June 4, 2021 - Comments Off on Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance, 2021 – Position Paper

Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance, 2021 – Position Paper

Position Paper by Digital Rights Foundation

June 4, 2021

These comments are with reference to the concept paper circulated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (“MOIB”) titled “Concept Paper for Establishment of Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA)” dated May 19, 2021, and the “Pakistan Media Authority Ordinance, 2021” (the “Ordinance”) dated May 7, 2021.

The proposed Ordinance is a blatant attempt to exercise excessive control over the media in order to “manage” freedom of expression through licensing of content producers, stamp out dissent through expansive and vague terms and conditions, and imposing onerous restrictions and punishments through excessive fines and sentences. Under the garb of ensuring efficiency and eliminating red tape, the government seeks to centralise controls over the media. However, these efforts are completely misguided and utterly unenforceable in the era of digital media, where content production and news making is decentralized. Additionally, imposing a licensing regime for journalists amounts to censorship and violation of settled international norms.

Law by Ordinance is an Extraordinary Measure

Digital Rights Foundation (“DRF”) opposes the Ordinance at a fundamental level as centralisation of regulatory authority is a draconian move and runs afoul to the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 (the “Constitution”) particularly freedom of expression (Article 19) and right to information (Article 19A). At the onset, the method followed by the state to pass the law via ordinance, as opposed to an Act of Parliament, bypasses democratic processes and checks and balances in place. The power of the President, enshrined under Article 89 of the Constitution, is an extraordinary one to be exercised only when the Senate or National Assembly are not in session and it is necessary to take immediate action. Nothing in the text of the Ordinance and accompanying concept paper identifies the need for immediate action to the clear structural and long-term issue of media regulation. We fail to understand what emergency exists with regards to the media that would necessitate such extraordinary actions. This short-cut method of passing legislation without input from the opposition is fundamentally undemocratic and has become the modus operandi of the ruling government. Furthermore, given that Ordinances expire after a period of 120 days, this Ordinance is a stop-gap effort, at best, and a way to pass legislation unilaterally at its worst. Additionally, the Ordinances proposes sections that allow the Federal Government to issue directives (S. 5)[1], engage in excessive delegation to determine speech rights relating to constitutional rights through the latter creation of a ‘Code of Conduct’,[2] and grant wide powers to make Rules.[3] The Authority also has been given a carte blanche to  grant exemptions from any provisions of this Ordinance where it deems there are sufficient grounds in the name of ‘public interest’.[4]

Curtails Freedom of Expression

Moreover, the Ordinance fails to fulfil its own objectives as stated in the preamble. The lofty objectives of ensuring the “Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression” cannot be guaranteed through overly broad legislation that sets terms and conditions for license holders of electronic, digital and print media. These terms

 S. 5: “Power of the Federal Government to issue directives. – The Federal Government may, as and when it considers necessary, issue directives to the Authority on matters of policy, and such directives shall be binding on the Authority, and if a question arises whether any matter is a matter of policy or not, the decision of the Federal Government shall be final”
S. 20: “Licenses, Registration Certificates, declaration and NOC for media services and films: (5) The Authority shall devise a Code of Conduct for programmes and advertisements for compliance by the licensees or registration certificate.”
S. 48: “Power to make rules. - (1) The Authority may, with the approval of the division concerned, by notification in the official Gazette, make rules to carry out the purposes of this Ordinance.”
S. 39: “Power to grant exemptions.- The Authority may grant exemptions from any provisions of this Ordinance, where the Authority is of the view that such exemption serves the public interest and the exemptions so granted shall be supported by recording the reasons for granting such exemptions in writing provided that the grant of exemptions shall be based on guidelines and criteria identified in the regulations and that such exemptions shall be made in conformity with the principles of equality and equity as enshrined in the Constitution.”

contain vague criteria such as the “preservation of the sovereignty, security and integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan[1], “preservation of the national, cultural, social and religious values[2] and restrains on material relating to “violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency[3] and “prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan.[4] While Article 19 of the Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions as per law on the freedom of expression, it is a well-settled principle of law that restrains on fundamental rights need to be narrowly-tailored and carefully defined so as not to lend itself to undue censorship by those in power.[5] Furthermore, there are restrains on any of the licensee from defaming or bringing “into ridicule the Head of State, or members of the armed forces, or legislative or judicial organs of the state,”[6] which will have the direct effect of styming democratic discourse and public debate given that public figures and institutions are supposed to withstand a higher degree of scrutiny, criticism and even defamation than the average citizen.[7]

 S. 21: “Terms and conditions of license or registration certificate or declaration or NOC. - (a) Conditions requiring the licensee registration certificate or declaration or NOC to ensure preservation of the sovereignty, security and integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.
S. 21(b): “Conditions to ensure preservation of the national, cultural, social and religious values and the principles of public policy as enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.
S. 21(c): “Conditions to ensure that all programmes and advertisements do not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency.”
S. 21(l): “Conditions requiring the licensee to ensure that no anchor person, moderator or host propagates any opinion or acts in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan.”
UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, Article 19: Freedoms of opinion and expression, 12 September 2011, CCPR/C/GC/34. [General Comment No. 34]. Accessed June 4, 2021: https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/gc34.pdf.
Para 21: “However, when a State party imposes restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression, these may not put in jeopardy the right itself.”
Para 25: “For the purposes of paragraph 3, a norm, to be characterized as a “law”, must be formulated with sufficient precision to enable an individual to regulate his or her conduct accordingly and it must be made accessible to the public. A law may not confer unfettered discretion for the restriction of freedom of expression on those charged with its execution.”
S. 21(n): “Conditions requiring the licensee to not broadcast, distribute or make available online anything which defames or brings into ridicule the Head of State, or members of the armed forces, or legislative or judicial organs of the state.”
General Comment No. 34, para. 38: “concerning the content of political discourse, the Committee has observed that in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions, the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high. Thus, the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify

Economic fallout on Digital Media

A fundamental flaw in this Ordinance is that it is attempting to regulate all forms of media in the same manner. Given the complex and constantly evolving nature of the internet, it is impossible to regulate online platforms through frameworks that have been designed for other (offline) mediums. For instance, amateur news gatherers or bloggers cannot be treated and regulated in the same manner as big news media companies. This point was also noted in the Joint Declaration (2011) of special international mandates for freedom of expression that: “Approaches to regulation developed for other means of communication - such as telephony or broadcasting-cannot simply be transferred to the Internet but, rather, need to be specifically designed for it”.

The economic impact of this legislation will be nearly fatal, disproportionately affecting digital media outlets and content producers who do not have the resources to ensure registration and pay fees. If the government is serious about its objective of creating “a robust environment for the development of all forms of media, having competition, plurality of voices, diversity of opinions,” then this approach is wholly unsuited for the stated aim. A licensing regime that allows for wholesale restrictions on a channel, publication, website or account as opposed to particular content is unduly restrictive.[1] Furthermore, the Ordinance fundamentally misunderstands how digital media works, the broad definitions of terms such as ‘Broadcaster’ (s. 2(f)),[2] ‘Media’ (s. 2(ta))[3], and ‘Digital Media’ (s. 2(ua))[4] will essentially mean any internet user who produces content relating to “news & current affairs, entertainments, sports, regional language, education, agriculture, health, specialized subject, kids, travel

the imposition of penalties, albeit public figures may also benefit from the provisions of the Covenant. Moreover, all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”
General Comment No. 34, para. 39: “It is incompatible with article 19 to refuse to permit the publication of newspapers and other print media other than in the specific circumstances of the application of paragraph 3. Such circumstances may never include a ban on a particular publication unless specific content, that is not severable, can be legitimately prohibited under paragraph 3.”
“Broadcaster” means a person engaged in broadcast media and digital media.
“Media” means broadcast, print, digital communication channel through which information, entertainment, education or promotional messages are disseminated and includes the electronic, print and digital media.
“Digital media” means any information or content that is broadcast including text, audio, video, graphics, web TV, over the top TV and other such content made available for viewing over the internet.

& tourism, science and technology etc” will be required to acquire “licenses, registration certificates, declaration and No Objection Certificates.” This ‘prior restraint’ model of speech is unduly restrictive and imposes unnecessary barriers to free speech.

As aforementioned, there seems to be a comprehension problem about how digital markets work which is why traditional competitive practices cannot apply to them. The anachronistic competition laws that are designed for local markets cannot be extended to online platforms with a global outreach. Moreover, some online platforms are offering free services to their users, hence, the standard competition criterion of excessive pricing will not be applicable to them.

