The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Friday issued an advisory pertaining to coverage of International Women's Day — commemorated on March 8 — and warned TV channels against airing "unethical slogans, play cards (sic) with objectionable content".
The advisory pointed out that the Lahore High Court (LHC) had issued conditional permission for the Aurat March, which is to be held on occasion of the International Women's Day. In pursuance of the high court's order, the Pemra advisory stated that some channels had "aired controversial content with special reference to the slogan relating (sic) to Aurat March".
The regulatory body urged channels to be "mindful of the fact that telecast of such controversial content is against the commonly accepted standards of decency as well as religious, social, cultural norms and sentiments of public".
"Furthermore, the airing of such vulgar/inappropriate content is not suitable for viewing on TV channels," the advisory read.
The notification did not elaborate on what kind of content would qualify as "controversial" or "vulgar". It also did not specify the objectionable slogan it referred to in the advisory.
The electronic media watchdog further said that telecasting "such content is in violation of Section 20(f) of Pemra Ordinance, 2002 as amended by the Pemra (Amendment) Act, 2007, read with different clauses of Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015 and aforementioned court orders.
"Besides, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting on March 5, 2020, has unanimously discouraged the telecast of indecent and controversial content on television channels with special reference to the indecent slogans and banners relating to the 'World Women Day' campaign in Pakistan which is being marked on March 8, 2020."
Pemra's advisory further said that TV channels should "realise their responsibility and play their due role in building high moral values and character among the viewers". It also instructed anchorpersons to be "careful in selection of words/gestures and avoid putting such questions/comments which are bold/explicit".
Furthermore, a time-delay mechanism should be utilised in order to avoid airing any "inappropriate words/content", the advisory said, adding that channels should also review the content of programmes, bulletins and talk shows through an in-house monitoring committee to ensure nothing objectionable is broadcast.
The upcoming Aurat March has caused contention among some spheres of the public. Petitions to stop the march from being held have been filed in the high courts of Islamabad and Lahore, both of which were dismissed. The Islamabad High Court threw out the petition, declaring it non-maintainable, while the Lahore High Court had observed that the march could not be stopped under the Constitution. The LHC, however, had told the marchers to “refrain from hate speech and immorality”.
What is the Aurat March?
The 'Aurat March', as it has come to be known since its first iteration in 2018, was organised by Hum Aurtain — a feminist collective. It has a manifesto demanding basic rights for women in every walk of life.
For the past two years, it has been organised to coincide with the International Women's Day on March 8, which is also the scheduled date for the rally this year.
Last year, the holding of the rally led to backlash against the organisers and participants for “violating Islamic principles” and “disrespecting women”. Most critics had issues with the placards and banners used during the march, which they said transgressed Pakistan's cultural values. There were also reports of the organisers of the march receiving threats on social media.
This year, the March's manifesto revolves around khudmukhtari (independence) of women.