Ban on Hamza Ali Abbasi: What’s the future of TV programming in Pakistan?



Ramazan transmissions seem to generate a new controversy every year but we can safely assume that they have reached an all-time low, given the death threats being issued on live TV.

A couple of years ago, there was huge outcry when the undisputed king of Ramazan transmissions — Aamir Liaquat Hussain — decided that giving away babies was  a good idea. This year, he decided to star in his own mini movie version of Waar and took part in some crass mime about a suicide.

Quite rightly, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority (Pemra) issued Geo a notice asking for an explanation. What any of this has got to do with the holy month of fasting is anyone’s guess; but these shows get ratings and because before iftar there is some kind of religious bent to the programme, we all sit back, accepting that this is the best it’s going to get.

Following threats, PEMRA puts a lid on Hamza Ali Abbasi’s Ramazan transmission.


Screengrab from Ramazan transmission.

Anyone who doubts that statement needs to look no further than the way actor Hamza Ali Abbasi has been banned by Pemra from hosting his Ramazan show on a local channel.

Hamza is well-known for his outspoken views on politics or anything else he feels strongly about. Unafraid of controversy, his Facebook posts is the stuff of legends: taking stands against item dances, thanking the Afghan Taliban, and criticising Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, to name a few.

He was also one of the few people who brought up the issue of starving children in drought stricken Thar and one of the few demanding justice for the abused children of Kasur. The one time culture secretary for PTI is a populist, whose millions of fans love him not just for his role asPyarey Afzal but the way he seems to stand up for what they perceive as traditional values.

There is nothing the Pakistani public loves more than a Kharra Banda, one who speaks his mind and says hang the consequences. Couple this with his film star good looks and his celebrity status has reached iconic levels.

Hamza started hosting Ramazan Hamara Eman with the promise that he would raise the tone of his show, that he would actually discuss subjects that were relevant to current issues, helping to both inform and educate.

His promise to open a discussion about why the Ahmadiyya community has been declared non-Muslim and touch on Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws was met with undisguised menace.

It is easy to treat those we agree with well, how we treat those who differ with us is the true test of both our patience and our tolerance. In a sweeping move, Pemra has banned both Shabbir Abu Talib — host of TV One’s Ramazan transmission during which Hamza was harshly criticsed — and Hamza from their respective shows.

Right and wrong are not equal, inciting violence and hosting a discussion forum are two entirely different things and should not be lumped in the same category. One of the basic principles of any free society is the ability to disagree with each other respectfully. No one had to agree with anything Hamza said they just had to listen and put their own argument forward.

As with any individual we cannot always agree with everything Hamza says but he, and more importantly the topics he wanted to discuss merited at least a hearing. His courage in addressing these issues deserves the support of every reasonable individual. How is a society that cannot even tolerate a simple discussion about minority rights or the misuse of blasphemy laws going to find a solution to these problems?

So let us enjoy the mindless tafree or entertainment that the maulana sahab has recommended for us and leave the thinking to him and his ilk. This is how power is consolidated in a small group of people, because they are the only ones permitted to negotiate it. This is how agency is snatched from free people. Just as in ancient Rome, meaningless spectacles and games were set up to distract the masses while the real decisions are taken behind closed doors.