New Delhi: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority or PEMRA Friday directed all satellite TV channels in the country to refrain from airing scenes that show “hugs, caress scenes, extramarital relations, vulgar, bold dressing” among others as they “disregard Islamic teaching and culture of Pakistani society”, according to a notification issued by the body Thursday. Several Pakistanis have called it an act of media “censorship“, while few have welcomed the move and hailed it as a “good step” towards preventing “Western influence”.
The PEMRA notification mentioned that it had received many complaints from Pakistan’s “general public”, who expressed concern not only through government portals like Pakistan Citizen Portal and PEMRA’s Complaints Call Centre, but also social media platforms and WhatsApp groups regarding the “objectionable” content shown in Pakistani TV serials.
The notification further stated that a significant section of Pakistanis believed that the content depicting “bed scenes, the intimacy of married couples, controversial plots” was against the “commonly accepted standards of decency,” and thus, “highly distressing for the viewers”.
PEMRA finally got something right:
Intimacy and affection between married couples isn’t “true depiction of Pakistani society” and must not be “glamourised”
Our “culture” is control, abuse and violence, which we must jealously guard against imposition of such alien values pic.twitter.com/MJQekyT1nH
— Reema Omer (@reema_omer) October 22, 2021
Pakistanis question PEMRA priorities
People from the media industry were quick to call out the hypocrisy of the country’s regulatory authority that considers violence against women on TV acceptable but draws a line at scenes of affection between couples.
Journalist and cartoonist Reem Khurshid reacted to the notification by comparing how women being assaulted is believed to be “Halal” (permissible/lawful in Islam), but the latter is “Haram” (forbidden in Islam).
Famous blogger Natasha Kundi questioned PEMRA’s priorities for not banning “old school dialogues” or “domestic violence” in TV dramas, but complaining about not-so-harmful “hugging and caressing scenes”.
Depicting married couples hugging each other & other acts of affection/intimacy = haram
Depicting men physically assaulting women (without any content warnings) = halal
Pemra has really got its priorities straight https://t.co/jlfEOamkKL
— Reem Khurshid (@ReemKhurshid) October 23, 2021
I want to know what the real job of PEMRA is? Why was it actually established? We still have regressive old school dialogues in our dramas. We still openly show domestic violence. But no hugging and caressing should be banned in dramas 🥱 Priorities check karo. https://t.co/xdA6JwJlAt
— Natasha Kundi نتاشا کُندی (@NatashaKLondon) October 22, 2021
Morning show host Sehar Shinwari wrote how these “unnecessary restrictions” would affect an already dying drama industry in Pakistan.
This is not the first time PEMRA has issued such notifications. In 2017, it had released a three-part statement asking TV channels to be “mindful and respectful” when airing content during the holy month of Ramadan, keeping in mind the “sentiments of the audience.” This included prohibiting “dancing, singing, exercising, obscene dressing”, and anything that might be looked at as an insult to Islam.
According to writer Kamran Chaudhry, the “radicalization of society” was leading to the “sidelining of arts, culture, and sports in the Islamic republic.” In his article in Dawn, Chaudhry wrote about the frustrating lack of entertainment in Pakistan because of religious restrictions. He also mentioned “Talibanisation” of Pakistani music and film industry, especially with the restrictions on music, which was borne out of Islam’s unfavourable opinion of songs and entertainment.
The Taliban comparison was made by several Twitter users as well.
Another step towards #Talibansation .Only war mongering drama serials will be on aired soon.just wondering his luxurious life earlier why he is imposing such derogatory life to us? ہم بھی اس عمر میں آکر نیک ہوجائے گے لیکن ابھی تو آزاد فضا میں جی لینے دو عمران خان @ImranKhanPTI https://t.co/9ed2RKY616
— UroojSayyami (@Uroojsayyami) October 23, 2021
Memes pour in
Despite the seriousness of the topic, Pakistanis had a good laugh against the PEMRA notification. Some said that the PEMRA guidelines would mean nothing since it was a toothless body. Others had many memes to serve, expressing the absurdity of the situation.
They don’t have any mechanic to monitor channels , it’s merely just a notification and that is it
— Muhamamd Waqas (@Vkasiii) October 23, 2021
its okay pemra you’ll find your soulmate soon don’t be so jelly 😔💗 pic.twitter.com/X5GtRjmGyu
— naveah 💥 (@BingNorah) October 23, 2021
PEMRA is like hitting women is okay but we draw the line at hugging
— ayesha (@ayeshutupp) October 23, 2021
Users especially ridiculed PEMRA for mentioning intimacy between “married couples”, which seemed weirdly specific and quite farcical.
Can I jump into this PEMRA situation? pic.twitter.com/eK2EFhqWmz
— Pastel Serendipity (@pastel_serene) October 23, 2021
And people didn’t forget to compare the current circumstances with the Zia-ul-Haq regime.
To me this is the rising of Gen Zia’s spirit! I shudder!
PEMRA directs TV channels to refrain from airing ‘hugging scenes’ in dramas https://t.co/jKiqe7P2hD
— Iftikhar Ahmad (@Iftikh4rahmad) October 23, 2021