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.