No cable operator would be able to broadcast the particular news channel that Pemra wants to block at any given moment.—AFP/File
CENSORSHIP in the name of regulating the media is the oldest of political tricks and it appears that the present government is not about to give up on its quest for a docile, easy-to-manipulate media in the country.
As revealed in this newspaper yesterday, the federal government is considering an amendment to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Act, 2007, that would allow the electronic media regulator to interfere with or block the satellite signal of a particular TV news channel.
Effectively, that would mean no cable operator would be able to broadcast the particular news channel that Pemra wants to block at any given moment and that no direct-to-home customer (those with what are colloquially known as dish antennae) would be able to access the channel either.
Know more: TV channels broadcasting ‘unwanted’ content may be blocked
If that were not disturbing enough, the government plans to enlist the help of Suparco to ensure the instantaneous blackout of a news channel.
All of that to what end? According to Pemra officials, the aim, in addition to the usual complaints about glorification of terrorists and TV channels showing terrorism-related scenes that the state believes are unfit for public consumption, is to keep other so-called objectionable and unwanted content off air.
This includes, rather astonishingly, blanking out the speeches of political leaders if necessary — presumably a thinly veiled reference to the MQM’s relationship with the media in Karachi, where a number of TV news channels are headquartered.
That is truly dangerous territory, whatever the need to ensure a healthier relationship between the media and the political party that dominates Karachi.
If regulating political speeches is deemed so necessary, then why doesn’t the government start with its own state-run news channels, which routinely broadcast lengthy speeches and everyday news conferences of the PML-N hierarchy?
But even if the government were to free state-run media from the yoke of state control that still would not make even a borderline case for making news channels unavailable to viewers on the basis of what the state determines they ought to hear and see.
Surely, in 2015, given all that the state has inflicted on society over the years, especially in the dark days of a state monopoly over the dissemination of news and information, there ought to be an immediate and total rejection of anything done in the name of censoring so-called unwanted and objectionable content.
Where there is a need for regulation — and the freewheeling nature of TV news in particular here does call for some sensible and principled regulation of the industry — it should be done in a manner that never gives the state the ability to pull the plug on the media and cause a TV news blackout nationally in seconds.
Consider what that power would mean during, say, demonstrations such as the anti-government protests last year in Islamabad or during another military intervention. Such power would be antithetical to the public interest.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2015