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Moral policing

Published Aug 08, 2012 12:10am


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NOW it is the realm of television programming and advertising that has attracted the Supreme Court’s attention. Summoning the chief of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority in response to petitions moved by two conservative figures, the former amir of the Jamaat-i-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmed and a retired Supreme Court justice, Wajihuddin Ahmed, the court on Monday demanded action within a week against ‘obscene’ and ‘vulgar’ programming and advertisements on private TV channels aired in Pakistan. Pause for a moment and consider the various problems that afflict this country and that the court is embroiled in. That obscenity and vulgarity on television — and this before the debate about whether the impugned content is at all obscene or vulgar — figures in the scheme of things to fix at the highest levels at the moment is somewhat worrying.

Two points need to be made here. First, the excesses that do frequently occur on television — from content that foments religious intolerance to coverage of terrorist attacks that are insensitive to victims’ families and badly handled, and from opinion-laden shows that are divorced from fact to invasion of privacy and worse in intrusive programming — do need serious redressal. However, government regulation is not the way to go. The Musharraf era epitomised the problem: even the most ardent supporters of a free and independent media in power cannot be trusted to not use government regulation to stifle media freedom. Where self-regulation thus far has failed, perhaps what the government can do is act as a facilitator for the creation of a regulatory body that is truly independent, professionally run along non-ideological lines and responsive to both the media’s and consumers’ concerns. But to trust the government with a direct and hands-on role in regulating media content is an unwelcome idea:  today it is obscenity and vulgarity, tomorrow it will be the ‘national interest’ and ‘national security’ that will demand certain lines be drawn.

Second, the outmoded idea of what content is vulgar or obscene needs to be discarded. Strangely, violence on television — domestic, criminal, extrajudicial — rarely attracts the same kind of censure as does content in which women are attired in a certain way or filmed interacting with men in a certain way. The same goes for intolerance, xenophobia, bigotry and hate spewed on TV: it doesn’t attract the same kind of censure as does a woman dancing or singing lustily. The collective ownership that society wants to impose on its women is a problem itself. In the name of moral policing, Pakistan has ended up with deeply skewed priorities: keep the women covered up; let the monsters run loose.

Comments (11) Closed

ali Aug 08, 2012 04:31am
I hope this respectable Judges read it.
uzma salim Aug 08, 2012 06:49am
abundance of private TV channels urge each other to become more near to obscene and vulgar content and in absence of regulatory body it has reached on this peak.. is this healthy competition??? just to raise ranking channels can abolish moral n ethical codes.
wanderer Aug 08, 2012 10:55am
A balanced approach must be followed. In the rest of the world, programmes and advertisements are rated for viewers. In case of our TV channels with newly found freedom of expression have been expressing some extreme programmes and advertisements. Some TV channels show obscene clips of western and Indian movie clips in headlines which are definitely not desirable. Some of the hair removing cream ads and mobile ads also promote sensuality which must be rated. Rest, we always go to extreme either way which is our national character.
Gerry D'Cunha Aug 08, 2012 11:54am
The recent programme on ARY 'Saray Aam' showing illegal trade of obscene material (cassettes) in the heart of saddar famous bazaar @Rainbow centre' should open the eyes of Jamaat-i-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmed and the retired Supreme Court justice, Wajihuddin Ahmed, All this is happening with the blessing of saddar police station and arambagh police station. Even after the raid by ARY, these cassettes are even sold until today. Unless you don't get hold of the real culprits, the police,this trade will carry on in the society.
Raoul Ciao Aug 08, 2012 12:00pm
one person's idea of obscenity is another's "normal" viewpoint. Having obscenity being thrust by moral police is dangerous and stifling and downright non egalitarian. Also, the proponents here of the petition seem to be using religion under attack theory again to bolster their case, as in Jamaat's case. Encouraging the media to self regulate and ensure this is self monitored, is a better way probably.
1277sachughtai Aug 08, 2012 04:01pm
It is disgusting. How the SC can enter into recreation and entertainment arena. If something does not suit JI it does not mean all Pakistanis should be deprived of. The world is changing rapidly, and new norms and ethics being conducted. Music and art has always been heritage of nations. During Muslim rule in Spain, the society was secular and they progressed by leaps and bounds. Philosophers, chemists, mathematicians, scientists were produced under secular regimes. Nothing was created in theocratic societies. SC should stay away from this domain.
Akbar Ali Aug 08, 2012 05:54pm
I agree with him.
@Engr_Jatoi Aug 08, 2012 06:59pm
I think the moment we just clicked on this editorial to read it, even before reading this editorial, all of us 'did' realize at the back of our minds that 'yes' the media is problematic these days, may it be in any sense or by any school of thought. For instance the 'Maya khan drama', and the cheap commercialized programmings done to win over other rival tv channels are at peak. We really need to have an independent regulatory body comprising of people who know what is a quality programme (include the legends like anwer maqsood, tariq azeez, kamal haider, shoaib mansoor and so on). Remember the PTV programmes a decade ago? They are a complete balance. Why dont we take help from our living legends and regulate our media. Please stop using the word PEMRA. Its just a word, not a regulatory body.
Bakhtawer Bilal Aug 08, 2012 07:00pm
Excuse me. The honorable chief justice has already given the verdict, albeit, non formal, that there is too much "fahashi" and nothing is being done. This is exactly what the petitioner are saying. Judges are already openly leaning towards the petitioners.
Asif Ansari Aug 08, 2012 10:34pm
Yes, the issue "Moral policing" on Media is discussable. We change our lines at very small distance at every path, this is wrong doing. Is Mr. Qazi and Justice Wajihuddin think the Electronic Media now showing on its TV screen, all are the things are vulgarization? This is 21st century, every society has its on norms, culture and social ethics. DAWN rightly written in this editorial, "The collective ownership that society wants to impose on its women is a problem itself." First decide, what is the vulgarization and what is the not, then decide the matter on merit.
Ahmed Aug 08, 2012 11:20pm
Two wrongs wont make a if obscene material is sold in markets does it mean we should also show on the tv??