Suffocation by censorship, what an ironic thing to say during the coronavirus pandemic; the same pandemic which wreaked havoc not only in China and the United States, but also the neighbouring countries of Iran and India. To say that Pakistan escaped almost unscathed, in comparison, is an understatement – and while we may have been spared from the brunt of the pandemic, the ongoing epidemic of censorship in the country poses a deadly if not equal threat.
Trying to run a digital media startup in Pakistan’s current climate of quietly crushing dissent behind the guise of nationalism is not only difficult but almost impossible. The unfortunate truth is that we have taught the masses to believe that criticism is ‘anti-state’, thinking differently is ‘vulgar’ and questioning the norm is ‘immortal’.
The government’s constant crackdown against narratives that it considers threatening to socio-cultural norms has quite effectively hampered innovation and progression; creatives who dream of pushing boundaries may have no choice other than to bring these dreams to fruition in a foreign land.
The answer is simple, there is freedom to innovate, question and push boundaries. Zindagi Tamasha, PEMRA’s initiative to take action against acclaimed web-series Churails and now PTA’s ban on TikTok go beyond censorship; such moves directly keep investors at bay who might have otherwise considered investing in Pakistan’s digital media landscape.
As we continue to moan and whine about the lack of a progressive Pakistani narrative, inclusive of millennial and Gen Z voices, countries around us continue to supersede us, building not only a directory of opinions that will shape future conversations but also giving thousands job opportunities at home.
If the situation is allowed to continued as it has, very soon the only content that will grace our screens is the likes of that curated by the infamous Khalil ur Rehman. The future looks bleak, lacklustre and devoid of hope.