The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has announced a ban on shows dramatising crimes such as rape, murder, robberies and suicide. Some of these shows have media teams raid places in the name of investigative journalism and PEMRA is forming a code of conduct for investigative journalism and will not allow such breaches of privacy. Additionally, no show will be allowed to name rape or suicide victims, or family members of victims, nor will they be allowed to interview them.

Such shows that disregard privacy and private property are ethically problematic. While PEMRA has been heavy handed in the past with banning and censoring, this is the real area it should focus on: Are TV shows in Pakistan ethically made? Is anyone being exploited from the viewing of these shows?

However, while raiding homes and businesses is ethically suspect, the whole genre of crime shows is being made to suffer. The argument is that such shows entice the youth towards crime and criminals can learn new tactics through these shows. This is a slippery slope, one that PEMRA has been sliding all over, from its ban of “obsene” words on social media, to its show-cause notice to the TV serial Udaari, that had child abuse as its theme. Crime often forms the plots of stories, and nobody wants to watch stories without conflict. Rather than banning enactments all together, PEMRA has to have a holistic code of ethics by which gory scenes can be banned, but stories can still be told.

There is a market for these shows, and a whole industry that works to create this content. If people want to watch dramas, whether they are about cultural taboos or crime, the market will provide them. At the core it is an economic transaction, and state interference will always cause losses. If the audience does not get what it wants from local TV, it will move to watching content from other countries (of which there is no shortage); all to the detriment of local industry. The state has to be sure, that its redirection is meant to curtail excesses, rather than direct content. It is this thin line that PEMRA has never been able to straddle.