The traditional media is no longer the sole means to expose government misconduct, as the social media is creating an “echo effect”, influencing government officials and sending the message of the common man across to the world without censorship, Ali Dayan Hasan, director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Pakistan, said on Saturday.
Speaking in a session titled “Human Rights and Social Media” on the second and last day of Pakistan-India Social Media Mela 2012, Hasan said the social media had made the job of rights groups easier.
“Policymakers have lost the power to curb information from being made public, as sometimes happens in the print and electronic media.”
Speaking from personal experience about journalist Saleem Shahzad, who was kidnapped and later killed, the HRW representative said he had “credible information” that the journalist had received multiple threats and was picked up by the Inter-Services Intelligence.
When he put this information on Twitter, it became a global story. Although the intelligence agency had been facing charges of whisking away people and subjecting them to torture, what made the difference on this occasion was that “this information was leaked in “real time”. Thus, the journalist’s kidnapping was already in public domain. The second noteworthy aspect was that Twitter gave a “reason” to the local media to highlight this information. When the locals discovered the journalist’s body, they were able to identify his picture from TV news.
Hasan said who killed the journalist still needed to be ascertained by an independent probe, which unfortunately had not taken place so far.
However, the HRW official said the incident showed the capacity of the social media to save the lives of journalists.
Citing recent examples of certain Arab countries, Hasan believed that the social media helped save many lives there.
Talking about the recent ban on Twitter in Pakistan, he said the ban was revoked immediately when the social media highlighted the development and it became part of the agenda of the talks between the American government and President Asif Ali Zardari, who was in the US at that time.
“On the flip side, however, the verification of information remains a problem on Twitter.” Hasan said another problem was that social media was being misused to malign “real people”. “So the best way is to block the troll.”
In another session titled ‘Twitter is the New Newsroom: the Changing Face of Journalism’, the speakers said Twitter was faster in providing information but it was riskier. They also noted that the social media could not replace the traditional media.
Bilal Lakhani, publisher of the Express Tribune, said he twice apologised for posting information on Twitter about the closure of a foreign bank in Pakistan and then an English newspaper, as both turned out to be wrong.
Indian journalist Karuna John opined that the traditional media had an edge over the social media in terms of credibility and upholding the ethos of journalism.
Journalist Mehmal Sarfraz believed the Balochistan situation was better highlighted by the social media as compared to the traditional one as Baloch activists kept sending stories to the former. However, novelist and journalist Mohammed Hanif said Twitter could not hold officials accountable for the Balochistan killings.
Norbert Almeida, a citizen journalist who frequently tweets about crimes in Karachi, said the idea behind his efforts was to inform the people about the volatile situation in the city. “This can help them avoid travelling to troubled areas and many people thanked me for it.”
When asked as to whether the people living near Katti Pahari had access to Twitter or not, Almeida replied in the affirmative.
Geo TV newscaster Mansoor Ali Khan said he used the social media to create awareness about a gang rape case in Jhang, as the mainstream media was focused on the Yusuf Raza Gilani contempt of court case at the time.
“Within two hours [of using the social media to highlight the issue], the authorities were compelled to arrest four suspects. The social media has also compelled the Punjab chief minister to land in Jhang, where the trial of the accused men was taking place in an anti-terrorism court now.”