The term ‘gentle satire’ is an oxymoron. To be effective, satire must be unflinching and biting, or it will be toothless. This is a concept that seems to be beyond the understanding of officialdom in Pakistan and those in positions of authority. What else is one to make of a reported decision by the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (Pemra) to send notices to managements of television channels asking them to stop airing programmes that make fun of the country’s leaders? It has to be said that — and the masters of this genre would have to no doubt be the classic Fifty Fifty followed later by Moin Akhtar and Anwar Maqsood — most of the programmes are quite popular with the watching public, perhaps because they strike a chord with the general mood among ordinary Pakistanis vis-à-vis the country’s leadership. The Pemra decision, it would be fair to presume, has come from the government whose various senior functionaries have been the butt of jokes on such shows. One reason why the politicians may feel slighted is because as far as the country’s leadership is concerned, most of these shows tend to make fun of leaders from the political class and do not usually touch the judiciary or the military.
However, that point aside, the fact remains that the conduct and actions of those elected to public office should be open to comment and criticism from society in general and the media in particular. In fact, if the latter weren’t holding public officials and functionaries accountable for their actions through this kind of feedback, it would be failing in its job of being a monitor and watchdog of the various pillars of the state. Also, it has to be pointed out that in the world of media and public relations, especially in this day and age, there really is no such thing as bad publicity. And even if an individual, who is in the public sphere, is made the subject of a satirical skit on a popular television show, then that amounts to publicity. Of course, such satire should be within the bounds of reason and good sense and should not make personal attacks on the said individual or malign or slander him. The problem in Pakistan is that the Pemra’s own guidelines on this are too vague and wide in scope, and in effect allow the state to include just about any kind of programming into the ambit of what’s not kosher.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2011.