Underneath this editorial you will find the editorial cartoon – a caricature that says in an image what it takes other columns sentence upon sentence to convey, often depicting truths that words cannot truly capture. The editorial cartoon is a powerful tool, one that has become ubiquitous in news organizations across the world. This has been the case for decades now; iconic cartoons are still alive in the public’s memory, even when columns and editorials covering the same events have been lost underneath the crushing wheel of time. A picture is truly worth a thousand words; perhaps that is why the country’s electronic media regulator is so fearful of its power.

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) in its latest advisory on “airing satirical content” has directed all satellite TV channels to not “demean individuals representing various political parties and law enforcement agencies through caricatures, animated characters, photo-shopped images and funny memes”, as doing so would tarnish the impression of our leadership nationally and internationally.

The problems with this advisory can cover several columns (and a few cartoons too), but before we tackle those the language the body has used needs to be examined. PEMRA claims that “the public feels” that these caricatures are demeaning and damaging to leadership; and thus plans to shoot its gun from their shoulders. Nothing could be further from the truth.

PEMRA has no authority to speak on behalf of something as monumental as “the public” and neither does it have any mechanism of finding out what the public really believes. If we look on the other hand however, we find that editorial cartoons, caricatures, and memes are one of the most liked and shared forms of commentary on the internet. Cartoons regularly receive greater traffic than columns on the same subject matter. Looking at the metric, the public loves caricatures.

As far as damaging the impression of our leadership nationally and internationally is concerned, PEMRA perhaps forgets that free media reigns in most other parts of the world. All politicians and world leaders have been viciously caricaturized and lampooned in the press, if not by their own then by another nation’s media. Criticism and statecraft go hand in hand – all politicians have learned that and don’t seem bothered by it all. If Imran Khan gets caricaturized, chances are his counterparts have been too – no one needs to worry about their “impression”. 

Most importantly however, PEMRA forgets that satire is a legitimate form of expression and a potent tool for criticism. Stamping out satire is akin to muzzling a columnist.

PEMRA should rein in its draconian impulses, and perhaps advise politicians to grow thicker skin.