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Wednesday October 27, 2021

Blocking freedom

September 23, 2021

In its new report for 2021 on global net freedoms, Washington-based Freedom House has noted that Pakistan ranks among the 10 countries in the world where internet freedom has worsened markedly over the last year. Pakistan ranks seventh on the list of countries where users have faced declining freedom on social media, and less access to content and freedom to post opinions or make comments over the medium. In Pakistan perhaps this is especially relevant given that other forms of media also face problems when it comes to reporting news in a manner that is not handicapped by external controls.

The report, which ranks Myanmar at the bottom of the list, notes that Pakistan's proposed new rules to make certain aspects of media content unlawful and to remove them where necessary, endanger people posting content and also social media providers or those who run social media outlets of various kinds. In addition to this, the rules would require companies to hand over data requested by the government in a form that is readable and not encrypted. The manifestations of this could be vast. Many people post opinions on social media that would find no space on the mainstream media, or on television channels. Taking away even this freedom can only add to the sense of frustration and anger already found among writers, reporters, journalists, and TV hosts of every kind. Social media is powerful because it allows people [almost] everywhere the ability to post their opinion freely and to put forward their views. There is also freedom to challenge these views, or to post opposing views. In this situation, it is unclear why the government feels the need to remove content from the net or regulate it in such a stringent fashion.

It is true that fake news is a part of what appears on social media. This is true everywhere in the world. But there are also websites and other forums which act as checks to determine what news is fake and what is correct. These filters should be publicised more widely, so Pakistanis can use them. Attempting to regulate every aspect of information through government channels is dangerous, and simply leads to a more autocratic state where people lose more and more freedoms and gain less access to information, which under the constitution of Pakistan is the basic right of every citizen of the country. The fact is that the internet genuinely worries those in power because it has the potential to break their monopoly on information. Any steps to wrest back that power should be challenged and resisted.