Social media and the Imran regime



By Wasib Imdad

One thing is for sure that the social media needs to be regulated but in a manner compliant to the international laws of digital media regulations and freedom of expression. Pakistani society, however, is not alien to laws, more laws and its misuse as per the whims and wishes of the power holders.

Media and those in the government have shared an uneasy relationship in the past 7 decades. Media is the natural ally of the opposition thus has always been subject to suppression, oppression and cut outs. Since the IK government taking over, media has seen new heights in terms of the lows with censorship, coverage blackouts, downsizing, salary cuts and mismanagement of governmental ads being in the headlines thus resulting in monetary mismanagement within the organisations. Throughout the first one and a half year media was told to fix their business model, cut their staff, impose salary cuts and put themselves in line with the digital day and age. As soon as we find big media guns finding solace in the digital media particularly starting with their YouTube channels and showing a mirror to the one and a half year of mis-governance, the government pulls out a new brain child, Citizen Protection rules 2020, in order to silence the dissenting voices in the digital anatomy. It could be framed as you want to; you can call it a sword to silence all or you can term it a way to structure and put things to ease.

As per the latest, government has asked the social media conglomerates to set up their offices in Pakistan within the space of three months. The companies would have to obtain fresh licences and pay adherence to the latest terms and conditions imposed by the Pakistani government. They would have a time of 24 hours to act upon the complaint for the content removal that would be termed unlawful by the authorities. 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.”

The move isn’t uncalled for. While social media is finding its space in the Pakistani fraternity and people are yet learning to use the digital sites for much more than just tools for entertainment, this may be the right time to demarcate certain dos and don’ts. The step is aimed to regulate the digital media which currently seems to be going out of bounds. Where there is the right to free speech, there also are rights to privacy, repute and honor. For now, what we see is honor and reputes being tore apart by social media identities that are not so easily traceable and are lost in the masqueraded populous. There seems, absolutely, no check and balance, no fear of being answerable and it is the general public that is corrupted, conned and made to suffer.

Just recall the recent incident of Fawad Chaudhary getting into a fight with a journalist who made frivolous claims about the minister in his YouTube channel. Just think why a journalist having his TV show almost daily chose the forum of YouTube to settle his personal scores by making those claims? The answer is because the forum demands no proof and any content aired is not put to question. Contrary to other media outlets where record is kept and can be dug out, social media pages could be easily deleted, changed, renamed or said that the ID which posted the objectionable content was ‘hacked’.

One more thing to battle out is the dilemma of fake news. For the purpose of garnering attention, getting likes, shares and subscribers, also known as the digital oxygen, people go beyond all sort of moral and actual barriers and post all sorts of news. Recently over the death of Naeem-ul-Haq, a Journalist associated with the VOA, Mubashir Zaidi, posted a tweet which infuriated the PTI fan base. He when contacted said that it wasn’t his actual ID and never in his wildest dreams could he think of posting such a ridiculing tweet over someone’s death. Luckily his friends amongst the media figures over here helped him cleanse off the rubble fired at him by the, ready-to-go, PTI social media brigade.

Let’s just understand that where the laws are necessary, it is also mandatory to ensure that the regulations aren’t misused and personal whims aren’t placed over to target those who are in actuality only doing their job of informing the public. It must only remain to curb fake news, hate speech and protect personal privacy, dignity and repute. It must not target those who expose scandals, bring stories of misuse of power, authority or funds based on facts.

The laws in place must be laid down before the parliament and should be debated upon extensively. Pakistan is already a barren land in terms of job opportunities for young force coming into the market from universities twice every year. Social media has brought them jobs, increased the foreign remittances and has eased the lives of many searching for platforms to market their content. The hi-tech companies see Pakistan as an evolving, aware and a lucrative market. It is the effort of Imran Khan who has worked a lot on marketing the country’s soft power internationally. Digital force cannot be stopped with a chain made of human hands thus we must ensure that our country at no cost appears to be a dictatorial and suppressive, as in the past, rather a flexible and a welcoming one.

The writer is an Islamabad based Broadcast Journalist. He tweets @wasib25