On PEMRA’s Christmas Present, 2016 | Pakistan Today

On PEMRA’s Christmas Present, 2016

A partridge in a pear tree

The general public seems to believe that the one who is allegedly in violation of the law may not be discriminated against, as he has already parted ways with his dignity as a citizen as well as a right to fair treatment. Their membership to a widely distrusted or despised minority – say the Christians of Pakistan – makes their alleged criminality a lot worse than it would normally seem to be.

This is the lesson learned in the wake of protests in Baltimore, for instance; and the ever-increasing restrictions on Muslims in Europe following hate crimes carried out by Muslim immigrants.

Muslims are often targeted by bills in Europe designed to specifically crackdown on Islamic customs and cultures, for example forcing Muslims male students to shake hands with their female professors, or forcing Muslim refugees to take special courses on feminism and the rights of women in the Western world. Given that preventing sexism is a perfectly reasonable and legal objectives, singling out a certain community in that regard – one which is already subject to general laws on the matter – is undeniable, indefensible bigotry.

In Baltimore, the protests turned unruly – if not outright violent at times – giving the authorities ample reason to say something along the lines of, “See? We aren’t racist! Black people really are thugs and criminals, and we’re simply doing what the law requires us to do!”. The same authorities are often a lot less motivated to spring to action when, and the media is a lot less enthusiastic about the coverage of the riots, when its angry white sports fans rampaging through American cities vandalizing public and private property.

A similar defense was made by PEMRA recently after it cracked down on 11 Christian TV channels – nearly the entire Christian broadcast sphere – after announcing that these channels did not have a license to continue their transmission. These channels include Isaac TV, Gawahi TV, God Bless TV, Barkat TV, Praise TV, Zindagi TV, Shine TV, Jesus TV (Jessi TV), Healing TV, Khushkhabari TV, and Catholic TV.

At this point, it’s pertinent to ask if any Islamic channels broke the law too, and are broadcasting their content illegally. Nadim Anthony, a Christian rights activist, termed it “discrimination” for a good reason: “There are so many Islamic TV channels functioning in the country but no one can dare ban them, which is discrimination.”

There are two theories.

One is that the Islamic channels that Mr. Anthony alludes to have significant political influence and cannot be cracked down upon. Consequently, the arm of law justifies its existence by going after the weakest, most easily prosecutable segments of the society, as tradition goes. It could be that PEMRA is genuinely helpless with regard to the illegal channels that are backed by stronger political and public interests, and that the banning of Christian channels allows them a precedent to go after illegally operating Muslim-owned channels as well.

The second is that PEMRA believes that the Islamic channels – by the sheer righteousness and goodness of their content – have more right to operate in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan than non-Muslim channels preaching non-Islamic ideals and teachings.

So the question, essentially, is whether this is an act of implicit or explicit bigotry; not whether bigotry has taken place. It indeed has.

I have written extensively about this form of bigotry in my previous columns as well; and PEMRA’s latest stunt offers a tantalizing opportunity to showcase the same point once more. Consider the case of an Israeli bill to ban mosques from using loudspeakers for azaan – the call for prayer. Racists and Islamophobes across the Western world have rallied to Netanyahu’s side, who recently said that “Israel is committed to freedom for all religions, but is also responsible for protecting its citizens from noise”.

There are already noise laws in Israel that apply to mosques, as much as they apply to churches and synagogues. However, making noise ‘while being Muslim’ somehow intensifies the seriousness of their misbehavior or crime – therefore calls for special (mis)treatment by the concerned government agencies.

And this is what PEMRA appears to be on as well. In its defense against criticism that it’s singling out the Christian community, the regulatory body assured us that it also banned many Indian channels. Pakistan’s non-Muslim minorities are not unaccustomed to being lumped in with “Indians”, and treated as one giant anti-national unit. What we needed to officially receive from PEMRA as a counter-argument, was a list of Muslim-operated channels that have also been blocked.

Beware of bigotry that masquerades as a practical concern for the welfare of the general population; an open-and-shut case of an official ‘simply following the law’. They pretend to speak generally, when in fact, they speak directly to a specific community of citizens whom their dislike and distrust.

This early Christmas present to the practicing Christians of Pakistan is, without a doubt, one of those hideous masquerades.



Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.