Thursday, August 9, 2012

PTI Moral Police: Wajihuddin Ahmed, Imran Khan, Sita White & Tyrian Khan.

NOW it is the realm of television programming and advertising that has attracted the Supreme Court’s attention. Summoning the chief of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority in response to petitions moved by two conservative figures, the former amir of the Jamaat-i-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmed and a retired Supreme Court justice, Wajihuddin Ahmed, the court on Monday demanded action within a week against ‘obscene’ and ‘vulgar’ programming and advertisements on private TV channels aired in Pakistan. Pause for a moment and consider the various problems that afflict this country and that the court is embroiled in. That obscenity and vulgarity on television — and this before the debate about whether the impugned content is at all obscene or vulgar — figures in the scheme of things to fix at the highest levels at the moment is somewhat worrying. Two points need to be made here. First, the excesses that do frequently occur on television — from content that foments religious intolerance to coverage of terrorist attacks that are insensitive to victims’ families and badly handled, and from opinion-laden shows that are divorced from fact to invasion of privacy and worse in intrusive programming — do need serious redressal. However, government regulation is not the way to go. The Musharraf era epitomised the problem: even the most ardent supporters of a free and independent media in power cannot be trusted to not use government regulation to stifle media freedom. Where self-regulation thus far has failed, perhaps what the government can do is act as a facilitator for the creation of a regulatory body that is truly independent, professionally run along non-ideological lines and responsive to both the media’s and consumers’ concerns. But to trust the government with a direct and hands-on role in regulating media content is an unwelcome idea: today it is obscenity and vulgarity, tomorrow it will be the ‘national interest’ and ‘national security’ that will demand certain lines be drawn. Second, the outmoded idea of what content is vulgar or obscene needs to be discarded. Strangely, violence on television — domestic, criminal, extrajudicial — rarely attracts the same kind of censure as does content in which women are attired in a certain way or filmed interacting with men in a certain way. The same goes for intolerance, xenophobia, bigotry and hate spewed on TV: it doesn’t attract the same kind of censure as does a woman dancing or singing lustily. The collective ownership that society wants to impose on its women is a problem itself. In the name of moral policing, Pakistan has ended up with deeply skewed priorities: keep the women covered up; let the monsters run loose. REFERENCE: Moral policing

Sita White on Imran Khan's Illegitimate Child.

MQM vs Imran Khan and Sita White Illegitimate Child Tyrian Jade

It is this cherry picking of issues, petitioners and the amicus curiae that raise serious concerns about the ideological agenda of the Pakistani Supreme Court The Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken the hapless acting chairperson of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority (PEMRA), Mr Abdul Jabbar to task again. Remember the grainy video of the chairperson being grilled by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, while presiding over a full court meeting recently? At that time, he had come under fire after a ‘planted’ interview of the Bahria Town fame Malik Riaz was aired on a private television channel. It is pertinent to recall details of that episode as the august court has developed a penchant for taking up serious, yet simple issues, with an unusual populist sensationalism. In that video the Chief Justice was seen sitting at the head of the table, which had his brother judges comfortably occupying the other seats. The PEMRA chairperson was then called to the front and made to stand next to the Chief Justice. There did not appear to be a chair for him there and neither was one offered to him. The chairperson, with a stack of files under his arm, stood there literally trembling. The spectacle was reminiscent of a harsh schoolmaster chastising his unruly student. Now the chairperson himself was not an accused in the matter and obviously not a serf of the Supreme Court to have been subjected to such humiliation. To add insult to injury, the whole episode was being recorded and was subsequently released to the media. With whose permission the cameras were allowed in that room, we might never know. The release of the video was never probed or owned by the court. No matter what the rationale behind the court’s decision to let the poor man’s ordeal be televised, this is certainly not what is meant by the adage that justice must also be seen to have been done.

But this time around the honourable court was apparently relaying its displeasure on certain ‘objectionable’ programmes being televised on various channels in Pakistan. The court has taken upon itself, inter alia, to act as the moral police or more accurately as the nation’s nanny. It has set out to decide for the people what is, or is not, vulgar or obscene. The three-member bench of the SC was deliberating on a letter filed by the former Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Justice (retired) Wajihuddin of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf against what they alleged was obscenity on the television channels.

The court also quoted columns by Ansar Abbasi and Orya Maqbool Jan, apparently thanking them for their columns that pointed out the vulgarity on television. The court claimed that the television channels were spreading vulgarity and PEMRA had done nothing to stop them. It has ordered the PEMRA chairperson to submit a detailed report by August 13 about the TV programmes spreading vulgarity. According to this newspaper of record, during the proceedings, the honourable Chief Justice remarked, “We can’t watch TV with our families due to this vulgarity. He said PEMRA would be responsible if obscenity was shown on TV channels. He also said some vulgar programmes were being aired even during Iftar, which should be avoided.”

