Censoring online content

There is no denying that Pakistan has one of the worst incidents of media censorship and has strongly clamped down on any criticism of state institutions on mainstream media. Now attempts are being made to even suppress content on social media and other online platforms.

This is evidence that creative spaces for the film and TV industry is gradually diminishing. PEMRA has set laws and regulations but the boundaries of what is acceptable and considered within the norms of society are not clearly defined. As a result, many directors are unsure whether their production will be broadcasted. In September, PEMRA banned the repeat transmission of two dramas ‘Ishqiya’ and ‘PyarKeSadqay’ long after they were on air. Directors and producers are unable to understand the changing mood swings of the state regulators before they are forced to alter their content or stop it completely.

Directors who dared tackle any bold issue or taboo topic are quickly shunned until they found a new recourse with the rise of OTT streaming platforms. The internet was beyond the reach of the state censors but original ‘Made in Pakistan’ content was limited on these platforms. A trailblazing series ‘Churails’ was aired on Indian streaming site Zee5 which received controversy for showing women in independent and liberal roles. The show shattered stereotypes of what is acceptable in our society until the state censors moved in to suppress it online.

Pakistanis have been denied the opportunity to view their own content online. The show was removed by the streaming site for Pakistani viewers but was eventually restored. Now that State Bank has blocked all credit card payment of any Indian content. This is an inadvertent attack of personal freedom and must be condemned. State censors must realize that any attempt to suppress content on the internet will harm the country’s reputation and people will find alternate ways to access them.

Directors have no recourse left but to suppress their talent rather show the realities. Not to forget that they need to confront the right-wing and other conservative elements of society. The film ‘Zindagi Tamasha’ has still not being allowed to air despite being cleared by the government, human rights ministry and even the CCI. Many film directors are considering releasing their content abroad to escape hostile media laws or rather moving out completely from a suffocating environment.