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EDITORIAL: The Supreme Court delivered a loadstar judgement on last Wednesday’. Hearing a petition filed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) against a private TV channel for broadcasting a drama serial with content allegedly immoral and against cultural values, a two-member bench, comprising justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and justice Ayesha A. Malik, established the standard for what may constitute ‘obscene’ and ‘vulgar’.

In its bracing verdict, the court pronounced that the fundamental right of freedom of expression as well as the right to information apply not only to ideas that are favourably received, but also to those which offend, shock, or disturb the State or any other sector of the population.

The fact of the matter is that without a battle of ideas about such important issues as gender, education, artistic and literary values there can be no progress and development.

The court observed that the expression “commonly accepted standards of decency” must be understood to be the contemporary standards as the social mores and sensibilities change over time. Indeed so.

Social sensibilities surely have changed but retrogressive standards are still imposed by the status quo forces to preserve and protect their own interests.

Apparently, cognisant of such reprehensible influences, the court said that a work of art and literature, which includes a play or drama broadcast on the electronic media, is usually considered a strong and effective medium to break the silence on social taboos, therefore, is not to be labelled as obscene or vulgar readily without appraising the message it intends to covey.

So far, any attempt to breach a taboo has come at a cost. A short time ago, two movies which won accolades in foreign film festivals were banned in this country because one depicted a cleric in an unfavourable light — as if all of them are like angels — and the other for a realistic portrayal of a gay relationship.

Also, those seeking reform of textbooks antithetical to modern sensitivities are upbraided. The space for freedom of expression has constantly been shrinking since the dark days of the late military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq’s repressive rule.

As to where draw the line between what should or shouldn’t be acceptable, the judgement notes only that form or an expression can be said to be “obscene” or “vulgar” which is “offensive to the commonly accepted standards of decency”.

But as noted earlier, the problems arise when instead of an average person deciding, in the light of contemporary standards, whether or not something in the performing arts or literature is offensive, self-appointed conscious keepers of society arrogate to themselves the right to do that.

There should be no such interpretive issues now that the apex court has made it clear that the exhibition of any kind of works of art and literature is a part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution. It is likely to trigger litigable interpretations. That would be worth having it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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KU Apr 22, 2023 10:11am
One should understand the philosophy of human thought and action that affects the society and perhaps its future, and our Prophet (PBUH) sayings, “Beware of committing injustice, for injustice will be darkness on the Day of Resurrection. Beware of obscenity, for Allah does not love obscenity and immorality. Beware of greed, for it tempted those before you and caused them to make lawful what is unlawful, to shed blood and sever their family ties.”
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Javed Apr 22, 2023 01:03pm
The corrupt ruling elite has no respect for the rule of law, and the constitutions, hence the political and economic meltdown!
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Mian Nawaz Sharifshit Apr 22, 2023 01:11pm
Positive judgement. Nation needs to get out of the regressive 14th century model.
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HashBrown® Apr 22, 2023 02:33pm
Once again it took the strength and vision of Justice Ayesha A. Malik to pull Pakistan just a little bit closer to the 21st century. This is the same judge who a few years earlier finally prohibited the barbaric treatment that female sexual assault victims faced to prove their "innocence" - something none of our male judges had had the courage to do. Inshallah may she continue to bring justice to Pakistan, especially at a time when it's in such short supply...
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KhanRA Apr 22, 2023 11:09pm
Excellent judgement that paves the way for modernism. This is how Pakistan used to be before Zia. Religious zealots need to be taught that they can change the channel if they are offended by what is on the TV.
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KhanRA Apr 22, 2023 11:42pm
It has been said that we are the only Muslim country with lunch mobs. We don’t need religious police like in Iran, because our everyday people think they can act as religious police. None of this mob mentality ever existed before Zia. We need to become tolerant of diversity if we ever want to progress. Otherwise we have no right to criticize TTP, because they are just a part of nexus of violence and morality enforcement.
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Joe Apr 23, 2023 01:41pm
@Javed, Compromised generals have compromised the freedom of the nation!
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Sumroo Apr 23, 2023 11:05pm
@Joe, Time for the Court martial of all Bajwas - not just one Bajwa!
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Rizwan Apr 24, 2023 10:42pm
What's the name of that drama I'm just curious.
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