Prior Restraint Licensing Model

Additionally, the proposed licensing regime is subject to a great degree of uncertainty as the PMDA has the discretionary powers to alter the terms and conditions of the license in the public interest.[1] Licensing of journalists is completely different from licensing media houses, the licensing scheme that the Ordinance envisions would be “susceptible [to] abuse and the power to distribute licences can become a political tool. While the purpose of licensing schemes is ostensibly to ensure that the task of informing the public is reserved for competent persons of high moral integrity, the Inter-American

 S. 19: “Categories of licenses, registration certificates, declaration and No Objection Certificates. - (1) The Authority shall issue licenses for electronic, print and digital media in the following categories, namely: -
(i) National scale;
(ii) Provincial and regional;
(iii) District and Tehsil level;
(iv) Local Area and Community based;
(iv) Specific and specialized subjects; 
(v) International scale targeting countries abroad;
(vi) Other categories as the Authority may prescribe from time to time. 
(2) The Authority may further sub-categorize the categories specified in sub-section (1) as it may deem fit, such as news & current affairs, entertainments, sports, regional language, education, agriculture, health, specialized subject, kids, travel & tourism, science and technology etc.”
Alain Strowel & Prof. Wouter Vergote,Digital Platforms: To Regulate or Not To Regulate? Message to Regulators: Fix the Economics First, Then Focus on the Right Regulation <https://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/image/document/2016-7/uclouvain_et_universit_saint_louis_14044.pdf>
Id.
S. 34(2): “The Authority may vary any of the terms and conditions of the license or registration certificate, declaration and NOC where such variation is in the public interest.”

Court of Human Rights rejected this argument, noting that other, less restrictive means were available for enhancing the professionalism of journalists.”

Furthermore the licensing regime is unduly discriminatory and discretionary. The Authority has a wide berth in terms of deciding licensing fee and validity period of the license. The criteria for persons and entities “not be granted license or registration certificate” includes non-citizens, foreign companies, anyone “funded or sponsored by a foreign government or organization including any foreign non-governmental organization.” This exclusion criterion is in equal parts unsustainable and contradictory. The definition of “illegal operation” in the Ordinance includes any “broadcast, webcast or transmission or operation or exhibition, publishing or printing or distribution of films, newspapers, satellite TV channel, terrestrial TV channels, Over the Top TV channels or a newspaper, or provision of access to, programmes or advertisements or content” without a valid license or registration certificate or declaration or NOC. This essentially means that foreignmfunded or incorporated companies cannot stream content inside Pakistan as they are barred from even obtaining a license. The restriction is even more confusing as the Authority itself can obtain foreign funds, but license holders cannot. The stated objective of this Ordinance “to establish

 “BRIEFING NOTES SERIES: Freedom of Expression,” Centre for Law and Democracy, International Media Support (IMS), July, 2014, https://www.mediasupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/foe-briefingnotes-ims-cld.pdf. 
S. 25: “License/ registration certificate and declaration, NOC application, issuance, refusal and validity. - (4) A license or registration certificate, declaration and NOC for any media service shall be valid for a period of five, ten or fifteen years subject to payment of the annual fee and such other fees as prescribed from time to time and subject to compliance with the provisions of this Ordinance, rules or regulations and terms and conditions of license/ registration certificate.”
S. 26: “Certain persons not be granted license or registration certificate. - (1) A license or registration certificate, declaration and NOC for print, digital media or electronic media service and films shall not be granted to—
(a) a person who is not a citizen of Pakistan or resident in Pakistan;
(b) a foreign company organized under the laws of any foreign government; 
(c) a company the majority of whose shares are owned or controlled by foreign nationals or companies whose management or control is vested in foreign nationals or companies; or
(d) any person funded or sponsored by a foreign government or organization including any foreign non-governmental organization.”
S. 2(sc): “Illegal operation” means broadcast, webcast or transmission or operation or exhibition , publishing or printing or distribution of films, newspapers, satellite TV channel, terrestrial TV channels, Over the Top TV channels or a newspaper, or provision of access to, programmes or advertisements or content on any medium including web without having a valid license or registration certificate or declaration or NOC from the Authority.”
S. 15(2): “The Fund shall consist of. - (iv) foreign aid obtained with approval of and on such terms and conditions as may be approved by the Federal Government.”

Pakistan as a major global center for multimedia information and content services” is a non-starter if such provisions remain.

Lack of Independence of the Regulator

Democracies demand that regulators must be independent and free from commercial or political influence so as to ensure that it acts objectively, impartially, and consistently, without conflict of interest, bias or undue influence. However, the Authority is not sufficiently independent from the Federal Government. The members will not only be appointed by the President of Pakistan (S. 6(1)) but will also be removed by the President or Federal Government (s.7(2)) . The members of Authority will rely on the Federal Government for a proportion of its funds (S. 15) which fails to satisfy the legislation’s own aim of creating an “independent, efficient, effective and transparent” Authority. Moreover, the members are also bound to comply with any directives issued by the Federal Government on “matters of policy”, however, whether something constitutes a ‘matter of policy’ cannot be questioned in any court.

Furthermore, the Ordinance creates a confusing structure consisting of the ‘Media Complaints Council’, an ‘Advisory Commission’, and ‘Media Tribunal’. The rationale behind the Advisory Commission, for instance, is unclear in the Ordinance. It is worth noting that the Chairperson and members of the Media Tribunal who will be deciding appeals against orders and decisions of the Authority, will be shortlisted by an Advisory Commission (which includes Chairman of the Authority) (s.27(3)) .

 S. 6: “Members of Authority. - (1) The Authority shall consist of a Chairman and eleven (11) members to be appointed by the President of Pakistan on the advice of the Federal Government.”
S. 7(2): “The Chairman or a member may, by writing under his hand, resign from his office. The President or the Federal Government may remove the Chairman or a member from his office if he is found unable to perform the functions of his office due to mental or physical disability or to have committed misconduct.
S. 15. “Fund. - (2) The Fund shall consist of. - (i) Seed money by the Federal Government; [...] (iii) loans obtained with the special or general sanction of the Federal Government;”
S. 27(3 a) Advisory Commission: “It will be composed of four members from the government, four members from stakeholders and chairman of the authority with an advisory role to shortlist panels for members, chairman of Media Complaints Councils as well as Chairman and members of the Media Tribunal as prescribed by the rules.”
S. 27(3): “Advisory Commission: It will be composed of four members from the government, four members from stakeholders and chairman of the authority with an advisory role to shortlist panels for members, chairman of Media Complaints Councils as well as Chairman and members of the Media Tribunal as prescribed by the rules.”

Hence, it is becoming clear that the Government has no interest in ensuring that the regulator and quasi-judicial forums established under this Ordinance are independent.

Arbitrary Powers

Lastly, the punitive powers of the Authority are extensive, overly restrictive and arbitrary. Most egregiously, the Authority has the power to prohibit any person or organization from publishing content “without issuing show cause notice and affording opportunity of hearing”, which violates basic principles of due process and natural justice which are enshrined in the Constitution. The Authority also amasses extraordinary powers to inspect the premises of license holders without any prior notice, a power that would particularly violate the right of privacy for digital content creators who often operate out of their homes and private residence. Furthermore, there is a bar on appealing decisions taken by the various bodies under the Ordinance except for at the Supreme Court. By foreclosing other appellate forums, particularly at the High Court level, it is clear that the Ordinance seeks to consolidate powers in the hands of the government rather than empower media producers. The Ordinance also prescribes punitive measures for violations. It is quite concerning that these penalties such as heavy fines and even imprisonment can be meted out for

 S. 28: “Prohibition of print, electronic or digital media service and films operation. - The Authority shall by order in writing, giving reasons thereof without issuing show cause notice and affording opportunity of hearing, prohibit any person, print media, electronic media or digital media service operator or licensee or platform for a period as may be prescribed from – 
(a) Printing, Broadcasting, Webcasting, re-broadcasting, distributing or making available online any programme, advertisement or content if it is of the opinion that such particular programme, advertisement or content is against the ideology of Pakistan or is likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility or endangers national security or is pornographic, obscene or vulgar or is offensive to the commonly accepted standards of decency, this shall also apply to foreign broadcast having landing rights of the Authority or any digital media service operating from abroad but with Pakistan as target market and operating under a license of the Authority; or
(b) engaging in any practice or act which amounts to abuse of media power by way of harming the legitimate interests of another licensee or willfully causing damage to any other person.”
S. 31: “Issue of enforcement orders, imposition of penalties, inspections of any media licensee- (2) The premises of any media licensee or registered entity, declaration and NOC shall, at all reasonable times, be open to inspection by the Authority or any officer under sub-section (1) and the licensee shall provide such officer with every assistance and facility in performing his duties.”
S. 37: “Jurisdiction of courts barred-. Save as otherwise provided by this Ordinance, only Supreme Court of Pakistan shall have jurisdiction to question the legality of anything done or decision or any action taken under the ordinance.”

speech acts.[1] Even more worryingly, these offences, made out under the Ordinance will be cognizable and compoundable.[2]

[1] S. 40: “Offences and penalties. - (1) Any licensee and registered entity, declaration and NOC holder or person who violates or abets the violation of any of the provision of this Ordinance shall be guilty of offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend up to two  twenty five million rupees or with both.

