Unwanted and objectionable

Once again fig-leaf of ‘the national interest’ is being used to cover the advance of limitations to freedom of speech


Editorial March 26, 2015
The government has discussed a possible amendment to the Pemra Act of 2007 that would empower the authority to ‘delink’ the signals of TV channels at their satellite source. STOCK IMAGE

Reports that the government is considering ways of blocking the transmission of material that it finds ‘unwanted’ and ‘objectionable’ are themselves unwanted and objectionable. Censorship in Pakistan is gathering traction by the day. It has been two years since YouTube went dark at the behest of the clerical rightwing ably supported by sympathisers in the government. There were reports of the popular blogging site WordPress being blocked on March 21-22 and the self-censorship practised by all the media houses further limits access to a range of sources. The government has discussed a possible amendment to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Act of 2007 that would empower the authority to ‘delink’ the signals of TV channels at their satellite source. This would mean that no cable operator or TV could receive the broadcast. It is unclear if the capacity to block transmission extends to individually-owned satellite dish connections but possible at least in theory.

There is no detail as to what exactly constitutes ‘objectionable’ or ‘unwanted’ or who decides what is to be blocked, much as there is complete obfuscation as to the processes associated with blocking websites on the internet. It appears that the discussions between the government, Suparco and lawmakers are already far advanced, and are being trailed by the government as just another part of the National Action Plan (NAP) and aimed at limiting sectarian material or ‘hate speech’ — including that of politicians. Once again the fig-leaf of ‘the national interest’ is being used to cover the advance of yet more limitations to freedom of speech and debate. We in no way condone — indeed vigorously condemn — the spreading of sectarian or hate material, and support an ethical position regarding the reporting of terrorist acts; but smuggling in another layer of censorship without transparency or checks and balances smacks of an uncomfortable totalitarianism. And that is cause for concern.

Published in The Express Tribune, March  27th,  2015.

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COMMENTS (2)

Alarmed | 6 years ago | Reply Saudi Arabia banned the blasphemous videos from their country in a similar manner to how our whole website is blocked, yet in Saudi, you can still watch other videos on the site. Besides, I agree that this will be used as a tool against political opponents in a dirty and disgusting manner after the good people are done with it. We all know there are one or two shows that accurately depict the current situations of events, and despite the fact that they have been blocked and unblocked several times, this would finally be a legal way to do away with them forever.
Toticalling | 6 years ago | Reply I agree censorship in any form should be discouraged and I am glad thatTtribune has picked up the matter to make us aware of the totalitarianism tendencies.You mention Youtube, but that has other reasons. There the clergy had its fingers in the plot. Clergy and right wing lobby is also responsible that self censorship is practiced by all the media in Pakistan. Yes, it is the fear of the backlash by extremists who take laws in their own hand if they think their faith is being insulted, which make us afraid.
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