Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb’s reply to Senator Kalsoom Perveen confirmed something which should already be understood – the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has powers to clamp down on channels and anchors promoting sectarian differences or propagating hate speech. Both the PEMRA Ordinance 2007 and the Code of Conduct developed by the regulatory authority give it sufficient power to do this. Why then is there so much aired content that promotes sectarianism?

PEMRA’s biggest reliance so far has been on the complaint system; it has often stated that its hands are tied unless a complaint is made, but this has not stopped it from banning multiple dramas for touching upon important issues of sexuality, sexual violence against women and child abuse. Channels have been fined for airing the false news of Imran Khan’s rumoured marriage, and other, less serious matters while the biggest threat stares it straight in the face.

Editorial committees exist on all news outlets – as Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb pointed out – but hate speech and sectarian content continue to be aired on electronic mediums across the country.

The instance of Hamza Ali Abbasi’s show being banned as a result of his discussion on Ahmadi rights and persecution should tell us that the institution’s motivations are still suspect – it is not as simple as Ms Aurangzeb makes it out to be. Admittedly, PEMRA banned Shabbir Abu Talib’s show on NewsOne as well – his show attacked Hamza Ali Abbasi and called him a traitor in response – but this means that PEMRA is acting on complaints without using its own judgement.

There needs to be a clear understanding of what ‘objectionable content’ actually is in the minds of all those who work at PEMRA. Criticism of societal problems such as child abuse through drama, or questioning the way Pakistan has treated its minorities should not be included in this definition. The government’s definition of what obscene entails is also skewed if it bans all condom ads even though contraception is an important tool for population control. But any and all forms of hate speech, shows meant to target individuals or organisations with the intent to malign and all channels, shows and anchors promoting violence against any minority sects of groups should be clamped down on with immediate effect. So far PEMRA has only acted on a handful of instances in such cases, and even then it has often lackadaisically waited for the Supreme Court to give a ruling in favour of a ban – as in the case of Shahid Masood. More is needed.