ads for birth control products.

A senior Pemra official admitted that there were no standard operating procedures in place at Pemra to deal with such matters.

“There has to be a middle way because creating awareness of family planning is essential, but such advertisements cannot go beyond certain limits,” the official said, adding that the matter would likely be placed before the Pemra board at its next meeting, expected to be held next month.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2016

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