(2).  Where any licensee and registered entity, declaration NOC holder or person who repeats the violation or abetment, such person shall be guilty of offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with a fine which may extend to TWO Twenty-five million rupees or with both.

(3) Where the violation, or abetment of the violation of any provision of this Ordinance is made by a person who does not hold a license, or registration certificate, declaration and NOC such violation shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine upto two twenty-five Million, or with both, in addition to the confiscation of the equipment used in the commission of the act.

(4) Whosoever damages, removes, tampers with or commits theft of any equipment of a media station, printing press or system, cinema houses  licensed by the Authority, including transmitting, broadcasting, uplinking apparatus, receivers, boosters, converters, distributors, antennae, wires, decoders, set-top boxes or multiplexers, servers etc. shall be guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine upto two twenty five million , or both.” [2] S. 43: “Offences to be cognizable and compoundable. - The offences under section 41 shall be cognizable and compoundable.”

Conclusion

While issues relating to the media, freedom of speech and emerging media are thorny and riddled with determinations of the wider public good and the extent of the government’s power to regulate speech. There is no easy answer to these questions. However the unprecedented consolidation and centralisation powers as envisioned under this Ordinance will fundamentally shift the balance of power between the state and media. The passage of this Ordinance will spell disaster for the media in Pakistan, which is already operating within precarious shrinking spaces and in the context of attacks on journalists. Pakistan was ranked 145 in in the World Press Freedom Index by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Under such oppressive circumstances, this Ordinance will be a death knell for the media. The onus is on the government to show us they are acting in good faith by discarding the proposal to introduce a singular regulatory authority and redirecting its efforts to

 S. 40: “Offences and penalties. - (1) Any licensee and registered entity, declaration and NOC holder or person who violates or abets the violation of any of the provision of this Ordinance shall be guilty of offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend up to two twenty five million rupees or with both.
(2). Where any licensee and registered entity, declaration NOC holder or person who repeats the violation or abetment, such person shall be guilty of offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with a fine which may extend to TWO Twenty-five million rupees or with both.
(3) Where the violation, or abetment of the violation of any provision of this Ordinance is made by a person who does not hold a license, or registration certificate, declaration and NOC such violation shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine upto two twenty-five Million, or with both, in addition to the confiscation of the equipment used in the commission of the act.
(4) Whosoever damages, removes, tampers with or commits theft of any equipment of a media station, printing press or system, cinema houses licensed by the Authority, including transmitting, broadcasting, uplinking apparatus, receivers, boosters, converters, distributors, antennae, wires, decoders, set-top boxes or multiplexers, servers etc. shall be guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine upto two twenty five million , or both.”
S. 43: “Offences to be cognizable and compoundable. - The offences under section 41 shall be cognizable and compoundable.”
“61 Journalists Killed in Pakistan,” Committee to Protect Journalists, https://cpj.org/data/killed/asia/pakistan/?status=Killed&motiveConfirmed%5B%5D=Confirmed&type%5B%5D=Journalist&cc_fips%5B%5D=PK&start_year=1992&end_year=2021&group_by=location. “Pakistan: Escalating Attacks on Journalists,” Human Rights Watch, June 3, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/03/pakistan-escalating-attacks-journalists. 
“Pakistan: Under the military establishment’s thumb,” 2020 World Press Freedom Index: RSF, https://rsf.org/en/pakistan.

create an enabling environment for the media by investing in infrastructure, media literacy programs and supporting economic models to make independent media sustainable.

June 4, 2021 - Comments Off on The Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights strongly condemns the petition registered for treason case against Asma Sherzai

The Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights strongly condemns the petition registered for treason case against Asma Sherzai

The Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights (NWJDR) strongly condemns the petition registered in Gujranwala for treason cases against notable Pakistani journalists, Asma Sherazi and Hamid Mir. 

Asma had addressed a rally of the media fraternity protesting a recent attack on  journalist Asad Ali Toor and the suspension of Hamid Mir from GEO News’s Capital Talk. 

In her tweet, Shirazi said truth had a price. “Faced all kinds of threats and pressures numerous times. Musharraf [former military dictator] banned us in 2007, dealt with treason threats and all kinds of pressure tactics”.

NWJDR finds it extremely disturbing to see the space for dissent and providing reliable information to the public rapidly shrink in Pakistan, as journalists as well as human rights defenders are particularly at risk of censorship, intimidation, physical violence, threats and arbitrary detention.

If the authorities are committed to uphold their human rights obligations, NWJDR urges the government to take immediate and decisive steps to investigate the recent spate of attacks on journalists. It also calls upon the government to reject the petition on charges of treason against notable journalists Asma Sherazi and Hamid Mir. 

The Human Rights Ministry has recently introduced the Journalist and Media Professionals Protection Bill in the National Assembly which can go a long way to protect the rights of journalists and the NWJDR urges the Ministry to take steps to immediately look into the matter and dismantle the impunity for crimes against journalists. 

May 21, 2021 - Comments Off on April 2021: DRF Commemorates #GirlsInICT Day

April 2021: DRF Commemorates #GirlsInICT Day

Online Campaigns and Initiatives:


DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline finalist for World Justice Challenge:

The Digital Rights Foundation’s Cyber Harassment Helpline has been shortlisted as a finalist for the World Justice Challenge (organised by the World Justice Project), for its tremendous efforts in recording, documenting and reporting cases of online harassment.

DRF celebrates #GirlsInICT Day:

On the 22nd of April, the Digital Rights Foundation participated in commemorating the #GirlsInICT Day, discussing the gender digital divide, and how it holds back women and girls from interacting and understanding technology.

Policy Initiatives:

DRF Cyber Harassment Helpline releases statistics for March 2021:

The Digital Rights Foundation released the Cyber Harassment Helpline’s key statistics for March 2021, with 356 complaints marking an unprecedented 118% increase in reported complaints.

#AbAurNahin introduces directory of  female lawyers:

#AbAurNahin provides a comprehensive directory of pro-bono lawyers for victims of harassment and abuse on both online or offline spaces, with thirty female lawyers extending their services across Pakistan. For further information, please refer to the following link.

Remembering Our Friends

DRF mourns the loss of IA Rehman Sahab

IA Rehman was a true champion of human rights, and an inspiration for all of us working towards making Pakistan a more equal place. Over the years he widened his understanding of the digital world.  As time progressed he became more aware of modernity and technology and how it affects human rights. He was a strong voice against online censorship and supported digital rights and online freedom of expression. We are all left poorer without him. His life will serve a reminder to always fight the good fight, with strength and integrity. Our condolences and prayers are with his family and those who were close to him. May we continue his legacy by continuing to stand up against injustice.

We are deeply saddened by the sudden demise of our very dear friend and @NWJDR member, Ambreen Zaman Khan. She was an amazing journalist who wrote about key issues, including digital rights and harassment. Ambreen will always be close to our hearts.

Rest in peace, Ambreen

 

 

Media Coverage:

Nighat Dad discusses privacy and cybersecurity on Facebook with Hum News:

In an interview with Hum News, Nighat Dad spoke about how the data leak of 533 million Facebook users’ personal data, and how the leaked data could provide valuable information to cybercriminals. You can watch the interview here.

Nighat Dad discusses gender rights with the Harvard Radcliffe Institute:

In a panel discussion for the Harvard Radcliffe Institute’s Women and Public Policy Program, Nighat Dad discussed how women in Pakistan are constantly surveilled in digital spaces, and that online platforms are inequitable as they include marginalised and disenfranchised groups.

Events and Sessions:

Nighat Dad participates in panel discussion for the Lahore School of Law:

In a panel discussion webinar on “Pakistan’s Personal Data Protection Bill: New Law, New Challenges”, Nighat Dad spoke about the plethora on emerging digital security challenges, and how Pakistan can develop a rigorous legal framework to deal with those emerging issues. You can view the session here.

Seminar on “Digital Security during COVID-19 and Beyond for Human Rights”:

The Digital Rights Foundation held a seminar on “Digital Security during COVID-19 and Beyond for Human Rights”, on the 30th of April. Dr. Ayra Patras moderated the seminar, in which members of both religious and gender minority communities shared their concerns and fears in digital spaces, and were subsequently advised on how they could secure themselves online from intimidation and harassment.

COVID-19 Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline:

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms.

You can contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us at
helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday).

