Recent revelations by Print and Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Chairman Absar Alam, made to representatives of the media, are most troubling. The Chairman stated that he and his staff were receiving threats from unidentified quarters. He even played a recording of such threats by phone.
One imagines that the level of peril it feels must be severe indeed when the powerful regulatory authority working under the aegis of an elected government feels the need to air threats against it in a press conference. Voices on social media and elsewhere that want to make light of such a matter should think very carefully about it.
So what has PEMRA done recently to deserve such threats? As the country’s electronic media regulatory authority, PEMRA took action against a contested private TV channel, which has become the new home of a wide variety of media persons, who are united by their xenophobia as well as the desire to oust the current democratic dispensation in the country to replace it with a hyper-nationalist, religion-oriented, ultra-conservative setup. While they may be entitled to their views, they are certainly not entitled to the blatant displays and witch-hunts they conduct on air, and for which PEMRA took them to task on several occasions. Unfortunately, the TV channel proceeded to ignore and flout PEMRA directives, even orders to stop broadcasting certain questionable programmes.
In addition, PEMRA’s recent action to prevent the largest private TV network from airing the interview of the odious, recently surrendered spokesperson of the Pakistani Taliban and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Ehsanullah Ehsan, presumably did not go down well in certain quarters – who perhaps still feel that a rapprochement between the state and selected armed fundamentalist rebels is the need of the hour.
It must be remembered that PEMRA has implemented restrictions on objectionable content across the board. It has come down particularly hard on ‘obscene’ or ‘indecent’ content – whether or not it is actually of such a nature. In general, the expectation from the critical, liberal, pluralist and pro-democratic voices has been to self-censor themselves. When they fail to do so, the government’s regulatory authority has always been there to remind them. But it would appear that right wing and/or pro-establishment elements are not happy to be reminded of their limits. Hence, perhaps, the threats to the PEMRA.
Increasingly, it seems, the safety and security of any individual, organisation or institution is in jeopardy unless it openly plays along with the toxic mix of hyper-nationalism, religious fundamentalism and unadulterated bigotry which is being promoted as the ‘ideology’ of the country. Even worse is the fact that the people and organisations that promote such a toxic narrative are able to pretend to be acting in the ‘national interest’, at times by posing to represent the views of judicial and security establishment. Whether they do this of their own accord or with the encouragement of some powerful quarters, the fact is that they do Pakistan and its long term interests a great disservice.