THERE appears to be no end to the government’s relentless efforts to curb freedom of expression in the sphere of arts and culture. After obsessively hounding TikTok and other popular apps for alleged ‘vulgar’ content, the government has found a new avenue through which it can block audience access to content it finds disagreeable. The Cabinet Division informed the State Bank of Pakistan recently to ensure that local banks block online payments for digital content from India immediately, with specific mention of the network which hosts the web series Churails. This request to ban access to Churails comes weeks after Pemra objected to its “bold subject matter” and asked the network to block its show for viewers in Pakistan. The Zee5 network complied with the request but it was not enough for the censor-happy moral police who, though initially reversing the ban, have now gone on to block payments to the network. Members of the film and television fraternity believe the State Bank order was made specifically to target Churails, as Indian content has long been banned on television channels.
The move to restrict this show speaks volumes for the mindset of those making decisions about what content is acceptable. As our channels continue to produce TV series with regressive storylines that depict women as lesser beings, Churails is facing a backlash for daring to push the envelope and imagine a society where women are the arbiters of justice. The fact that Churails, a truly made-in-Pakistan production that has earned critical acclaim, is now banned at every level by our authorities paints a sorry picture of the perverse lens through which regulators view content. It also sets a dangerous trend which will embolden those wielding the censorship whip to use their discretionary powers to ban more content they find unpalatable. The government must rethink its backward approach when it comes to women’s and digital rights. Banning and policing content in this day and age sends a negative message to the world about Pakistan’s democratic values.
Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2020