 

Ab Aur Nahin:

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse. www.abaurnahin.pk

IWF Portal:

DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu and Pashto. www.report.iwf.org.uk/pk

April 21, 2021 - Comments Off on March 2021 Newsletter: DRF hosts National Privacy Conference in the COVID-19 era

March 2021 Newsletter: DRF hosts National Privacy Conference in the COVID-19 era

Online Campaigns and Initiatives :

National Privacy Conference:

On the 9th and 10th of March 2021, DRF held its first ever virtual National Privacy Conference. Our annual event is one of the highlights of our year, as we come together with industry experts and other activists to talk about digital rights and privacy rights. This year, we focused on the repercussions of the COVID 19 pandemic on mental health, and on privacy, especially around sensitive information like an individual’s health information.

All of our talks were streamed live on our Facebook page. They’re currently saved there and you can catch them here.

Policy Initiatives:

DRF Launches Its 2020 Annual Report:

With the collaboration of our entire team, we were able to digitally launch our annual report for 2020. This report goes over the work we did over the past year, which came with its challenges. Nonetheless, our team persevered and we were able to achieve what we all set out to do at the start of 2020.

The report can be accessed here.

Media Coverage:

Nighat Dad joins panel discussion with the UK’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations:

In a panel discussion with the United Kingdom’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Nighat Dad discusses solutions to countering online violence against women in public life, and to make digital spaces more inclusive and safe.

Nighat Dad joins panel discussion with International Center for Journalists:

Nighat Dad joined a group of prominent panelists for the 65th anniversary of the inception of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, discussing the role of women in public life and how they can be granted equal participation in decision making mechanisms.

Nighat Dad joins panel discussion with UNDP Business and Human Rights Asia:

Nighat Dad joined a group of esteemed panelists for the 2nd United Nations South Asia Forum on Business and Human Rights, discussing Gender Bias in New Technologies and how digital spaces can be more inclusive for women and minorities.

Nighat Dad joins panel discussion on “The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act”

Nighat Dad joined a panel discussion on The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, to understand the context, legality and implication of the current legal frameworks in place.

Nighat Dad joins panel discussion on “AI and Power”

In a panel session conducted by the Mozilla Festival, Nighat Dad discussed how the rise of artificial intelligence can pose new challenges for the digital age, and what those potential threats may translate for women in online spaces.

Events and Sessions:

Women In Cyber Security Beyond Border 2021 |The Era of Data Protection in South Asia, March 24

DRF was part of the ‘Women In Cyber Security Beyond Border 2021’, panel ‘The Era of Data Protection in South Asia’ to talk about the importance of privacy and data protection laws in the country.

Bridging the Gender and Digital Divide in Post COVID-19 Pakistan: Empowering Women Through ICT on March 26

The Centre for Public Policy and Governance at Forman Christian College marked International Women's Day with the campaign #ChoosetoChallenge calling for action on creating an equitable world that is inclusive and that fights gender bias. This panel discussion looked at some of the challenges the country faces in light of the gender divide in access to and use of information and communications technology. Shmyla Khan from DRF took part in the panel along with Burhan Rasool (head of the Software Engineering Wing at PITB, and Salma Butt (Member Punjab Provincial Assembly).

Virtual Workshop with Women Home-based Workers in Sukkur:

DRF conducted a day-long virtual workshop on digital literacy and online safety with 25 women from Sukkur on the 30th of March. The participants discussed issues of online harassment and insecurity in their use of mobile phones and were given a hands-on digital safety workshop by the trainers at DRF.

COVID-19 Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline:

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms. You can contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us at helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday).

Ab Aur Nahin:

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse. www.abaurnahin.pk

IWF Portal:

DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu and Pashto. www.report.iwf.org.uk/pk

 

March 25, 2021 - Comments Off on February 2021 Newsletter: Understanding the Cyber Harassment Landscape during the COVID-19 Pandemic

February 2021 Newsletter: Understanding the Cyber Harassment Landscape during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Online Campaigns and Initiatives:

#SaferInternetDay: Understanding the Cyber Harassment Landscape

https://twitter.com/DigitalRightsPK/status/1359767913637502976?s=20

As part of the Digital Rights Foundation’s “Humara Internet Curriculum” for young adults, to mark #SaferInternetDay the cyber harassment landscape and its various actors were discussed in great length, especially in the context of online violence manifesting into the physical realm targeting women.

Mapping Gender-based violence in Pakistan:

https://twitter.com/DigitalRightsPK/status/1360197036507877377?s=20

One of the key initiatives by the Digital Rights Foundation in 2020 was to start mapping violence against women in an open database, to show that violence against women is not a one-off occurrence but a systemic problem in the country. The database can be accessed here: bit.ly/3nW9H1W

Policy Initiatives:

Cyber Harassment during the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan

In collaboration with UN Women, the Digital Rights Foundation published a policy brief on “Cyber Harassment during the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan”, unpacking the surge in cyber harassment during the pandemic, followed by a series of policy recommendations on how these issues can be dealt with. Read the policy brief here: https://bit.ly/3bzmcMj

Cyber Harassment Helpline Annual Report (2020)

The Digital Rights Foundation published its Cyber Harassment Helpline Annual Report, giving an insight into the severity of cyber harassment during the pandemic, and urging users to take ownership of digital spaces, to ensure that these spaces are equal and safe for all. The report highlighted that in 2020, a total of 3298 cases were reported on the helpline, which constitutes a 70% increase from the tally in 2019.

You can read the report here: https://bit.ly/3jX6SNa

 

Self-help Toolkit on Mental Health

This past year has had a horrible impact on all of our mental health, as the COVID 19 pandemic posed a wide array of challenges and pressures. In collaboration with UN Women, the Digital Rights Foundation developed a 'Self Help' Toolkit, which highlighted common stresses people feel, as well as signs that you might be burned out, and how you achieve a healthy work-life balance. Read it here: https://bit.ly/2NAsmDG

DRF issues statement on UN’s commitment to highlight the importance of the right to privacy:

The Digital Rights Foundation issued a statement on the United Nations General Assembly which reemphasizes the UN’s commitment to highlight the importance of the right to privacy. The resolution affirms the right to privacy as mentioned in previous international covenants and conventions. Read our full statement here: https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/drf-statement-on-un-resolution-on-right-to-privacy-16-12-20/

Media Coverage:

Nighat Dad shares her thoughts on content moderation and privacy to IFEX:

In a statement to IFEX, Nighat Dad reaffirmed that content moderation is becoming “one of the most important & contentious issues of our times,” noting that the privatisation of decision-making often overlooks the demands and needs of users outside the west.

https://twitter.com/IFEX/status/1364616094993022978?s=20

Nighat Dad on 92 News talking about DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline:

Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of the Digital Rights Foundation, spoke with 92 News about the Cyber Harassment Helpline, and shared an important message about data and how we need to be careful about sharing it with others. You can read the report here: https://bit.ly/3jX6SNa

https://twitter.com/DigitalRightsPK/status/1364523151430873088?s=20

Interview with Geo News about DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline:

Our Cyber Harassment Helpline Manager, Jannat, spoke with Geo News about our helpline reports and talked through some potential reasons for the surge we saw in complaints during COVID 19 lockdowns.

https://twitter.com/DigitalRightsPK/status/1365247336574763009?s=20

Interview with PTV News on Cyber Harassment Helpline:

The Cyber Harassment Helplines' Project Manager, Jannat, spoke with PTV news about the work she and her team does, as well as going through the types of cases they receive and deal with on a daily basis.

https://twitter.com/DigitalRightsPK/status/1364167860382130178?s=20

Events and Sessions:

Nighat Dad featured at WINGS Forum 2021, discussing Philanthropy and the Digital Revolution:

Nighat Dad, Executive Director of the Digital Rights Foundation, was featured at the WINGS Forum 2021 (virtual seminar series), where alongside a diverse group of speakers, she spoke about philanthropy and the digital revolution, and highlighted the importance of upholding privacy and user protection in digital spaces.

https://twitter.com/wings_info/status/1359100892369281030?s=20

Taking Charge of your digital identity: understanding digital rights

DRF collaborated with the Goethe-Institut Pakistan to conduct a virtual session with young students regarding the importance of digital rights, i.e. freedom of expression, privacy, right to information. The session was an interactive one and students got to do activities through real-work examples during the workshop as well.

Tweet Chat: Imagining a Safer Internet

In this Tweet Chat, participants discussed what the framework of a safer digital environment would look like, and the fundamental tenets of what made the internet an equitable space for all in the first place.

https://twitter.com/DigitalRightsPK/status/1361269212816285697?s=20

Tweet Chat: Privacy in Pakistan, Ghar Sey Kanoon Tak

In this Tweet Chat, DRF team members spoke about all matters pertaining to privacy in Pakistan, from the household level to legal discussions around data and privacy in the country.

https://twitter.com/DigitalRightsPK/status/1356921417447731201?s=20

COVID-19 Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline:

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms. You can contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us at helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday).

