July 16, 2019

Annual publication tracking challenges to media and digital freedoms launched

ISLAMABAD: Media Matters for Democracy has launched its annual publication assessing the challenges to media and digital freedoms during the year 2018.

The report touches upon various issues including violent and regulatory  actions against the media, online censorship,  right to information regime, disinformation, internet disconnections, data protection and legislative developments related to the cyberspace.

According to Media Matters for Democracy Programs Director Sadaf Khan, “This brief overview of the election year has been compiled as a quick reference point for journalists and advocates alike.”

According to the report, Media Matters for Democracy documented at least 51 incidents of threats, attacks, and
restrictions against journalists and the news media in Pakistan in 2018. It noted: “Independent journalism was challenged time and again in Pakistan in 2018 in  increasingly severe and troubling ways. The fact that it was election year made the curbs on critical reporting and distribution of news even more sinister and damaging.”

The publication also noted with concern the surge of online disinformation during the election year. While tracking different measures to counter it, it observed that “it looks as if there were not enough efforts to understand the scope and impact of these disinformation campaigns on Pakistan during 2018.”

On Right to Information laws, the report noted that the year 2018 was  significant for Pakistan’s national and  sub-national RTI regimes.  It added: “The longstanding demands of RTI advocates were finally  granted when governments in the centre, Punjab, and Sindh appointed commissioners to lead their respective RTI commissions. The commissioners now need the support of the government in the form of operating budgets, office space, and administrative backing  for them to meaningfully improve the RTI implementation situation. ”

On network shutdowns, the publication observed that during the year 2018, there were some positive developments that indicated the  willingness of different stakeholders to understand the implications of network shutdowns on citizens. However, some developments also indicated that, at some level,  the government bodies continued to resist efforts for discontinuation of the policy of suspending cellular services.

On the legal front, the report stated: “During the year 2018, no significant piece of legislation related to cyberspace was passed  by the parliament. However, the Federal and provincial governments introduced multiple  digital policies, dealing with different aspects of technology. The government has expressed its intent to improve the internet access even in small villages and towns in some of these policies. It is yet to been if the government will be able to keep up with the promises made and ensure that more Pakistanis have access to internet in the year 2019.”

To read the full publication, follow the link here.

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