The Minister of State for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Marriyum Aurangzeb’s announcement of a national policy on film might prove to be one of the first steps to reviving the film industry. While recent years have seen a big jump in quality, there is a long way to go before the industry can properly compete with other countries in the world. And while the Minister is correct in pointing out that films can be a useful tool in defeating terrorism, the government might not be on the right track with regards to tackling the problem of extremism through the creative arts.

There is a genuine fear – as with the cybercrime law – that the Film Policy 2017 will end up doing more harm than good. If a state is to become a patron of creative arts, allowing for the freedom to express oneself creatively and not censoring anything deemed ‘objectionable’ is the first step towards allowing for the film industry to grow. But as of now, the government is doing more to impede the creative process when it touches upon important issues such as terrorism and militancy instead of fostering it.

When you have a censor board that attempts to chop documentaries such as ‘Among the Believers’ – which features a very meaningful discussion on the Lal Masjid Operation – there really is not much filmmakers can do to shun terrorism through films. Issues considered sensitive or taboo are often censored without pausing to think of the consequences for the filmmaker or those missing out on witnessing a discussion on a crucial issue such as terrorism or even the blasphemy law through film.

The state believes that ‘protecting the national image’ and needlessly glorifying Pakistani exploits, is the only way to proliferate the national narrative – even though there isn’t a clear Pakistani (anti-terrorist) narrative anyway. But this is really one of the worst tactics, especially when the problems resulting from terrorism, militancy and sectarianism are not even properly highlighted.

It is indeed positive that the government has finally realised the importance of mediums such as films, but forcing the industry to work a certain way will only ensure its swift demise once more. If the government is really serious about fostering the growth of the film industry, supporting any projects that break preconceived notions – even at the cost of making some viewers uncomfortable and questioning sensitive societal restrictions and norms – is fundamental, as is allowing for creative expression without stifling it with censorship. The Film Policy 2017 can achieve a lot, if only the government does not get in its own way.