Ab Aur Nahin:

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse. www.abaurnahin.pk

IWF Portal:

DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu and Pashto. www.report.iwf.org.uk/pk

February 15, 2021 - Comments Off on January 2021 Newsletter: DRF Conducted Advocacy Campaign on WhatApp’s New Privacy Policy

January 2021 Newsletter: DRF Conducted Advocacy Campaign on WhatApp’s New Privacy Policy

Online Campaigns and Initiatives

Whatsapp New Policy

1


WhatsApp's new privacy policy has been met with a lot of criticism online, and rightfully so. WhatsApp is essentially forcing users to share their data with Facebook, otherwise they will not be able to use WhatsApp. #WhatsappNewPolicy

#WhyIsDataPrivacyDayImportant

DRF conducted a social media advocacy campaign on this year’s International Data Privacy Day which is observed on the 28th of January. The campaign involved videos covering the basics of what is data and privacy, as well as guest videos from noted rights activists and digital landscape stakeholders such as Anum Malkani of CERP, Usama Khilji of Bolo Bhi and former Senator Farhatullah Babar. The campaign ran for a week and was concluded on the 3rd of February with a Tweetchat with DRF’s Project Managers and Directors having a discussion on how privacy informs their work and what a model data privacy law would look like, from their perspective.

Policy Initiatives

Justice Ayesha Malik passes judgement on the ‘two-finger test’

Justice Ayesha Malik passed a judgement in the Lahore High Court today outlawing the ‘two finger test’ and hymen testing of female victims of sexual violence. This is a monumental judgement in the arena of women’s rights in Pakistan.

 

 

DRF in collaboration with FNF launches the Hamara Internet Young Adults Curriculum on Online Safety

Online Safety of Young Adults Curriculum aims to help students and young people develop a better understanding of how the online world operates, particularly since Coronavirus (COVID19) has restricted us to our homes and shifted most of our work to the digital spaces.

https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2020-11-11_DRF-Curriculum-1.pdf

https://tribune.com.pk/story/2281554/digital-rights-foundation-launches-cirriculum-on-online-safety

https://www.phoneworld.com.pk/digital-rights-foundation-introduces-online-safety-curriculum/
Helpline January Stats:

Cyber Harassment Helpline received 257 complaints in the month of January. It shows that there is a trend  in the cases of online violence especially blackmailing through non consensual use of information and images. Another observed trend is of social engineering through which people are coerced into sharing their personal details like National Identity Card number, WhatsApp code, bank account details and, e-wallet details making them susceptible to hacking and financial fraud.

Media Coverage

Nighat Dad on Arab News sharing how Signal, Telegram and Wire are more privacy friendly

In an interview with Arab News, Nighat Dad discussed how platforms such as Signal, Telegram and Wire are more “privacy friendly”, while also highlighting the privacy concerns around WhatsApp and its potential implications.

Nighat Dad on 7 News talking about the new Whatsapp Policy

In an interview on 7 News, Nighat Dad discussed the implications of the new WhatsApp privacy policy, what interventions can be made to enhance the privacy of users, and how platforms such as Signal, Telegram and Wire offer more in terms of privacy and security.

Nighat Dad on GNN talking about the new Whatsapp Policy

In an interview on GNN, Nighat Dad provided insights on whether Pakistan can formulate a better legislative framework for privacy and digital security, in addition to discussing the implications of WhatsApp’s new privacy policy and how it could compromise the privacy of its users.

DRF’s Nighat Dad shares her thoughts on Whatsapp’s data policy

In an interview with Samaa News, Nighat Dad discussed how WhatsApp’s clarification on its new data-sharing policy is not convincing enough, and it leaves a lot of questions to be answered on how the platform can protect the digital security and privacy of its users.

WhatsApp clarification on data-sharing unconvincing, says Pakistani digital rights activist

DRF’s Nighat Dad’s thoughts on Whatsapp alternative to be launched

In an interview for Bol News, Nighat Dad discussed the news around an alternative for WhatsApp to be launched specifically in Pakistan, and its potential implications on privacy and digital security in Pakistan.

DRF’s Nighat Dad’s shares her thoughts on Breaking Laws on TikTok

In an article for Vice News, Nighat Dad shared her thoughts on how individuals are sharing legally questionable content on TikTok, especially pertaining to firearms, stating that it is important for the platform to have clear and accessible messaging about safety.

https://www.vice.com/en/article/g5bkb3/we-asked-people-who-film-themselves-breaking-laws-on-tiktok-why

واٹس ایپ پرائیویسی پالیسی پر پاکستان میں تشویش، ڈیٹا پروٹیکشن قانون مسئلے کا حل ہے؟

As quoted by Voice of America Urdu, Nighat Dad articulates the need for a comprehensive data protection policy by the government, to protect the interests of domestic users, especially in light of WhatsApp’s change in privacy policy.

https://dour21.global.ssl.fastly.net/a/whatsapp-privacy-and-reservations-of-pakistani-users-12jan2021/5734308.html

واٹس ایپ کی نئی پالیسی: سگنل اور ٹیلی گرام کے ڈاؤن لوڈز میں تیزی سے اضافہ، واٹس ایپ کے لیے خطرے کی گھنٹی؟

As quoted by BBC Urdu, Nighat Dad gives a comprehensive insight into what WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes entail, and what alternative measures are available to protect the privacy and digital security of users in Pakistan.

https://www.bbc.com/urdu/world-55636664?at_custom4=EE55E7CA-54F4-11EB-8DC3-69004844363C&at_custom1=%5Bpost+type%5D&at_campaign=64&at_custom2=twitter&at_custom3=BBC+Urdu&at_medium=custom7

سائبر سیکیورٹی: دورِ حاضر کی اشد ضرورت

In an interview with Daily Jang, Nighat Dad explains what constitutes digital security, and how in light of WhatsApp's privacy policy changes, Pakistani users can protect their privacy online.

https://jang.com.pk/news/873829

Virginity tests for female rape survivors outlawed by Pakistani court

In an interview with The Guardian, Nighat Dad discussed the recent outlawing of virginity tests for female rape survivors in Pakistan, citing it as the culmination of a history of activism and built on the hard work that the feminist movement has been engaging in for decades.

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jan/06/virginity-tests-for-female-survivors-outlawed-by-pakistani-court

Strong data protection law under study

In an interview with Dawn, Nighat Dad discussed the government’s intention to formulate stronger data protection laws in the country, which could be as draconian as the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which compromises personal data of users.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1600877

Cybercrime peaked during lockdown- will 2021 be any different?

In an article published on Geo News, Nighat Dad discusses the Digital Rights Foundation’s cybercrime statistics during lockdown, and gives an insight into how incidences of online harassment and abuse increased during the pandemic.

https://www.geo.tv/latest/327267-quick-recap-how-was-2020-for-pakistans-cyberspace-and-what-to-expect-from-the-year-ahead

Source Fact Check

In the aftermath of the unfounded allegations pertaining to embezzlement of foreign funds being levied against Nighat Dad, this article renders these allegations to be false and defamatory in nature.

https://www.sochfactcheck.com/interior-ministry-complaint-alleging-nighat-dads-misuse-of-digital-rights-foundation-funds-is-misleading/

Mehwish Batool wins competition with her pitch on combating COVID19: A situation analysis

In an insightful report published by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, and written by Mehwish Batool, Pakistan’s response to Covid-19 related fake news is discussed, and what can be done to contain the spread of this era of disinfodemic in the wake of the second wave.

https://www.freiheit.org/consent?dest=%2Fpakistan%2Fcombatting-covid19-disinfodemic-situation-analysis-pakistan

https://twitter.com/FNFPakistan/status/1354743309277790209?s=20

Events and Sessions

Nighat Dad speak on Shaping Empowered Societies at World Economic Forum

In a panel interview at the World Economic Forum, Nighat Dad discussed what policies, practices and partnerships are needed to empower individuals, communities and society to unlock the value of data.

https://www.weforum.org/events/the-davos-agenda-2021/sessions/shaping-empowered-data-societies

Nighat Dad speaks to the German ambassador to Pakistan about women rights and online freedom of expression

In a meeting with Bernard Schlagheck, German Ambassador to Pakistan, Nighat Dad had a detailed discussion on the state of women rights and online freedom of expression in the country, and what barriers prevent these liberties from being extended effectively.

DRF conducts Two Day Training of Punjab Women Protection Authority’s Gender Based Violence Helpline

DRF conducted a two-day training workshop Punjab Women Protection Authority’s Gender Based Violence Helpline in collaboration with Dastak. The training included gender-sensitisation, fostering a human rights approach and victim-centric approach to cases, knowledge about laws dealing with gender-based violence and tackling mental health issues.

