Physical and geographical borders are to be defended by the armed forces. Who defends invasion through media? PEMRA? No. It has been rendered helpless by legal rigmaroles and corruption. Ministry of Information? It is at the end of its tenure! ISPR? It is concerned, but can’t take direct action. So our cultural and intellectual borders are almost open to the tactics of our ‘friends’: Modi and Co. Hot wars are mostly out of fashion but cold wars through economy and culture are in, and more effective. Golden opportunity for invaders to exploit. India has completely banned Pakistan actors, and shows. A Pakistani is not even allowed to participate in a seminar. Muneeza Hashmi was recently sent back. Let us look at what is happening: A few days ago a friend visited me from a major city of central Punjab and was telling me about the arrangements of the marriage of his friend’s son. While discussing arrangements the bridegroom asked ‘when do we take ‘pharey’?’ My friend had a big laugh because ‘Pherey’ is a typical Hindu custom during marriage ceremony. Groom and bride take rounds around fire while traditional ‘Ashloke’ for the success are recited by the Hindu priest. I could not laugh. I cannot blame the ‘bridegroom’ either. This is what the groom had learned through the media he watched in Pakistan. According to PEMRA website there are 77 licensed TV channels. There may be more if the site is updated. Under the license they can show a total of 10 percent foreign content of which six percent can be Indian. There are 79 channels operated by cable operators ‘without license’! It is a free for all there. These unlicensed channels can do whatever they find popular, sensational and seductive. PEMRA has no control. The terrestrial, official channel, PTV, can only be heard snoring. Its programming is dull and uninteresting and its officials couldn’t care less. Please estimate the size of exposure: 40 to 50 percent on 77 ‘legal channels’ and 100 percent on 79 illegal channels! The invasion Israel. It needs to be checked, analysed and stopped. It is affecting Pakistan’s economy and culture adversely. How is the economy affected? Let us understand it. The TV channels rely mostly on their revenues through advertisements. We are all familiar with the annoying announcement “Time to take a ‘short break’, stay with us”. The ‘break’ is usually longer than the clip of the program you have watched. The longer the breaks the happier the channel owner! The break brings in money which is the owner’s major concern. The ‘break’ shows advertisements which are mostly made in India and show Indian stars. The Pakistani producers, directors, technicians and actors are ignored. The sponsors pay through Dubai, get mass produced by Indian companies for two countries, make these available in Pakistan and TV channels accept these happily. Adverts are repeated endlessly; Indian faces become household names. Pakistani companies lose their earnings and TV screen is ‘refaced’ by replacing Pakistani faces with Indian faces. Local advertisement producers lose business and the Pakistan government loses tax revenue. There is no law that addresses this problem and Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA) is not provided with any effective law to check this ‘invasion’. Morality? Who cares when money can be made? Who cares if Pakistani producer loses the opportunity, and actor loses the much needed finances. The business of TV advertisers and the channels is to make money, the more the better. Social responsibility is not relevant. It is easy for the advertiser to buy commercials from the bulk made in India at a low cost and release it to local TV channels. The actual ‘program mix’ of the legal channels, as mentioned earlier, is far from within the terms of the license. Most major channels, with the exception of perhaps only one, average 45 percent foreign content is in violation of the conditions of contract. It happens in the prime viewing time, leaving little or no room for Pakistani productions. So again, exposure to Pakistani faces, issues, social conditions and culture, is replaced by the Indian. It has cultural effects, economic effects and something further. In the international market, traditionally, Pakistani drama was rented from stores and it competed with Indian films. In several instances, the Pakistani drama was preferred on the merit of good acting and good subjects. The Indian invasion intends to change the situation and make the Indian subject and faces so familiar to foreign customer that it accepts the Indian drama because of a short supply of new Pakistani drama. Where is our sense of honour, dignity, and patriotism? Is it sold for easy money? Or are we willing to develop the Pakistan industry? Surely the market will expand, quality will improve and viewership enlarged if you concentrate on home products, rationalise pay structure, invest in training, acquire equipment and provide exposure opportunity. Government provided protection to so many industries like sugar, cotton, agriculture, cars and so on. Why is it not done to the production industry of showbiz? Government recently declared film making as an ‘industry’. Does this mean that it will be allowed same support and financing opportunity as provided to other industries like sugar, cotton and steel? Government must recognise the needs of media production requirements. The situation is alarming. Recently a production company which produced seven serials last year was constrained to produce only three and therefore downsized itself by relieving many employees and disengaging contract workers. Surely the market will expand, quality will improve and viewership will grow if you concentrate on the local industry, rationalise pay structure, invest in training, acquire equipment and provide exposure There is need for all concerned to analyse the issues and develop a rationalised program for all types of productions for the TV industry. It includes advertising, drama, music and other shows. The prime time must be exclusively reserved for Pakistani productions. In the prime time, which is 7 pm to 11 pm, no foreign productions should be shown. Drama serials need special attention. The dramas are seen by the members of the families at home. These should be aimed at making the masses aware of the social issues and cultural values of the people of Pakistan. It is different from seeing a film in the cinema house where the ticket is purchased with the conscious intent and the viewers are different from a family at home. TV production is a subject in which social psychologists should be actively consulted and the scripts developed with a sense of social responsibility to educate, inform and reform. Language and content should be given adequate consideration. Old systems adopted by Radio Pakistan and early PTV days have lot to learn from. Messages and content presented on a strong medium like TV is similar to entering someone’s home and talking to the inmates. It needs to be disciplined. ‘Strangers’ should not enter without permission. Indian values should be treated as ‘strangers’. If we do not allow the crossing of physical borders without check then we should also be vigilant about what enters homes and minds of the populace. So far it looks like an open invitation to pollute. The so called ‘current affairs’ programs are filled with bickering that creates poor example of politicians. Language is distorted. So called ‘entertainment’ programs are Indian. What are we providing to the people who sit at home? Some attempts by PEMRA to correct the situation have been either half-hearted or got stalled by legal procedures. There needs to be a serious review of all aspects and educationists, social scientists, serious creative individuals, writer, actors, producers and lawmakers must be engaged to develop a firm policy. The channel owners, advertisers must also be consulted. But illegal channels must be done away with, and their blackmail must be faced. If there are responsible cable operators then they should perform under an appropriate license. Other than the long term measures suggested above, immediate short term measures should be taken to strictly implement the current PEMRA laws and terms of licenses. It will be necessary that courts take cognisance of the urgency of the matter and avoid providing loop holes by extending long ‘stay orders’ in cases of violations of existing PEMRA laws. A ray of hope has been seen in a recent court decision but it is limited to the period of Ramazan. Long term measures are needed. It seems finally the matter will be solved by conscientious courts. 100 percent programming of unlicensed cable channels and 50 percent of licensed channels is feeding Indian/foreign programming into Pakistani homes. Is it slow poisoning or fast enough to destroy the national fabric? We all have to take cognisance and check, may it be civil or armed ‘establishment’, civil society or justice system. Please hear the wakeup call. The writer is Pakistani theatre, film and television actor, scholar, public speaker, columnist, teacher and dramatist Published in Daily Times, May 25th 2018.