TV Wars: Media Censorship on the Rise in India and Pakistan

Ever since the military confrontation between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LOC) began after the September 18th attack on the Uri Base in the Indian Administered Kashmir, in which 17 Indian Soldiers were killed, erupted a country-wide protest against Pakistan and political workers of some hardcore Hindu nationalist groups like RSS and Shiv-Sina demanded a complete boycott of Pakistan.

The war of words escalated into a war of screens after the Indian Motion Pictures’ Artists Association (IMPPA) decided to impose a “complete ban” on all Pakistani artists and technicians from working in India. “It doesn’t matter if they are Pakistani artists, Pakistani music directors or Pakistani directors. From now on we will not release their films,” said Nitin Datar, Chairman of the Association. This gesture ensued a debate amongst the Indian actors and filmmakers on the righteousness on this move. While Bollywood celebs including filmmakers Mahesh Bhatt, Karan Johar and actors Oam Kapoor have maintained that art should not be banned, actors Nana Patekar and Anupam Kher, on the other hand, have shown their favor on the ban. Under a new ‘deal’ after threats from Hindu nationalist groups, Johar has now agreed to contribute $747,220 to the Indian army as penance for using Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in his upcoming film ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’. This deal led the nationalist party to call off ‘threat’ to cinemas.

Complete Ban?

As a series of tit-for-tat move, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularly Authority (PEMRA) took a more technical approach and kick-started a campaign of ‘complete ban’ on the Indian satellite dishes and contents on cable networks, terming it as “illegal”, “sensitive in nature” and “against national interest”.

“PEMRA will take strict action against all those TV Channels which have been continually violating the code of conduct,”, said Absar Alam – Chairman of PEMRA in a press briefing. As a consequence of this censorship, some Pakistani TV Channels will only have the leverage to show Indian content for only 1 hour and 26 minutes of the total air time. While allotting a 45-day notice to halt Indian content, PEMRA in the meanwhile had announced to launch its own DTH television system by October 2016.

It is to be noted that Indian movies have a big fan following in Pakistan, while Pakistani Dramas are equally popular in India. The series of ban and censorship created a panic amongst stakeholders in both the countries. Reacting to this decision, actress Divyanka Tripathi of popular drama series ‘Yeh Hain Mohabbatian’ said that this decision by PEMRA will affect the business on the Indian channels drastically. Komal Nahta, a film trade analyst estimates that Pakistan contributes around $10 million to Bollywood each year. Conversely, due to low production of locally made movies, the Pakistani cinema chains rely heavily on Bollywood. Nevertheless, the Pakistani cinemas have decided to ‘stop’ screening Bollywood movies for an indefinite time. “To express solidarity with the Armed Forces of Pakistan, the Management of Nueplex Cinemas has decided to stop the screening of Indian films with immediate effect. We will keep our patrons informed of further developments in this matter.”, says a Facebook post of the Nueplex Cinemas. Opposing this move, renowned Pakistani actor and producer Hamayun Sayeed stressed that cinemas here [in Pakistan] need Indian movies as they cannot survive by just showing Pakistani films.

Bollywood, Cinemas and the Future

Economically, the Pakistani multiplexes would not be able to survive this ban for a long period of time as according to experts, Indian movies accounts for more than 60 percent of their total revenues. And even if the ban is prolonged, this will not have any noticeable effect on Bollywood due to their lucrative size, but will surely cause a collapse of the cinemas in Pakistan, and people will still find a way to watch Indian contents through pirated means. For instance, since Indian dramas are banned in Pakistan, my mother manages to watch the series of Star Plus on YouTube.

Since the media industries of both the countries are mutually beneficial and partially dependent on one another, and sentiments of public from both sides of the borders are involved, it would, therefore, be very early to say that this is a ‘TV War’ between both the countries. It is to be noted that political figures from both of the states have refrained from directly commenting on this issue and neither side has raised this issue in their respective parliaments. Plus, the regulatory authorities from both sides have been very cautious in clearly mentioning a ‘complete ban’ and have associated the ‘validity’ of the ban with the ‘improvement of the situation along the LOC’. Thus, it is obvious that the ban(s) will be lifted as soon as the situation improves on the border and diplomatic negotiations are revived.

In conclusion, governments can rob their citizens from avenues of entertainment but cannot put a stop to the exchange of ideas. Let’s hope for the best!

About Aamir Ali

Aamir is a freelance blogger, writer and journalist from the Gilgit-Baltistan division of Pakistan Administered Kashmir. Well famed on both sides of the control-line for his unbiased articles on the Kashmir conflict, Aamir is fluent in Wakhi-Pamiri, Urdu and English.

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