Digital Rights Litigation and Advocacy and Nigeria: How we have fared?

The Struggle Against Gender-Based Violence and the way forward

In a panel discussion organised by the University of Central Punjab on Gender Based Violence, Nighat Dad gave an insight into various policy interventions that could be made to protect women being subjected to violence, and to prevent that violence from perpetuating in society.

Digital Security during COVID and Beyond Human Rights

On the 25th and 27th of January, an online session was conducted by the Digital Rights Foundation. This online session specifically focused on human rights defenders, especially those from minority communities, and how they can navigate through online spaces in a safe and effective manner.

Digital safety training

Training on digital safety tools and laws regarding online spaces was conducted with members of minority groups and human rights defenders. It was conducted on 22nd January 2020. The workshop aimed to build the capacity of the participants in knowledge of basic tools, hands-on training of the tools, knowledge and applicability of the laws that apply to the digital spaces and how an individual can continue using digital spaces safely and effectively.

Panel discussion on Digital Rights and Advocacy with University of Karachi

This seminar hosted by University of Karachi explored issues of privacy and digital rights in Pakistan through Facebook Live. The panelists focused on the digital threats journalists, women and activists face in online spaces.

Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board: Soch, Youth Weekend Camp

Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for Central Region (AKYSB) organized a two day camp for students aged 15-17 years. The camp included a session on cyberbullying and digital safety for students to equip them with the technical and soft skills to keep themselves safe while using the virtual platforms.

Goethe-Institut Pakistan Webinar: Taking charge of your online identity

DRF conducted a seminar for children from the age of 14 - 16 year-old students on understanding online threats faced by young students on social media. The students were given information about keeping themselves safe online.

COVID-19 Updates

Cyber Harassment Helpline

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms. You can contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us at helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday).

Ab Aur Nahin

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse. www.abaurnahin.pk

IWF Portal

DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu and Pashto. www.report.iwf.org.uk/pk

February 8, 2021 - Comments Off on DRF Statement on UN Resolution On Right To Privacy (16-12-20)

DRF Statement on UN Resolution On Right To Privacy (16-12-20)

The Digital Rights Foundation is excited by the resolution recently adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the 16th of December, 2020, which reemphasizes the UN’s commitment to highlight the importance of the right to privacy.

The Resolution (75/176) adopted during the 75th session of the Assembly, while noting the Special Rapporteur reports of the Human Rights council on the subjects of right to privacy, freedom of expression and association as well as the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and a myriad of other factors. The resolution:

  1. Affirms the right to privacy as set out in Article 12 of the UDHR and Article 17 of ICCPR.
  2. Recognizes the paramount importance of the Internet as a tool to connect people and also aid in achieving Sustainable Development Goals.
  3. Affirms that the right to privacy must be translated into online spaces as well as offline.
  4. Asks the States to employ principles of legality, necessity and proportionality in any curtailment or limitation of citizens’ right to privacy.
  5. Encourages States to promote an environment of open and secure technology, based on respect for international law.
  6. Acknowledges impact of artificial intelligence on right to privacy and asks for such risks to be minimized and safe and high quality data infrastructures to be built with human oversight.

The document also involves a call addressed specifically to States, especially those signatory to the UDHR and ICCPR and also to business enterprises involved in the storage and processing of data that we will unpack in further posts.

We, as an organization invested in creating a safer internet for women and children and all people, welcome this Resolution and see it for the important step that it is towards achieving a breathable and secure digital age for all netizens.

January 18, 2021 - Comments Off on December 2020 Newsletter: DRF shares statistics around Instances of gender based violence in Pakistan for the #16DaysOfActivism campaign

December 2020 Newsletter: DRF shares statistics around Instances of gender based violence in Pakistan for the #16DaysOfActivism campaign

Online Campaigns and Initiatives

16 Days of Activism


#16DaysOfActivism is an annual, international campaign against gender based violence. This campaign is spearheaded by the UN. This year’s theme revolved about online gender based violence, and DRF’s campaign highlighted the disturbing trend towards online violence in Pakistan, and has also laid out interventions, and solutions to this problem.

 

Instances of gender based violence in Pakistan

During the 16 days of activism campaign DRF also recorded the cases of violence against women, minoors and transgenders in the country. 190 incidents of violence took place in the country since the horrific motorway case.

SahafatAurSachayi

DRF, Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) and Freedom Press Unlimited (FPU) launched a mini web series on the infodemic in times of COVID19. The #SahafatAurSachayi series focused on different aspects of fake news in times of the pandemic and what must we do in order to counter misinformation and disinformation online.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016

DRF started an online campaign with the hashtag PECA 2016 in which the current state of digital rights in the country were discussed in detail. The campaign highlighted how legislation around digital rights has changed and the ways in which this legislation is giving irrevocable power to state institutions.

Policy Initiatives

Social Media Rules threaten the internet

DRF, in a campaign around the new social media rules, highlighted how these new set of rules will threaten the internet and digital rights in the country. DRF along with other digital rights organisations in the country have been opposing these rules and highlighting their draconian implications if implemented.

 

Digital Detox and Self Care

2020 has been a difficult year for journalists and rights activists due to which DRF published it’s toolkit on digital detox and self care. The toolkit highlights how a digital cleanse is important and and the need to address burnout and fatigue.

Link to digital detox and self care of journalists and rights activists:

https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Annex-6-Digital-Detox-Self-Care-1.pdf

Wiki Gap challenge results

DRF with a collaboration with the embassy of Sweden, Media matters for democracy and UN women announced the winners of the WIKIGAP challenge in Pakistan. In one month editors from across Pakistan created and translated 400+ articles of Pakistani women.

Media Coverage

Objectionable trends on Twitter, Urdu News:

In an article on Urdu News, Nighat Dad discusses the perpetuation of objectionable Twitter trends, especially those targeting female public figures, and how it has a negative impact on political discourse.

https://www.urdunews.com/node/524006

Too many apps can spoil online learning, The Express Tribune:

https://tribune.com.pk/story/2275239/too-many-apps-can-spoil-online-learning

In an interview with the Associated Press Pakistan and the Express Tribune, Nighat Dad discusses the potential of educational or learning apps for young students, stating that they can prove to be a good accessory to formal learning rather than a total substitute for it.

Has social media regulation increased in Pakistan? - Aaj News

In an interview with Aaj News, Nighat Dad discusses the ramifications of increased social media regulations and monitoring in Pakistan, especially in terms of the right to privacy and expression of the millions of users across the country.

Combatting the COVID19 Disinfodemic: A situation analysis for Pakistan - Mehwish Batool

In this report, written by Mehwish Batool, Pakistan’s response to COVID-19 related fake news and the spread of the disinfodemic were discussed in detail, in addition to making numerous policy interventions to circumvent this problem.

Combatting the COVID19 Disinfodemic: A situation analysis for Pakistan

Nighat Dad Interview with Kiran Butt (Capital TV):

In an exclusive interview with Capital TV, on “What’s the Buzz” with Kiran Butt, Nighat Dad discusses the impact of the new online harm rules and social media regulations on content creators, journalists and influencers.

Events and Sessions

Nighat Dad at Asia21 Summit ‘ Digital Security Issues in South Asia in the era of Pandemic’

In a policy roundtable for the Asia21 Summit, Nighat Dad discusses the state of Pakistan’s online regulations and its potential policy implications for the governance of digital spaces.

Nighat Dad at panel discussion on “End Violence Against Women and Girls” by Oxfam

In a collaborative event for Oxfam, on ‘End Violence Against Women and Girls’, Nighat Dad advocated for the protection of the Freedom of Speech and Media Freedom for journalists, in both online and offline spaces, and the protection of women from violence in all of its manifestations.

Looking Inward: 2020, and the way forward - tweetchat

In a Tweet Chat with the Digital Rights Foundations’ key project managers, innovative and modern solutions to digital rights issues were discussed, under the ambit of the ongoing global pandemic.

Nighat Dad’s Live session on 16 days of activism against gender based violence with the US consulate

DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke in a live session on 8th December on account of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence. Nighat focused on online violence and digital safety of individuals and why it's important to keep one's privacy settings strong.

Nighat Dad at NDI’s #ChangingTheFaceOfPolitics podcast series

In a podcast for the National Democratic Forum’s Changing the Face of Politics series, Nighat Dad discussed the opportunities and barriers of the digital space for politically-active women, and her experience as an activist fighting for women’s rights in Pakistan. (https://www.ndi.org/changing-face-politics-podcast)

A lecture on cyber harassment: UCP Law Society

In a lecture on cyber harassment for the UCP Law Society and the UCP ACM Student Chapter, Nighat Dad discusses the importance of identifying instances of cyber harassment, and creating legal safeguards for women and minority communities facing threats of violence in online spaces - and how they can often manifest into threats of violence in the physical world.

