Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has issued a piece of advice to TV channels on content regulation. The notice of the regulatory body is clearly against the freedom of thought and expression. The rationale that the PEMRA provides is that the content of TV channels ‘offends the sensitivities of viewers.’ The statement of PEMRA insists that what the TV channels telecast goes against Pakistan’s culture. PEMRA needs to be careful while using vague and ill-defined terms like culture or national identity for regulating media or curbing the freedom of expression. Indeed, the channels need to diversify their subjects beyond ‘saas-bahu vendetta,’ however; the overall tone of the statement is problematic. Forcing the creators not to imitate what is happening around in the society is nothing but an attempt to murder the artistic expression and freedom.

In Pakistan decency demands not to talk about certain offences? The officials think that such crimes would subdue and eventually vanish if not discussed or debated at all. Why should the media not show the victims of acid attacks? Why should channels not run a drama that shows the plight of a rural woman? Do people not indulge in extramarital affairs in their ordinary lives? Is divorce not a real life issue? Is violence against women not a grotesque reality of our society? The solution for all problems prevalent in our society does not lie in imposing restrictions on media. Highlighting such issues through shows and dramas force people to contemplate over these problems. Before asking the media to regulate their content, the state needs to eradicate the social ills from the society. As long as there are social evils present, the media is responsible for presenting them. Not doing so will make media complaisant with the actions of the wrongdoers.

Many intellectuals and writers in the chequered history of the nation sacrificed all their comforts – bodily and spiritual – for the freedom of expression. They knew if the freedom of speech got compromised then the society would pay a heavy price. We have already paid the price for not taking up and talking about issues that demand an urgent debate and out of the box solutions. Maybe quoting the literary genius, Saadat Hasan Manto on the need for artistic freedom will change the PEMRA’s world view. He once said, “If you cannot tolerate these tales then the society is unbearable. Who am I to undo the garb of this society, which itself is naked? … People call me black-penned, but I don’t write on the blackboard with black chalk; I use white chalk so that the blackness of the board becomes more evident.”