In a country notorious for its orthodox section of society enforcing strict cultural codes that ban girls from schools and minor children from administering UNICEF-donated polio drops, it seems too much of an unaffordable liberty to talk of having or not having to see soap operas, and that too, showing vulgar foreign culture illustrating taboos and nudity.
Coincidentally, the talk of the town in Pakistan these days is a flamboyant Turkish soap opera having a theme that revolves around a taboo subject like incest, besides over exposure, and other moral problems associated with the super rich class.
The soap opera 'Ishq e Memn' [meaning forbidden love in local language], dubbed in national language Urdu, was recently-concluded on a private TV channel after spanning over several months. It created much of a stir in a society having a vast majority that upholds Islamic culture and traditions, as it indulged in over exposure of actresses, showing cleavages, thighs and boasting mini-skirts etc. and the editors had to blur these parts to avoid wrath of the fundamentalists.
Such was the dimension of the ripples it created in the whole society that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had to intervene and issue a statement saying that such soap operas were representing neither the Turkish culture nor Islam. This was perhaps for the first time that Mr. Erdogan had taken notice of something about his country on the media of a brother Islamic country, and of course the highest level of condemnation for a play.
Turkish soap opera was also aired, dubbed in Arabic, by MBC - parent group of Al Arabiya news channel, a couple of years back and it attracted quite a big audience that still savors its glamour. MBC is considered pioneer of dubbed Turkish soap operas and has aired many others for Arabic language viewers.
Erdogan’s comments set in motion the authorities in Pakistan. The standing committee of the upper house of parliament [Senate] that deals with information and broadcasting expressed its concerns over the kind of vulgar foreign content being aired offending the feelings of majority of people. The senate committee issued instructions to concerned authorities to take cognizance of the matter and take necessary steps, but the soap opera reached conclusion before any step could be taken.
The condemnation of conservative quarters in Pakistan to this soap opera was understandable, but what amazed people was the protest by the private TV production houses, TV artistes etc. who are accused of promoting vulgarity in the garb of liberalism in society. The private drama producers and artistes primarily demand banning foreign dubbed soap operas during the prime time when the rate of advertisements is the highest, fearing such a practice would destroy the private TV production industry which took birth in the country courtesy the liberal media policy of former military dictator General [retired] Pervez Musharraf over a decade ago.
They feared a doomed future for private TV production industry at the hands of unrestrained foreign soap operas, like the open import of Indian movies devastated Pakistani film industry a decade ago. Their least stressed concern was that foreign soap operas would prove disastrous for Pakistani cultural values.
The protest by TV producers and artistes was considered reflection of a clash of interests rather than any fear of cultural invasion.
A viewer remarked “Pakistani private channels are as bad as Turkish or European when it comes to vulgarity, but their style is little different.”
Some viewers feel by blindly following the Indian counterparts, Pakistani producers had lost their standards and the quality once their industry was known for just two decades back, and now they feared for their survival against much better foreign productions.
It is not out of place to mention that Pakistani TV serials had high production value and quality during ‘70s and ‘80s that even in India the streets looked deserted on the days when it were aired.
Pakistan might follow the example of some countries which allowed foreign content under protected regulations for local industry.
(Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based at Islamabad. He can be reached through email: email@example.com and Twitter: @mansoorjafar)