Mentoring for Civic Hackathon 2020 hosted by Code for Pakistan

DRF took part in mentoring for Code for Pakistan’s Civic Hackathon in December. Team member Shmyla Khan mentored young students and entrepreneurs on apps dealing with public safety, particularly women’s safety.

Rapid Fire Chat: “Feminist Superstars, Smashing the Patriarchy”

In a panel discussion for the Rapid Fire Chat series, Nighat Dad discusses the role of women in Pakistani society, and how the glass ceiling can be shattered by empowered women and a reversal of predetermined patriarchal gender roles.

Nighat Dad Panel Interview with UN Women on “Online Violence Against Women in Asia - A multi country study”

In a panel discussion with UN Women on “Online Violence Against Women in Asia”, Nighat Dad discussed the implications of a lack of safety for women in online spaces, and its potential ramifications in the offline world.

Nighat Dad Panel Interview with UN Women, DoctHERs: Online Safety for Healthcare Workers

In a panel discussion on the “Online Safety for Healthcare Workers”, Nighat Dad articulated the importance of digital security and online safety, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

Responsible media is key for responding to violence against women and the COVID-19 Pandemic

In a webinar with GNMI, Nighat Dad discusses the role of ethical and responsible journalism in tackling issues pertaining to violence against women, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic - with a diverse panel including senior journalists, human rights defenders and parliamentarians.

COVID-19 Updates

Cyber Harassment Helpline

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms.

You can contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us at helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday).
Ab Aur Nahin

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse.

www.abaurnahin.pk

IWF Portal

DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu and Pashto.

www.report.iwf.org.uk/pk

December 21, 2020 - Comments Off on November 2020 Newsletter: DRF marks the 16 days of activism on violence against women

November 2020 Newsletter: DRF marks the 16 days of activism on violence against women

Online Campaigns and Initiatives

Digital 50.50 Gender and Privacy

The fourth edition of the Digital 50.50 was launched in November which focused on gender and privacy in digital spaces. The edition covered different aspects on the intersection of gender and privacy in the digital spaces, including privacy of journalists online, how women are constantly watched and how it impacts their behaviour in online spaces, how discussion have shifted from national security to morality and the spate in banning of apps and content under this pretext. The magazine can be accessed here

 

#Orangetheworld #16days

#16DaysOfActivism is an annual, international campaign against gender based violence. This campaign is spearheaded by the UN. This year’s theme revolved about online gender based violence, and DRF’s campaign highlighted the disturbing trend towards online violence in Pakistan, and has also laid out interventions, and solutions to this problem.

Maru Website and DRF collaboration on 16days

Feminist Movements Go Online: Imagining Feminist Futures Online

Launch of second edition of ezine “Feminist Movements Go Online: Imagining Feminist Futures Online” on November 6th. In this edition the contributors looked at the internet and its role in movements from a critical lens in order to help develop possible futures of women and gender minorities on the internet. The launch was marked with a webinar with all the contributors on Facebook Live that can be accessed here.

The ezine can be assessed here.

#PrivacyIsARight #BeCyberSmart

As part of Digital Safety month, the DRF team developed the ABCs of Cyber Security that was shared during this entire month. The aim was to spread general awareness about digital safety issues as well as how to keep oneself safe from these common threats, and what to do if and when you become a target.

#UnmaskTheTruth #StopSilencingJournalists #stopviolenceagainstwomen

On November 2, to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity Against Journalists, Digital Rights Foundation conducted an online campaign. On the day, at 3 pm, DRF team observed silence for a minute to pay tribute to all the journalists who were killed for reporting the news and bringing accurate information to the masses. Impunity leads to more killings and is a breakdown of law and the judicial system. The campaign material was uploaded with the hashtags #TruthNeverDies, #EndImpunity, #SahafatJurmNahe (Journalism is not a crime). We also reiterated and reminded everyone that we have not forgotten Shaheena's brutal murder. It was a grim reminder that women journalists face innumerable barriers and threats on the basis of their gender. On #EndImpunity Day for crimes against journalists, the NWJDR shared their statement again to reiterate the demands.

#SahafatAurSachayi by FPU and FNF

DRF, Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) and Freedom Press Unlimited (FPU) launched a mini web series on the infodemic in times of COVID19. The #SahafatAurSachayi series focused on different aspects of fake news in times of the pandemic and what must we do in order to counter misinformation and disinformation online.

#ActivismInPandemic

DRF has launched the #ActivismInPandemic campaign highlighting the important work of human rights defenders and journalists have been doing during COVID19. The campaign aims to share experiences of journalists and HRDs during the pandemic and also highlight the importance of managing work and stress during these testing times.

Policy Initiatives

Legal Analysis - Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020:

https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Removal-and-Blocking-of-Unlawful-Online-Content-Procedure-Oversight-and-Safeguards-Rules-2020_-Legal-Analysis.pdf

Digital Rights Foundation is gravely concerned by the the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020:

https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/digital-rights-foundation-is-gravely-concerned-by-the-the-removal-and-blocking-of-unlawful-online-content-procedure-oversight-and-safeguards-rules-2020/

DRF published it’s policy brief on the ‘Impact and Legality of Surveillance’:

This policy brief, prepared by the Digital Rights Foundation, discusses the issue of the constitutionality and social impact of surveillance, particularly from a human rights perspective, and its impact on democratic freedoms.

https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Impact-and-Legality-of-Surveillance-Final-Document-14.10.2020-1.pdf

Gender-based violence cases in Pakistan

As part of a study by the Digital Rights Foundation, a mapping exercise of gender-based violence cases since the Motorway Incident has revealed that in 64 days 123 cases of rape and gang rape have been reported across Pakistan.

Addressing Online Attacks on Women Journalists in Pakistan

This policy brief aims to discuss the increased incidence of online violence and targeted harassment against female journalists, and its implications on freedom of speech and dissent.

https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Policy-1.pdf

Punjab Police Women Safety App

In a policy brief examining the Punjab Police Women Safety App, as an organization working on tech and gender for a number of years, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) sees the approach and the application both as wholly inadequate for tackling the issue of gender-based violence in the country.

https://twitter.com/DigitalRightsPK/status/1326510045048287232?s=20

250 recommendations on how to stop infodemics

In collaboration with the Forum on Information and Democracy, and based on more than 100 contributions from international experts, the Digital Rights Foundation offered 250 recommendations on how to rein in a phenomenon that threatens democracies and human rights, including the right to health.

Cyber Harassment Helpline October Statistics

Cyber Harassment Helpline received 235 complaints in the month of October. It shows the trend of online violence especially blackmailing through non consensual use of information and images has sustained. Another observed trend is of social engineering through which people are coerced into sharing their personal details like National Identity Card number, WhatsApp code, bank account details and, e-wallet details making them susceptible to hacking and financial fraud. Majority of the complainants were females (68%) belonging to Punjab (Lahore) and other cities without the FIA cybercrime office.

Media Coverage

Wired Article

In an article for ‘Wired UK’, Nighat Dad discusses the state of Internet Freedom in 2020 and beyond, stating that “In 2021 we will have to acknowledge that the internet is not the free space it was originally envisaged to be".

New Cyber Laws in Pakistan- What’s the buzz with Kiran Butt’ on Capital TV

In an exclusive interview with Capital TV, on “What’s the Buzz” with Kiran Butt, Nighat Dad discusses the impact of the new online harm rules and social media regulations on content creators, journalists and influencers.

IFEX Article

In an article for IFEX, Nighat Dad discusses the origins of the Digital Rights Foundation, and her pursuit in establishing safer online spaces for women.

Events and Sessions

UNESCO event on End Impunity Against Journalists in Islamabad

In a collaborative event for UNESCO Islamabad and the Swedish Embassy in Pakistan, marking the ‘End Impunity Day’ for Crimes and Journalists, Nighat Dad advocated for the protection of the Freedom of Speech and Media Freedom for journalists, in both online and offline spaces.

Changing the Face of Politics Podcast

In an interview with Mimoza Kusari-Lila, member of the Kosovo Parliament, for the ‘Changing the Face of Politics Podcast, Nighat Dad discusses the parliamentarian’s journey to political office, and the obstacles she faced on her journey.

