Published On: Wed, May 18th, 2016

Banning spree of the Censor Board

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by Faizah Gilani – Pakistan’s censor board has been on a banning spree lately, with two documentaries and a film being banned. The Believers and Besieged in Quetta, and the film Maalik have been refused screening due to their controversial topics. The banning of these documentaries and the film is a bad move on the Censor Board’s part, and there really is not a valid reason or genuine justification for it. The documentaries highlight real issues that exist within Pakistan, whereas the film Maalik deals with the issue of corruption, something that Pakistan continues to grapple with.
It is disappointing to see a Pakistani film facing the ban, as it does not do the revival of cinema any favours. Pakistani cinema needs to be supported and promoted. A ban on a film because it is shedding light on corruption, and deals with real issues is ludicrous, and such a step should have not been taken. It is interesting to note that the film was initially cleared by the censor board, and the film was showing in cinemas for three weeks before it was banned and removed from cinemas. This type of censorship only hinders the progress of a nation, taking them backwards. Different films of different topics should be showcased for the audience and for them to judge the film on merit. Censorship of this kind is unhealthy not only for Pakistan’s reviving film industry, but also for the growth of society.
Screening of the documentaries within Pakistan have been halted by the Censorship Board, as they have been classified as ‘anti-state’ and seen as giving a negative portrayal of Pakistan. Again this is a very unfortunate step and completely mind boggling. These type of decisions clearly show that we are afraid of the truth and do not want to acknowledge where we have gone wrong. But the thing about the truth is that it never goes away. Even if we close our eyes, nothing changes and the truth remains. Yes these documentaries are hard to watch because they show a difficult part of our society, a part that we do not want to accept. But it exists and there is no point denying it. This kind of censorship is merely denial and nothing else.
One of the documentaries, titled The Believers, is a difficult documentary to watch, due to its subject. The backdrop is the infamous Lal Masjid, the twisted ideology being taught to young children who are brainwashed and ultimately robbed of their innocence, their childhood. The documentary also highlights how people like Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid prey on the poor, by providing them food and shelter, they are lured in so that he is able to generate support for his cause. This is reality and it is happening today. Banning the documentary will not change this reality.
In a way the documentary can be seen as criticising the government because they have mishandled the entire Lal Masjid fiasco, and have been soft on Abdul Aziz. Also, providing food, shelter and various services to the poor is the responsibility of the government, but they are failing to carry out their responsibilities. The Believers also highlights the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done in the fight against terrorism and growing extremism. But this should not be seen as anti-state in any way. It is a fact that Pakistan still has a long way to go, but this does not mean that the documentary is pointing out that the state has failed. It simply means that Pakistan still has a fight on its hands, and that there are a number of important issues that need to be addressed.
Documentaries can be thought provoking, depending on their nature. They can deal with difficult subjects and the audience is made to think about a number of things, and some of these things are hard to digest, and difficult to get your head around. Documentaries such as The Believers are a reflection of society. We may not like what we see but it is the bitter truth and we should accept it, rather than hide from reality.
By banning the documentary, Pakistan is only adding to its negative image projected internationally, proving that we are intolerant and incapable of self reflection. The documentaries have been screened abroad but will not be shown at home, where it matters the most.
Free speech is being denied by banning these important documentaries. Instead of addressing the issues, we are burying our heads in the sand. There is no need for us to feel insecure by hard hitting topics. It might make us feel uneasy but we need to accept what is around us. There is no shame in acknowledging the hard realities of society. Acceptance is the only real way we can move forward, and ultimately rid our society of evils such as terrorism and extremism.
The Censor Board has an important job to carry out but the role should be taken seriously and not abused or misused. And we have to be honest with ourselves. Are these films and documentaries being banned for the right reasons? This is an important question, but no one will give a straight answer. It is strange to see a Pakistani film being banned, and yet we welcome Indian Film Maker Kabir Khan to Karachi, who is known for making anti-Pakistan movies. This is a clear case of double standards and simply shows the lack of respect Pakistan has for its own Industry and Artists. This really is something to ponder over. Let us embrace our Artists and Film Makers, and encourage them to ask questions, even if they are difficult. And if we are so worried about a negative image, then it is high time for us to deal with those issues head on, because they will not go away if we ignore them.

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