That certain programmes or advertisements on the television might be distasteful is not moot. But the way the court has gone about solving the problem is arbitrary, divisive and appears to be done in undue haste. By choosing to deliberate on the ‘sensitivities’ of four ideologically charged bearded men, the court has already stacked the deck against any open and fair discourse on the topic, at least during the course of the present proceedings. What may be obscene to these four gentlemen might not bother many others. Let’s face it, obscenity, just like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder. To them a woman showing leg in a hair-removal cream advertisement --allegedly discussed during the proceedings — might be offensive but to many others the television channels, especially their rabid anchors, making a mockery of the last vestiges of tolerance remaining in Pakistani society are much more obscene, nauseating and abhorrent.

So far no information has surfaced where the Chief Justice and his brother judges have taken a note of the anchors-turned-televangelists literally calling for murder of minority religious sects on primetime television. The court remained mum when one anchorwoman hounded a couple meeting in a public park and chased them around with her whole crew. More recently, that same anchorwoman, aided and abetted by a couple of clergymen, televised the conversion of a Hindu boy to Islam, ostensibly of his own free accord. The ignominious telecast caused outrage, but apparently, it was not disconcerting enough for the honourable judges to take note. And lest we forget, the death trap set by that anchorwoman with her leading questions that contributed to the brutal assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer, did not concern the court one tiny bit.

The obscenity and pornography issues have been dealt with by the United States Supreme Court in famous cases like Roth vs United States (1957) and Jacobellis vs Ohio (1964). Programme content ratings for television, film and video games are quite developed in most civilised countries. Technological advances like V-Chip built into televisions have been there since the mid-1990s. The Pakistani Supreme Court may not need to reinvent the wheel but could serve as an enabler to help it get tweaked to local needs. Instead of bashing and belittling the PEMRA chairperson, the court could have, off the bat, co-opted help from media professionals, intellectuals and scientists were it keen to actually seek a wholesome solution to the issue. But other than merging an old petition by the media expert Mr Javed Jabbar with the current proceedings, it seems to have relied only on its own perceptions and that of the four men. It is this cherry picking of issues, petitioners and the amicus curiae that raise serious concerns about the ideological agenda of the Pakistani Supreme Court. Some of us do remember General Ziaul Haq’s brutal Islamisation unleashed in the name of amr bil ma’roof wa nahi anil munkar (ordering for acknowledged virtues and forbidding from sin) and the Chador aur Chardiwari ka Tahaffuz (preserving the sanctity of the women’s cloak and abode) and are concerned that this is where the nanny court may be headed. REFERENCE: COMMENT : The nanny court — Dr Mohammad Taqi Thursday, August 09, 2012

Imran Khan, Tyrian & Sita White.

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has converted the letters of Justice (R) Wajihuddin Ahmed, Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Muhammad Hussain Mehnati against obscenity and vulgarity on the media into a petition and issued notices to chairmen PTA and Pemra and has fixed it for hearing on July 27, 2012. The petition is marked 104/2012 and the case will be heard in the open court on Friday. The SC order issued on Wednesday titled “Regarding control of obscene and other objectionable material carried in the media” reads: “Take notice that three separate letters were received from Justice (R) Wajihuddin Ahmad, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, ex-Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Muhammad Hussain Mehnati, Ameer Jamat-e-Islami Karachi on the subject cited above and on placing all these letters before the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan. His lordship was pleased to call reports from chairman PTA and Chairman Pemra. After perusal of the said reports, the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan was pleased to pass the following order; ‘Treat this matter as petition under article 184(3). Put up in court. Notice to attorney general, chairman Pemra and to petitioners be issued for 27.07.2012.’

“Take further notice that the matter has been registered as the Constitutional petition No 104/2012 and is fixed for hearing on 27.07.2012 in Court House Islamabad.”The major issues regarding obscenity highlighted in the petition involve airing of illegal Indian channels through cable network, obscene and vulgar dramas on Pakistani channels, immoral advertisements on TV channels, illegal CD channels distributed by cable networks in connivance with Pemra, and in particular the entertainment segments in the news bulletins on Pakistani news channels.

Following complaints from the two respected public figures, the Human Rights Cell of the apex court, following CJ’s direction, had sought views from chairman Pemra and chairman PTA, both of whom have given routine bureaucratic responses without any concrete assurance that the menace would be effectively checked and controlled.

Chairman Pemra in his response to the Supreme Court wrote: “The local market is flooded with smuggled and pirated CDs, DVDs, decoders, dishes and cards, which are proliferating obscenity through broadcast media and distribution service. On its part, Pemra took action against distribution and sale of illegal decoders and seized the equipment of Zee TV package. This action was challenged in the Lahore High Court (LHC) and the court was pleased to suspend the seizure. “Consequent to which Pemra had to return the equipment. Nevertheless, Pemra has not stopped its efforts in this regard. It may kindly be appreciated that Pemra cannot fully eradicate this menace and it will only be possible with coordinated efforts of all other relevant agencies as well.” It is important to mention here that whenever the Supreme Court takes up the issue of obscenity and vulgarity some objectionable Indian TV channels are closed for a few days but they stage a comeback. Even on Wednesday when the Supreme Court issued this latest order and fixed the case for Friday, sources told The News that Indian TV channels were closed in some big cities. Sources say a huge amount of money is involved in allowing illegal CD channels, distribution of illegal Indian TV channels and in many other similar illegal acts. REFERENCE: SC takes suo moto notice of obscenity in media Ahmad Noorani Thursday, July 26, 2012

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