Reeled In

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The Caravan: July 1, 2016

A rash of film bans portends rising censorship in Pakistan

On the evening of 5 May, I joined about two-dozen people at a small private venue in Karachi, to watch a film we were not supposed to watch. Security was tight. The attendees—mostly journalists, activists and filmmakers—had all been told of the event only a day earlier, and we were asked to show our national identity cards while entering the building, through a rear exit. Before the screening, one of the film’s directors laid down two strict rules: no photographs, no social media.

The film being shown was Among the Believers, a documentary that profiles Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of an extremist network with links across the country. The film shows how the government’s failure to provide basic services for its people enables radical clerics to gain thousands of followers by offering free food, education and healthcare.

On 25 April, ten days before the secret screening, Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors, or CBFC, had banned the film. The directors, Mohammed Ali Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi, asked the CBFC to review the ban, but the body rejected their appeal, saying Among the Believers contained dialogue that projected a “negative image of Pakistan in the context of ongoing fighting against extremism and terrorism.”

The Pakistani government has sporadically banned films over the last few years, but until now the targets of such censorship have mostly been Bollywood movies (last year, for example, Neerja and Phantom were banned). But when it comes to local cinema, censors have tended to be more permissive, recommending excisions instead of outright bans. Recently, however, this has changed. Among the Believers is one of three Pakistani films banned over a two-week period this spring. These bans, which targeted content deemed anti-Pakistani, point to a growing censorship of the country’s film industry, and the state’s tightening grip on freedom of expression.

Full story here

Photo: Still from Besieged in Quetta

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Making a mark

The Herald: Cover story, December 2011

Making a mark

Defacement or censorship in international publications

British GQ’s September issue features a portfolio of images by photographer Mario Testino, including portrait of supermodel Gisele Bündchen. You are denied a comparatively innocuous glimpse of the curve of Bündchen’s breast – it has been scribbled over with black marker.

The director of distributor Liberty Books’ magazine division, Jamil Hussain, explains that this process, which the company refers to as “defacing”, is carried out by buyers in the U.S. and U.K.. Liberty, who supplies an estimated 95% of the market in Pakistan, is responsible for the purchase and distribution of 250 titles ranging from GQ, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health and Esquire to Harvard Business Review, Time, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest and The Economist across Pakistan. With magazines such as Maxim, which promises “scantily clad cover models and plenty of revealing photo layouts,” Liberty has what Hussain refers to as a “standing order” from the Pakistani Press Information Department (PID) and Customs to ensure that “nothing sexually explicit and anti-Islamic” makes its way into the local market. International buyers approach publishers such as Conde Nast on behalf of Liberty Books, acquiring magazines that are subsequently checked for images that would not pass the litmus test of the market’s sensibilities – Pakistan or the Middle East, for instance. In warehouses in London and New York, black marker-wielding employees restore the modesty of the scantily clad models.

Link to PDF of full article

Link to full article on Herald site