Trigger-happy with bans

The more things change….

If all you have is a hammer, all problems will look like nails. And in the government’s hammer-only arsenal, a blanket ban through Pemra is used often, regardless of who is in government.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Monday barred the television channels from live and recorded coverage of rallies or public gatherings by any party, organisation, or individual being held in the federal capital. The rationale is yet another smattering of the usual: “Such footages/images were seen on TV screens without any editorial oversight during a recent standoff between political party workers and law enforcing agencies in Lahore wherein, a violent mob used petrol bombs, injuring armless policemen and blazing police vehicles. The live telecast of such footages on different satellite TV channels created chaos and panic among the viewers and Police.”

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That’s an argument for better law enforcement and not for banning coverage. It might also be an argument for not letting things come to a pass politically, for there to be such conflagration. Yes, hell is other people and yes, the political opposition might be behaving unreasonably but what is politics, if not the art of the possible?

Granted, there can be limits to such possibilities and a sitting government might have to take some unsavoury (but legal) steps. But why should they involve the banning of coverage of political rallies?

The previous dispensation used to live in the first half of the last century, given how it used to block newspaper routes as well, ensuring that entire housing societies don’t get particular newspapers in the morning, in addition to arm-twisting the local TV cable operators to ensure a particular set of TV channels aren’t broadcast. The incumbent government might not have done that but have taken the ‘legal’ route of banning things through Pemra.

None of the governments realise themselves, or is informed by the state’s information apparatus, that even if we discount for the principles being violated in this banning spree, they won’t achieve much of any desired effect either, because news content is increasingly being consumed on digital platforms and social media. The internet networks cannot be shutdown given how much foreign exchange our ever burgeoning IT industry gets us. And even if, in the throes of desperation, the internet services are shut down momentarily, all the backlog cellphone footage piled up during the blackout will be uploaded nigh immediately when things are back online.

We need more transparency, less opacity.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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