A Ban On Indian Content?
Indian content is about to be axed from our television screens- and not because of its poor quality. A PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) order of 2016, of restricting electronic media in Pakistan from broadcasting Indian content, is to be reinstated again as a three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday overturned a Lahore High Court (LHC) order suspending it.
The original PEMRA decision, of imposing a blanket ban on all Indian content, had been taken in October 2016, when Indian and Pakistani hostilities had increased after the Uri attack. Nine months later, the LHC suspended the order on the basis of it being against freedom of speech and expression. The LHC decision is now up for dispute at the SC, and, as much as we endorse cultural exchange and no boundaries to artistic expression, PEMRA’s arguments against the LHC order are not unreasonable.
For one, this petition makes us consider the question of whether banning Indian content on electronic media is a violation of free speech and expression of Pakistani citizens. PEMRA’s argument is that the LHC is wrongly enlarging the scope of free speech and holding bans on Indian content to a higher standard than Pakistani content, which itself is not free from PEMRA regulations. The ban might count as a violation of the right of film business owners to do business perhaps- but reducing it to a free speech issue is far-fetched.
Secondly, and perhaps the most obvious argument that PEMRA contends against the LHC’s suspension of the ban was that there is a strong public interest motive for removing Indian content. While this argument may not have withstood in 2017, it cannot be denied that relations between India and Pakistan are more hostile now than they have been for the last decade, and sensationalist Indian media has had a hand in contributing to this nationalistic fervour. Whether public interest can be considered a strong enough reason to censor Indian content is a debate that the Courts should undertake but it is a fair debate to have, considering the prevailing hostile climate.
The fact that matters have come to this point where art and cultural exchange has to be sacrificed is unfortunate. If a ban is to be imposed, it ought to be taken as a logical decision for public interest, and not be exploited for emotion or nationalism. The Courts need to allow the debate for this topic to occur rationally and responsibly, and so should the government ministers who seem too eager to denounce Indian content publicly for emotive appeal.