Digital Media Freedom In Pakistan Remains Weak : Report

During 2020-21, Pakistan’s digital media freedom status remained poor due to regulatory pressure and threats of violence against online speech.

At the same time, the general public was subjected to high levels of online misinformation, including false statements regarding Covid-19’s origins and treatment, putting their health and safety in jeopardy.

The crux of the report was an examination of digital media regulations in Pakistan, which found that “the government’s attempts to control the internet and social media would curb freedom of expression and reduce opportunities for local competition.” The Institute for Research, Advocacy, and Development (IRADA) published it in conjunction with the International Internet Day on October 29.

According to the study, while Pakistan showed minimal progress in internet access and usage during the worldwide pandemic, the government’s enforcement of contentious rules to control online content and its plan for converged media regulation through a centralized regulator threatened journalists’ and internet users’ digital freedoms.

Individuals exposed to high amounts of online misinformation

The final report, which was produced by the MRA’s Digital Freedom Working Group, includes 140 pages of findings and recommendations. The objective of the collection is to provide a thorough analysis of the country’s digital rights situation, according to Mohammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director of THEIDA.

“We hope the study will provide relevant stakeholders, such as journalists, digital rights advocates, human rights defenders, and lawmakers, with a single guide to the issues surrounding digital media freedoms. It may help them develop tactics for overcoming the barriers to digital freedom in their country and establishing a progressive and secure enabling environment for digital media.”

The aim of the project is to contribute to the effective and ethical use of online spaces by educating local journalists about digital media rights, which include access, online freedoms, privacy, legal framework, and judicial actions.

During 2020-21, Pakistan’s journalists were assaulted with abuse, discrimination, and organized campaigns on social media to malign and discredit their work, according to the document. Simultaneously, people of all ages were subjected to high levels of internet disinformation, including fraudulent claims about Covid-19 origin and treatment that put their health and safety in jeopardy.

Even though internet connectivity and affordability showed small improvements, the digital divide harmed women, religious minorities, and other disenfranchised groups during the pandemic.

Although Pakistan’s overall score improved from 25 in 2020 to 26 in 2021, the country’s ranking on internet freedoms dropped from 26 to 25 points in 2021. Despite recommendations from digital rights organizations, the federal government’s data protection bill remained stuck at the draft stage, according to the report.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India’s latest survey found that the telecom regulator has taken enforcement steps against social media applications on moral and decency grounds.

Women’s allegations of cyber harassment have also grown during the epidemic. The study also noted Pakistani court rulings that supported the importance of free speech and privacy.

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