The Pakistan Digital Editors Alliance (PDEA) condemned on Friday the suspension of mobile internet services across the country, calling on the government to remove the ban.
In an official statement, the PDEA, which comprises editors from leading digital newsrooms, expressed concerns that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s extreme measure “impinged on the basic civil liberties”. They demanded the ban be lifted immediately.
Mobile internet services were blocked Tuesday evening by the PTA following the arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan. The opposition leader was arrested from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the Al-Qadir Trust case; widespread protests ensued, with hundreds of PTI supporters gathering in major cities and street demonstrations turning violent.
With protests gaining momentum countrywide, mobile internet was completely suspended and access to leading social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube was blocked by the government.
“The internet blackout adds to everyone’s anxiety at a depressing and stressful time with so much uncertainty,” said PDEA Convener Mahim Maher. “So many people who need the internet to earn are cut off and not being connected puts other people’s safety at risk.”
Maher’s statement painted an alarming picture of how the suspension impacted digital newsrooms, where majority operations are determined by internet connectivity.
“The media is unable to do its basic job of keeping people informed, which is a core requirement for any democracy,” the editor said. “But most of all this eats into newsroom revenue for an already struggling industry.”
The PDEA statement is also a reminder that the world is progressing towards advanced technology such as Generative AI, while people in Pakistan — an economy already in a downward spiral — are being stripped of their basic right to internet access.
“Google is launching Bard and AI generative searches and here we are catapulted back to the pre-dial up dark ages.”
The ban was roundly condemned by civil society organisations and the business community, saying “blanket [internet] shutdowns undermine constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms”.
On Friday evening, however, the PTA confirmed that mobile internet was being restored across the country. Shortly after the announcement, mobile data services started coming back online, though users still complained of slow internet speed and inability to access leading social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube.
Note: The Pakistan Digital Editors Alliance (PDEA) is a recent initiative comprising editors, journalists, and representatives from leading media organisations. It aims to address the challenges faced by Pakistan’s news industry as digital evolution redefines conventional journalism and news consumption; help newsrooms become more economically sound and sustainable; and promote independent journalism.