On January 28, the Pakistani cabinet approved the “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020,” a set of regulations on social media content, without public consultation and the measures were enacted in secret.
A copy of the regulations, which was leaked online, shows that the rules empower the government to fine or ban social media platforms over their user’s content. These severe but vague rules approved by Pakistan’s federal cabinet, intimidate the already dwindling independence of journalists, to report the news and communicate with their sources.
Years of Damned Press and Doomed Journalism
At least seven journalists were reportedly murdered and 60 booked under anti-terrorism and other laws last year as media in Pakistan continued to face extreme pressure as revealed by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) in its Pakistan Media Freedom Report 2019.
The report says that although Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee freedom of expression and free media, media in Pakistan continued to come under strict forms of physical intimidation during the year 2019.
Even though there is a specific law on defamation, the government and other actors used the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and Pakistan Penal Code’s (criminalization) sections against media practitioners in Pakistan, it says.
Raising objections over the role of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), the CPNE report says that in 2019 the media regulator not only issued notices to TV channels but also barred some anchorpersons from offering opinions on talk shows. The media was also ordered not to discuss the issue pertaining to release of PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif on bail. TV channels were directed not to cover live telecast of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz’s press conference. Pemra issued notices to 21 TV channels for non-compliance.
News channel 24 News was served notice on the complaint of the Prime Minister and Pemra imposed a fine of Rs1 million on the news channel the report said CPNE report further shared that by using anti-terror and other laws at least 60 journalists were booked under Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 in 35 cases which included 50 journalists from Sindh province alone.
Journalists were booked under allegations of Bhatta Khori kidnapping for ransom police encounters attempted murder and blackmailing. Whereas the journalists alleged that they were victimized owing to their fair reporting against the authorities.
Jihadi Non state Shareholders
According to the above report, mysterious and unidentified actors pose the biggest threat to press freedom. Among the threats to the lives of journalists are non-state actors and outlawed militant groups, which happens in consonance with state authorities. The pathetic state of unannounced impunity for those who attack the media can be derived from the fact that not a single killer or attacker of media persons has been brought to justice.
According to official versions, at least seven journalists were murdered and 15 others injured in 2019 in the line of duty. Five of the seven fallen journalists have been identified as Urooj Iqbal, Mirza Wasim Baig, Mohammad Bilal Khan, Ali Sher Rajpar and Malik Amanullah Khan.
The pathetic state of unannounced impunity, for those who attack the media, can be perceived from the fact that not a single killer or attacker of journalists and media persons was probed, let alone brought to justice.
Draconian new Law to assist Prosecution and Bribery
The regulations, issued by the federal government on Wednesday, empower authorities to fine or ban social media platforms over their users’ content. Companies such as Facebook (which owns WhatsApp), Twitter and Google (which owns YouTube) will be required to remove within 24 hours content Pakistani authorities deem “unlawful.”
Specifically, the companies are tasked with providing decrypted content and “any other information” about users accused of posting “blasphemous” material or content “related to terrorism, extremism, hate speech, defamation, fake news, incitement to violence and national security.”
These regulations will require social media giants to establish representative offices in Pakistan within three months and appoint a point person to answer complaints filed by relevant government officials.
Pakistani authorities, under the new regulations, will be empowered to block services and levy fines of up to $3.24 million. It is feared that this shall lead to extortion as well as bribery, while factual reporting shall take a backseat.
Chinese Media Management
For 02 months every year, starting 2016, China’s foreign ministry has hosted around hundred foreign journalists from leading media houses in Asia and Africa. They have been given the red-carpet treatment: apartments in one of Beijing’s plush residences, the Jianguomen Diplomatic Compound, where a two-bedroom apartment costs 22,000 Yuan (Rs 2.4 lakh), a 5,000 Yuan monthly stipend for some (Rs 50,000) and free tours twice-every-month to different Chinese provinces. They are also given language classes and at the end of the programme, they are given degrees in international relations from a Chinese university.
In case of Pakistan, they have kept the matter in hands of Bajwa, who has been foxy in implementing Xi Xinping’s desires, especially in preventing correct analysis of CPEC and related abuse of Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Kashmir and Sind. It is since 2017 that this crackdown on independent journalism has picked up unprecedented gore, experts say.
Local and international civil liberties advocates have denounced the regulations as a heavy handed attempt to curb fact finding, silence political opposition and curtail freedom of expression in Pakistan.
In a statement, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) criticized the Pakistani government for enacting “in secret” the social media regulatory measures, demanding they should immediately be rolled back.
Pakistan is playing the Xi’s game of creating a blanket on facts of “going on” in the world and on its designs in CPEC. When China pushes its CPEC economic overdrive and begins with process of economically dictating Pakistan aka economic colonization of Pakistan, it wants the regulated media falsities to be spread in a coherent fashion. This shall ensure the fact of Pakistan working for the Chinese economy does not come to fore, in front of its population.
This will be fought by people of Pakistan, in one way or the other, however, the downward spiral to ethical journalism in Pakistan is state initiated, and is likely to go from bad to worse in future.
20 Feb 20/Thursday Written By: Fayaz