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Innovation Key To Counter Censorship And Surveillance In Pakistan: Experts

According to a recently published report by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), Pakistan needs innovation to counter growing censorship and surveillance.

The report titled ‘#speakup barometer’ is a DW Akademie project that examines the connection between digital participation, freedom of expression and access to information in five thematic areas: Access, Digital Rights, Media and Journalism, Innovation and Society.

DW reached out to several Pakistani journalists, academics, scholars, and experts to evaluate Pakistan’s performance in the five thematic areas. Here are the key findings:

Access – to the Internet and Digital World

According to the report, double taxation and frequent shutdowns limit digital participation in Pakistan.

Linked Things CEO Sophia Hasnain said that there are several things that hinder access to the internet. For example, telecommunication companies cannot operate in certain areas like Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. “Commercial operations are not allowed in those areas on the pretext of national security.”

Bytes for All Director Shahzad Ahmad said that the government needs to educate people about the digital age and how to tackle misinformation. “To enable more an inclusive digital society or knowledge-based economy in the country, both the private Telecom companies and the government need to do a lot more.”

Digital Rights – Work in Progress

Digital Rights experts told DW that vague laws and lack of transparency pose major threats to digital rights in Pakistan.

Bolo Bhi founder Fareiha Aziz said that several journalists are summoned by cybercrime agencies who say that the journalists have shared anti-state content on the internet. “There have also been detentions and arrests for ‘defaming’ and carrying out propaganda against state institutions,” she says, adding that all of it is quite ‘intimidating’.

Digital Rights lawyer Nighat Dad said: “There isn’t much awareness around digital safety. Journalists’ data safety is linked with media organization’s policies and we see that there is neither awareness nor a will to take the digital safety of journalists seriously.”

To counter the violation of digital rights, experts recommended transparency in the application of Internet laws open governance.

Media and Journalism – On Brink Of Digital Transition But Lacking Business Model

Experts told DW that the government was turning its attention towards censorship of digital media.

Journalist Raza Rumi said that digital content is affected by the same kind of censorship seen in the traditional media. “The sustainable future of journalism in Pakistan is all about civic initiatives by journalists and citizens, running on volunteer contributors as well as small donations by users.”

Journalist Jahanzaib Haque also backed Rumi’s statement saying that Pakistan’s mainstream media was not free and that is reflected in the digital space as well.

DW also cited Naya Daur’s report on electronic media’s business model: Electronic media’s doomsday has arrived. Will newsrooms and journalists adapt to meet this challenge?

Society – Fake News And Lack Of Media Literacy

Experts revealed that there was a lack of media literacy among the masses, and most of the digital space was filled with ‘bigotry’.

Journalist Marvi Sirmed told DW that if one does not agree with traditional normal on digital media, he/she is subjected to abuse. “If you disagree with traditional views on religion and politics, you face abuse on social media. That actually becomes a deterrent for people who want to express their opinions online.”

She also said that for young women to have a social media account is also considered taboo in many cases.

Innovation – Enthusiasm Peaking But Lack Of Sustainable Digital Participation Initiatives Yet

Newsroom innovator Shaheryar Popalzai said that there was a lot of room to innovate. He said that newsroom journalists did not have proper tools e.g. augmented reality to play with and were still use old laptops and cellphones.

Digital Entrepreneur Saad Hamid said that Pakistan has great potential for innovation. “Of the 200 million people living in Pakistan, 120 million are under the age of 30. Media groups are screaming at each other on Twitter, they do not understand the potential of youth and how to utilize it.”

To promote innovation, experts said that building capacity in newsrooms and education, training and research were key.

Read the full report: Speakup Barometer Pakistan

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