TIME and again, Pemra has come under fire for issuing arbitrary instructions to TV channels on matters ranging from politics to public morality. Pemra’s take on the latter is once again under discussion following its recent “advice” to TV channels “regarding caress/hug scenes in dramas”. Acting ostensibly on the complaints of some viewers, Pemra has given the country’s drama industry a dressing-down for not reflecting the reality of Pakistani society. Instead, it alleges, the industry has been ‘glamourising’ “…extramarital relations, vulgar/bold dressing, bed scenes and intimacy of married couple[s]….”. Not surprisingly, and justifiably so, it has been mocked and berated on social media for its skewed priorities — such as allowing domestic violence to be normalised on screen while rejecting even the slightest gesture of affection.

Unfortunately, the electronic media regulator has shown no interest in moving with the times. Since its creation in 2002, it has been entrenched in a world of nebulous rules that it has taken advantage of to clamp down on artistic expression — in a throwback to the Zia era. There are some questions that arise: what in Pemra’s view are the “commonly accepted standards of decency” it refers to? Considering that not even cartoon channels have escaped its opprobrium, this is not simply an academic question. Secondly, what gives it the right to act as the custodian of public morals? Why should a small group of individuals dictate what values society should cherish and what it should turn its back on? Pemra should revisit the way it sees the world — as well as its title of regulator. It should wake up to the fact that far from being indecent, Pakistani TV serials have generally tried to hold up a mirror to ugly social realities — such as child abuse — and the intricacies of human relationships. There is a very fine line between regulation and censorship. Pemra must take care not to cross the boundary into a territory where creative expression is killed by an amorphous beast called morality.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2021

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