Media Watch: Defining ‘indecency’ | Pakistan Today

Media Watch: Defining ‘indecency’

 Pemra‘ s directive to private television channels not to air “indecent content” was bound to be taken apart.

By the conservatives, because this was a too-little-too-late, and by the liberals, because of their obvious aversion to such censorship.

Now before one gets on a high horse and condemns the principle of the decision, it would do us well to remember that all countries, even the ones that the more liberal among us want to emulate, have regulatory bodies that routinely do pretty much the same exercise. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (their Pemra) used to be far more prudish than it is now. And even now, you cannot expect to hear violent rap lyrics on MTV. Those racy scenes that you see on Game of Thrones? They are shown because it is a show on subscription-only HBO.

Societies have to decide what can and cannot be shown on television. There has to be an uneasy consensus on it. Having said that, there will almost always be an impulse to push the envelope of what it permissible. That is a given. Why? Well, because creative types generally (not always) happen to be socially liberal and permissive themselves. The politics of pop-culture veers towards the liberals almost all over the world. Even filmmakers who make sappy, patriotic war movies that cash in base patriotism, are socially liberal in their personal lives and that seeps into their art, even if unconsciously.

Coming to the specifics of the directive itself. Indecent scenes, extramarital relations, violence, inappropriate dressing, rape scenes, use of drugs and alcohol and physical intimacy. That’s the litany of complaints that the viewers, apparently, had complained to Pemra about.

When it comes to the issue of extramarital affairs, are the regulators proscribing dramas that show physical intimacy therein or the very idea, even if alluded to symbolically? If the latter, then it is pure and basic suppression of freedom of speech. Are all social issues to be avoided then? There certainly were voices demanding this very same type of clampdown when Udaari, a serial on child sexual abuse was being aired. The drama admirably raised awareness on this depressingly pervasive social evil, but not before enraging certain viewers’ sensibilities.

Similarly, if it is in the interest of the state to battle alcoholism, which is a far common disease in our hapless Islamic Republic than people think, then how could it be done without showing, well, alcoholism?

The Tube

Media Watch column is meant to offer commentary on the affairs of the media.

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