Why is it that every time I hear your name, it is accompanied by an action that sounds like the gong of censorship?
We have had a long and arduous relationship, so out of respect for that let me first recount a time when I had hoped that things would get better. Or at least, that they wouldn’t get this bad.
In a country with a turbulent history and recent past, the role of a media regulatory authority is vital. I accept this. Freedom of speech is important for any sovereign nation, yet a lot of local television channels and personalities often use their right to free speech at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens (a la Maya Khan).
And there have been times when you acted against this dichotomy. For example, when the ever infamous Aamir Liaquat accused ‘disappeared’ activists of blasphemy, you took action against the shifty host and the television channel in question.
Given his history of remarks ranging from ‘foreign funded’ to ‘infidels’, I’d say that this was a long time coming. Thank you for that.
However, it would also be fair to argue that more often than not, your decisions seem misguided (to put it mildly).
The starkest example of this came at the expense of Udaari. By now, most people know that the acclaimed HUM TV serial was an attempt to address child sexual abuse. Given the reality of cases such as the Kasur scandal, I’ll assume that you agree that this needs to be addressed. So, PEMRA, when you served the production with a notice for “immoral content” because it showed a step-father committing an atrocious crime I was disappointed.
The media, particularly film and television, acts as a mirror for society. It shows us aspects of ourselves that we’d like to ignore. And Udaari was doing exactly that. By taking a stand against it, without looking at the context of the show you seemed to take the side of the oppressor.
The most recent news I’ve heard about you revolves around an Igloo Moments bar ice cream commercial. Part of me cannot believe that it has come to this. An ice-cream commercial? Really? Okay.
You claimed that the ad was “indecent and objectionable” and in violation of the PEMRA ordinance of 2002. I would point out that in the early 2000s, Magnum released a television commercial which was essentially identical to this one. The brand has since launched an entire campaign with sensual undertones. But similar hoopla didn’t follow its actions.
I would also point out that like so many times before, you have made a mountain out of a molehill.
By its very nature, an innuendo is suggested, and hence not seen by everyone. It is possible, PEMRA, that a lot of us didn’t see anything apart from a lady eating a bar of ice-cream. Something mundane and, dare I say, innocent.
We didn’t see anything before, but we see it now. By banning it, you have given it a dual meaning that most of us will not be able to not see. Thank you PEMRA. I will never look at a bar of ice-cream the same way again.
Is it possible that the company wanted a suggestive commercial? Of course!
In fact, it almost definitely did. But if we start targeting people for what they might have wanted to say, but didn’t say, but could have said, but also might not have wanted to say at all because they never said it, then haven’t we gone down the rabbit hole?
I realize PEMRA that there are factions within society that are rejoicing. One look at the online complaint section of your website and it is obvious that some people have a lot of free time and a lot of pent up rage. I
But here’s the thing PEMRA, whether you believe it or not, you are supposed to be better then them. You are supposed to defend the idea of a free and vibrant media, rather than some warped version of our collective ‘values’. Despite this hiccup, and the many others, you can still do that. Once you accept your role as regulatory authority, and stop trying to be a censor board, the chips will all fall where they should.
Perhaps your next notice will dash my hopes once and for all, but until then I’ll hold my breath for you.
A lover of ice-cream