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Wednesday, 18 December, 2002, 22:35 GMT
Pakistan's billboard ban
Cinema billboard in Peshawar
Cinema billboards form part of Peshawar's street scene

The decision by the government of Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) to prohibit cinema houses from displaying huge billboards is being labelled as another blow to the cinema industry and painters associated with it.

The decision by the religious parties' alliance government has particularly upset painters like Nadeem Sharif.

A billboard painter creates a hoarding
It is the painters who have the most to lose with the move
"I cried when I heard the news about the government decision to ban billboards," he told the BBC.

Nadeem, who has spent all his working life painting huge film star billboards said: "I can't do anything else. All I did in my life was paint large billboards."

Deadlines

However, a senior police official has said action against the "pornographic" billboards at city cinema houses was taken under Motion Pictures laws and the ban would remain effective for an indefinite period.

The Senior Superintendent of Police in Peshawar, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed Marwat, said a 48-hour deadline was given to all cinema owners to remove objectionable billboards.

My cinema has never screened anything that would be called obscene

Arshad Rabnawaz
"We are enforcing the government agenda," he said.

The Peshawar police appeared to have overstepped the laws by also removing non-objectionable billboards.

Dr Marwat said: "I cannot go into details, but since there is a religious-minded government the police have to enforce its agenda - whatsoever, it is."

He said a similar drive against video shops would also be launched and explained that no poster showing western or Indian movie stars in objectionable poses would be tolerated.

Not fully implemented

But he denied any arrests had been made in connection with the drive against billboards.

However, the Peshawar police are not implementing the ban in its entirety.
A painter holds a giant gun he produced
A painter holds a giant gun he produced

There is some selectivity about the policy, as a few cinema houses were allowed to show a single billboard showing an angry hero with a Kalashnikov rifle.

Dr Marwat, however, said no-one would be allowed to take laws into their own hands.

He was referring to unconfirmed reports that some district heads who support the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal party, were conducting raids to remove audio players from buses and video-shops.

"There will be total anarchy if everyone does what they want to do. We will disallow this," Dr Marwat warned.

The MMA government's so-called steps to Islamise NWFP would prove costly to the motion picture business.

Losses

Cinema manager, Arshad Rabnawaz said: "It will have a bad effect on cinema business in the province."

He feared a 50% loss in cinema business was expected because of the government's action - taken on Monday.

"We demand that the ban on display billboards should immediately be lifted," Mr Rabnawaz said.

He added that the move would not remove obscenity because "influential" cinema houses continued to screen pornographic and Indian movies.

"My cinema has never screened anything that would be called obscene," he explained.

Najibullah, a cinema-goer, had mixed reactions to the ban on billboards.

"How will you know what this movie is all about?" he asked.

Skilled

He continued: "It's also good because the big-sized billboards are some 50 feet high and have a negative effect on the younger generation."

However, skilled people who make these billboards are feeling the impact of the MMA's Islamisation drive.

"I am robbed of my job," said Nadeem Sharif, who learnt the art of making billboards from his father.

Nadeem has been working with Arshad cinema since he was a child and makes 25,000 Rupees ($430) for making one set of billboards.

"Now I will get 25 Rupees a day ($0.43). Will it feed my family?" he asked - and promptly answered: "Not at all."

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

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