The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) recently banned the airing of "caress or hug" scenes in dramas and netizens are pretty bewildered at why the regulator seems to be more concerned with the depiction of mild intimacy between on-screen married couples than the problematic portrayal of domestic violence and abuse in Pakistani dramas.
According to the directive issued on October 20, "hugs, caress scenes, extramarital relations, vulgar or bold dressing, bed scenes and intimacy of married couple" are being "glamorised" in "utter disregard to Islamic teachings and culture of Pakistani society".
Pemra also stated that it proceeded with the ban after receiving "numerous complaints from the general public" about trends in dramas that do not depict the "true picture of Pakistani society".
The directive has prompted an outcry from netizens on Pakistani Twitter who said that what Pemra should actually be worried about is the normalisation and glorification of domestic abuse and disregard for the depiction of healthy marital relations on television.
Users pointed out how the normalisation of such problematic portrayals reinforce a culture of "control, abuse and violence".
Users also decried the lack of content warnings when it comes to displaying violence on television. Currently, there are no content warnings in dramas that depict acts of violence against either gender or suicide. Instead of policing healthy portrayals of intimacy, Pemra might do well to at least include a provision that requires TV channels to give content warnings before showing sensitive scenes.
There's no denying that Pakistani dramas continuously depict domestic violence, emotional abuse, stalking and unhealthy marital relations to carry drama plot lines forward. The wildly popular Iqra Aziz and Feroze Khan-starrer Khuda Aur Muhabbat showed Mahi (Aziz) being stalked by Farhad (Khan) as a display of 'love'. Khuda Aur Muhabbat also featured a depiction of domestic violence. An episode showed actor Nazim Shah (Sohail Sameer) slap his wife Sahiba (Sunita Marshall) during an argument.
The infamous 'slap scene' from drama Laapata angered many netizens as well.
Here are some suggestions of things Pemra can regulate in dramas instead.
Ban the glorification of domestic violence
Pemra providing guidelines on the glorification of domestic violence, abuse and stalking could perhaps be of more benefit to society. Showing such acts as normal displays of affection or as normal aspects of a marital relation mar the viewer's perception of what healthy displays of affection or relationships look like. Addressing such issues is especially important in a country that ranks as one of the worst countries for women to live in when it comes to inclusion, justice and security. Women in Pakistan regularly face the threat of violence.
Require trigger warnings before airing sensitive content
Pemra could also direct television channels to provide trigger warnings before airing sensitive content. Sensitive content includes the depiction of suicide as well as physical violence of any kind. Pakistani dramas frequently show suicides as a 'vital' part of the plot line. Drama Azamaish showed the character Shiza (played by Yashma Gill) take her own life in the final episode. The Sajal Aly-starrer Yeh Mera Dil depicted suicide as well, and so did drama Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay.
While it is understandable that some sort of depiction is unavoidable, and perhaps somewhat necessary to show a reality present within society, it is important to depict such aspects in a sensitive manner that doesn't cause harm or emotional trauma to the viewer. Content warnings allow viewers to avoid the scene altogether if they are uncomfortable with watching it for whatever reason. It can also prove useful for parents who might not want their children to be exposed to such delicate matters at a young age as well.
As Pemra bans hugging in dramas, netizens wonder why the glorification of domestic violence isn't an issue