WHETHER or not it is only a minority that is protesting against Valentine’s Day celebrations, the impact on the media watchdog in the country has been telling. A day ahead of the event, on Wednesday, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority asked the television channels to “avoid offending religious sentiments and corrupting the nation’s youth in their Valentine’s Day broadcasts”. The well-meaning regulator explained it was issuing this advice in the wake of complaints — the volume, source and seriousness of which it didn’t reveal. All the polite reminder said was: “Such events have been perceived as a source of depraving, corrupting and injuring the morality of Pakistani youth as well as violating the code of conduct developed by Pemra … All satellite TV channels/FM stations are, therefore, requested to honour viewers’ sentiments/opinion while conceptualising any programme or celebrating any event connected to Valentine’s Day.”
Pemra’s stance shows where the official bias lies. The moral stick which anti-Valentine’s Day groups use for beating their opponents, often literally, is a difficult enough challenge. Official involvement tips the balance — not in favour of those who see red when it comes to the way the extremist-minded operate but of those who object to people trying to exercise their right to say it with flowers. There may be plenty of complaints about the quality of Valentine broadcasts here. They may be a burden on the aesthetics for their gaudy overdose of colour and lack of content. The fare can always improve and the offering be made more nuanced. But it must be improved by professionals, without troubling Pemra whose attempts to control can most effectively be answered by the channels collectively. At the same time, it would be well worth the effort for Pemra’s new chief to stop the regulatory body’s drift towards moral policing.