Media Censorship: Pakistan or Nazi Germany?

The Nazi pursuit of complete censorship began in 1933, ending only when the regime fell. Although many in the twenty-first century would like to believe that such extreme censorship is a thing of the past; stark parallels can be taken between the Nazi regime and the Pakistani state, particularly regarding their love-hate relationship with the media.

Whilst Germany shed such suppression after the regime, it has been apparent throughout Pakistan’s turbulent history, transcending into present day.

Pakistan's history with censorship began in 1977, With General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law and Islamisation . Similar to pre-nazi Germany, the film industry was thriving. Films like Muala Jutt (1979) and Aina (1977), which played for 250 weeks, marked a cinematic golden age. Zia, mirroring Joseph Geobbel, revoked the censorship certificate of all films and imposed bureaucratic restrictions similar to the Nazis, tanking fresh ideas and investment. Just like in the 1930’s, many filmmakers fled Pakistan. However this Nazi-esque ideology did not fizzle out after the fall of Zia’s regime, with movies such as Zindagi Tamsha (2019) and Slackistan being banned for touching on topics crucial to state narratives.




Censorship isn't limited to the film industry, with policing extending to publications and academics, who are often silenced for criticising the state or army. Almost 100 books were banned in Punjab for containing “Anti-Pakistani content”. The Urdu version of Mohammad Hanif’s “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”, a comic-novel on Zia, was seized in a raid synonymous to Goebbels operations, and the infamous Nazi book burnings which removed any books going against the ideology of the regime.





Further parallels can be taken in propaganda pushed in the media. After Zia’s ban, filmmakers were naturally hesitant to produce anything that wouldn't be accepted, leading to an increase in patriotic films aligning with the regime's values. Such as Sargam (1979), where Hindus convert and lead the Islamic crusade. In 1990, International Guerrillas was released in response to Salman Rushdie’s infamous “Satanic Verses”, depicting the author as intent on corrupting muslims.





The Nazis sanctioned anti-semitic films, similar to ISPR sponsorship of favourable productions such as Ehd-e-wafa and Yalghaar. These films and dramas often end with the triumph of law-abiding Pakistani citizens who fulfill their duty to the state by either enrolling in the army, or humiliating/defeating Indians. It is interesting to note that by the 1940s the Nazis had sanctioned anti-semitic films, in the same way that the ISPR sanctions anti-India films.


Filmmakers under the Nazi regime found a loophole to tight censorship laws through positioning their scripts in fictional worlds. A similar strategy was followed in Pakistan, as the Pakistani film Chambaili (2013) became a success, which although included criticism of power structures and bureaucracy, was set in a fictional land, allowing it to sail through censorship checkpoints. Muala Jutt also managed to escape the ban for a few years, as the themes of proletarian struggle were cleverly hidden under larger ideas of patriotism and religiosity.



Media censorship in Pakistan is not without its hypocrisies. The ISPR recently banned a biscuit commercial for having dances, but allowed the release of the ISPR funded Kaaf Kungana which included a controversial and flashy item sequence because they were set to benefit from it. This is eerily similar to how the Nazi regime would allow certain films because of the success they would bring.

Resistance films were present under both regimes, but only made by those safe from their perils. Lotte Reiniger made anti-war films, but only after escaping Germany. Similarly, the Blood of Hussain (1980) shows perhaps the most explicit critique of the Zia regime, where a monkey dances in a uniform similar to the dictators. The film was released in the UK, and banned throughout Pakistan.



The monkey scene starts at 16:32, and is a must-watch.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, films under both regimes enforced gender roles by following the archetype of children-church-and-kitchen women. Women were portrayed as self-sacrificing and devoid of an independent personality. Working women were alienated from their children. Those that worked held positions such as teachers, doctors and models, whilst men were fitted into more controlling or political roles. Zia’s narrative of Chadar and Chardewari went beyond influencing attire, but women's position in society as well. Female PTV anchors were ordered to cover their heads, and adverts with females were restricted to avoid obscenity. The banning of a show such as Churails which does not conform the gender binary adhered to by the state shows how they do not allow any other discourse to exist.

This pushed the narrative of good women and bad women - good women displayed stereotypically patriarchal traits such as being sacrificial, virtuous, domesticated, loyal, religious, emotional and irrational. Similar to the Nazi’s, Zia imposed his ideologies through media, depicting perfect citizens in hopes that the population would follow suit.

It is worrying that parallels can be taken from a supposedly modern and democratic Pakistan, and a totalitarian regime that collapsed almost 80 years ago. From the implementation of censorship laws, to their loopholes and their influence, the similarities in the affairs of the state and media are undeniable between Pakistan and Nazi Germany.


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