TV Censorship, the Pakistani Way

When I arrived in Pakistan, there was not much to do in the evenings, but to sit in the guesthouse, read a bit or watch TV. It struck me I would regularly get a test picture on the TV screen, you know, the colour patterns. Like there was some kind of technical problem at the TV station.

Sometimes, hours would go by, and all was fine, and other times, the test picture would appear every couple of minutes. It would happen seemingly at random, no matter if it was a movie, a TV series or a documentary they showed.. It was a mystery to me.

After a while, I figured out that the test pictures appeared each time there was a 'sensitive' scene, where a bit of 'flesh' or some male/female intimacy was shown. Be it a lady in a short skirt, a person undressing (even taking off a shirt), people kissing,... I thought that could not be a coincidence! It was real funny, and really frustrating in some TV shows like 'Silk Stalkings'. You know, those pseudo detective series where all the 'good guys' are longlegged shortskirted young ladies. There was so much 'fleshy' stuff going on, the test screen would be shown every 10 seconds or so. Even during the intro-scene:
One of the longlegged-shortskirted-good-guys got out of a car and BLOOP. One of the longlegged-shortskirted-good-guys leaned forward a bit and showed a hint of bra, BLOOP. One of the longlegged-shortskirted-good-guys kissed their boyfriend and BLOOP.

Each time during the BLOOP, the test screen was shown on TV, and the sound was cut for a couple of seconds, sometimes for minutes. Irritating! Made me loose track of the story.

It was a mystery how this was done. I thought they must have a sophisticated digital code somewhere in the TV signal that said 'BLOOP NOW'... I got intrigued by it all, and watched more carefully.
Hmm, there seemed to be some variations... Sometimes french kisses were not blooped. Or sometimes even kisses on the cheek were blooped. Other times, just showing a bit of an unbuttoned shirt was enough to bloop, and other times, people could get away walking around in their underwear and not get blooped.

One time, I think it was when they showed 'Pretty Woman', some pretty interesting scenes, were not blooped at all. Shocking! Shocking! I mean, I was outraged! A scandal!

Anyway, I did not understand. Until one day, one of my friends went to the TV studio for some work, and unraveled the secret:
In the TV studio, there is one room with some ladies sitting in a row. Each lady was monitoring one TV channel only. Each had two screens and one big button in front of her. One screen showed the TV-signal as they picked it up from satellite or from a tape, that was the input. The lady would push her big red button when 'bad scene' happened. This is when the 'BLOOP' would appear on the output. They monitored the second screen for the TV-signal they were actually broadcasting, to ensure a BLOOP was actually transmitted.

It was clear that some ladies were very strict, and did not allow for any 'flesh', while others were more relaxed about it all. My friend told me that some ladies pushed the 'red button' rather hesitantly, while others were really banging the thing with a big smack. 'Nah, bad, bad, bad, bad! Here, take this. Blaff!'.
As there was no replacement for the 'censor'-girls when they needed to go to the bathroom, either their button was blocked, transmitting a continuous BLOOP, or they just left it 'as it was'.

I guess that time 'Pretty Woman' got aired, either the lady fell asleep, got sick in the bathroom, or maybe got paid to transmit it all. :-)

There are rumours that a technician once patched the red buttons in the studio, and wired a VCR to it, so that all 'blooped' scenes were automatically taped. Afterwards, the juicy scenes were sold on the black market for big bucks... Just rumours of course !

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