E-democracy at risk


There you have it. The significant-most agenda on Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s list, these days, is purging of social media and journalism from ‘trash.’ If any initiative can rival the issue of the JIT, it is this. What comes as a surprise is that despite the decades of social media and independent electronic journalism in the country, it is now, that the government found its nuisance value.

In recent weeks our interior minister has gone an extra mile to ensure progress in minimising what he might call groups of individuals trying to tarnish the good name of the government, military establishment and public officials. FIA’s special cyber crime unit has reportedly outlined a long list of social media activists and journalists. The rigorous investigation process has begun. Nisar has also held meetings with journalism and media organisations, APNS, PBA, CPNE; held press conferences and; together with NADRA and PTA, moved closer to forming SOPs for “devising a system that ensures freedom of expression, while simultaneously checking unbridled misuse of social media”.

Only in an ideologically formed state may you find the oxymoronic maneuvers that promote freedom while reigning in dissent. The nine-month old cybercrime bill, reportedly, bore only one court decision, passing a sentence for producing a fake social media account. Already the hardliners are voicing that the cybercrime cases should be handled by military courts and not its civil equivalent.

Some analysts argue that while the country has proper laws to curb sedition, defamation, blasphemy terrorism and; cyber crime bill, PTA and PEMRA work as regulatory bodies, why do we need yet another regulator. Needless to say that netizens, rights’ groups and journalists are queasy about this business. For about two decades, the nation has enjoyed independent news media and shared their ideas with the rest of the world through social networking. Moreover, while the country has proper laws to curb sedition, defamation, blasphemy terrorism and; cyber crime bill, PTA and PEMRA work as regulatory bodies, yet another regulator can only create a stir in the pot. And now as a code of conduct for journalism and social media is in the making, the message for the netizen is, when online, stick strictly to two subjects: the weather and your health.

The question arises: why now? Well Nisar’s media drive came hot on the heels of the civil military kerfuffle following the controversial Dawn Leaks report. However, some political analysts see this as an effort to appease the Forces.

In its past decade news and social media have encouraged a fair discourse and an e-democracy in the country where people have the right to question. Not only has it increased the awareness among the masses as to the rights and responsibilities but also the need for accountability. It was the social and news media that raised issues of Shahzeb murder in 2013 and Qandeel Baloch among numerous other issues usually swept under the carpet.

The government is right to ensure that no wrongdoing goes unpunished in the news and social media but the process has to be transparent. The interior minister should know that he is responsible for SOPs that do not intimidate patriotic journalists and social media activists. He also needs to devise a policy on terrorist factions ruling their roost on social media pages. Political victimization of major political party members and juvenile minority members like Nabeel Masih demand attention of the civil courts. Forcing citizen to self-censor will result in a Salem hunt, encouraging further extremism. The country should preserve and value its thinking population. Another Mishal Khan tragedy needs to be avoided at all cost.

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