Digital Rights Popup Forum

An estimated billion users are coming online for the first time. Yet little is understood about this market, which faces acute privacy, security and access challenges that threaten their ability to equitably connect. In a panel discussion for Internetdagarna Digital Rights Popup Forum, Nighat Dad discusses the “State of Internet Freedom Around the World: Protecting the Next Billion and the Global Soul”.

https://internetdagarna.se/program/digital-rights-popup-forum/

Launch webinar: “Feminist Movements Go Online: Imagining Feminist Futures Online”

DRF conducted a live webinar with some of the contributors of its ezine, Ajwah Nadeem, Sarah Shamim and Umaima Ahmed on Facebook that can be accessed here.

In a panel discussion for Hafiza Merkesi (the Truth Justice Memory Center), Nighat Dad discussed internet freedom and the incidence of cyber harassment against women in online spaces.

Broken Rules? Pakistan’s Online Regulations

In a policy roundtable for Tabadlab, Nighat Dad discusses the state of Pakistan’s online regulations and its potential policy implications.

Rapid Fire Chat Series

Rapid Fire on it’s an infodemic

Arslan Ather along with Laiba and Manal Khan, we discussed the prevalence of misinformation during the pandemic and otherwise too. Our panelists gave great and witty answers to our rapid-fire questions, while also giving us some important insight into how journalists have been working with this ‘infodemic’.

Rapid Fire Chat on #InternationalMensDay

DRF conducted its series of Rapid Fire Chats with digital rights activist Hija Kamran and journalist Fatima Razzaq to talk about masculinity in the digital spaces. The chat can be accessed here.

Gender-based harassment of women journalists 

DRF conducted another one of its Rapid Fire Chats on the 25th of November this year and in honouring the day, which is observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, conducted a chat on the same theme with our participants. We were joined by two women who have done commendable work in the field of journalism: Amber Shamsi and Ramsha Jahangir.

The conversation revolved around cyber harassment, it's impact and how these spaces can be navigated and also made safer, especially for women who use them as platforms for their work. The conversation is available on DRF's Facebook page where it was cast live on the date mentioned above..

Achieving Cyberpeace: A Collective Effort in Cyberspace and Beyond | November 30

DRF took part in a panel hosted by the Cyberpeace Institute for its first annual meeting. The panel titled "Achieving CyberPeace: a Collective Effort in Cyberspace and Beyond" will discuss ideas and initiatives to achieve peace in the digital world. The panel was also attended by Sheetal Kumar from Global Partners Digital,  Nicola Staub from Cybera Global, and Kanwaljit Singh from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Find more details here.

Digital Literacy Drive session

DRF conducted its third Digital Literacy Drive session with the students of the Forman Christian College (FCC), Lahore. The session was held on Wednesday the 25th of November, 2020 and was organized with the kind help of Ms. Mehwish Batool.

The topics touched upon included the concept of privacy, the legal state of the right to privacy as well as cyber harassment, gender and privacy. The session was concluded with a section on online safety conducted by our trainers.

Meeting with Canadian High Commissioner
Panel on How do we make our parents understand the internet? How do we reach out to them when we need help?

DRF with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation held a Facebook live session with our 4 youth ambassadors on ‘How do we make our parents understand the internet? How do we reach out to them when we need help’. The session focused on the need to talk to parents more and also make them understand the importance of the internet.

Data Localisation: All you need to know

DRF organized a session on the topic of data localisation in the month of November, given the recent developments in e-governance rules and laws in Pakistan and the overall status quo we felt it was the need of the hour. The excellent panelists who joined us for this session included Shmyla Khan and Arslan Athar of DRF and Alexandrine Corbion from Privacy International. The conversation revolved around the examination of what data localisation is, what it's impact has been so far in the countries where it is practiced and what we can expect from it's implementation in Pakistan. The session is available to be viewed on DRF's Facebook page where it's as cast live.

Digital Rights and Laws in Pakistan

This workshop was conducted by our Director of Legal Affairs and covered the legal landscape in Pakistan in terms of digital rights pertaining to freedom of expression, right to information and right to privacy in online spaces. Furthermore, the workshop also focused on the laws such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 in Pakistan and how they impact digital freedoms.

Two Day Residency Training with HRDs and Journalists

DRF held a two day residency training with HRDs and journalists on online safety and digital rights laws in the country. The training was particularly designed keeping in mind the needs of the participants in the training.

Impact Talk Digital Security, Privacy Rights and Fake News Pakistan Perspective

DRF participated in the #ImpactTalk titled ‘Digital Security, Privacy Rights and Fake News’ and DRF’s team participated in it on 13th November. The talk was organized by Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

COVID19 Updates

Cyber Harassment Helpline

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms.

You can contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us at helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday).

Ab Aur Nahin

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse.

IWF Portal

DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu and Pashto.

www.report.iwf.org.uk/pk

 

 

December 1, 2020 - Comments Off on Combatting the COVID19 Disinfodemic: A situation analysis for Pakistan

Combatting the COVID19 Disinfodemic: A situation analysis for Pakistan

Author: Mehwish Batool 

Mehwish Batool is an academician and researcher currently working at Forman Christian College - A Chartered University

She tweets @Mehwish_Bat00l

Supported by:

Introduction

Starting December 2019, humankind has witnessed the spread of two deadly viruses. The first one being Covid-19 – a pandemic that has claimed over 1.25 million deaths till now. The second one was a disinfodemic. The damage that the disinfodemic has done is yet to be determined in terms of its scale (many researches are underway), but it has proved no less dangerous than the novel coronavirus.

In this report, we are analyzing Pakistan’s response to Covid-19 related fake news and what can be done to contain the spread of this era of disinfodemic in the wake of the second wave.

What is Disinfodemic?

The term “Disinfodemic” is a combination of two words “disinformation” and “pandemic.” UNESCO coined this term to refer to the wide spread of false information related to the coronavirus. This is a global issue and there is hardly any region of the world that has not been hit by a misinformation or disinformation campaigns around Covid-19. 

Source: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/disinfodemic

The Outbreak of Disinfodemic

The first case of coronavirus in Pakistan was reported on February 26, 2020. But fake news about the virus was spreading way before that. In January 2020, forwarded messages started circulating on WhatsApp about people dying in China due to a “mysterious disease.” Soon after that, a few Facebook pages and Twitter profiles started posting video clips taken from a Hollywood movie and equated them with the situation in Wuhan. Pakistan’s mainstream media was rather careful in its reporting of coronavirus, but that had more to do with its hesitation to comment on anything controversial related to China than the fact that it was exercising any social responsibility.

https://twitter.com/WaqasLalwani/status/1222145983867498496

While most of the initial WhatsApp posts had the usual "قدرتی آفت" (natural calamity) and "خدا کا عذاب "  (divine affliction) narrative, there was a particular forwarded message that advised people not to order anything from AliExpress as the virus can stay on the delivery package for days. The Current ( a Pakistani digital only news outlet)  tried to debunk this myth and advised their readers to not opt for faster delivery in order to reduce their chances of getting infected by the virus:

https://thecurrent.pk/can-you-get-coronavirus-through-your-aliexpress-order/

As it turned out, AliExpress packages did not become the gateway to Pakistan for coronavirus but the virus did reach us eventually. What followed next was a flood of false information related to COVID-19 origin, remedies and how it spreads.

Misinformation and Government’s Response

Social media became the breeding ground of misinformation on coronavirus; with WhatsApp leading the way as the super spreader of this disinfodemic. Controversy theories were on the rise and many social media users were calling this virus a "یہودی سازش" (A Jewish conspiracy) or an aftermath of a 5G experiment. However, there was no sustained disinformation campaign in Pakistan as far as the origin of the virus is concerned. Zarrar Khurro (Twitter : @ZarrarKhuhro), a senior journalist at Dawn, is of the view that in Pakistan, Covid-19 related misinformation was rather harmless than many other countries. “Of course, the typical WhatsApp forwarded messages were there, but we did not see any sustained disinformation campaign here driven out of political agenda like the one we saw in the US.”

Zarrar Khurro is partially right! Most of the fake news around Covid-19 in Pakistan was not politically motivated. It was harmful nonetheless as the majority of social media users believed in such messages without verifying them. WhatsApp chats and Facebook groups were flooded with posts and videos advising people not to visit hospitals as doctors might inject them with poison and sell their dead bodies to Bill Gates/USA/WHO. In an interview for this piece, Dr. Arslan Khalid (@arslankhalid_m), who is Prime Minister’s focal person on digital media, said that this would have become a dangerous pattern if left unaddressed.

In order to prevent this kind of misinformation, the government took two major steps. In March, the government  took all the major digital media portals and influencers on board for an awareness campaign around Covid-19. Digital content from the likes of Nashpati Prime and Bekaar Films gathered good views and sensitized the public about the pandemic:

Apart from this, a committee was formed by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) in July to prepare a legal framework to counter the spread of false information about the pandemic. This committee worked under the Chairmanship of the Interior Minister retired Brig. Ijaz Shah, while representatives of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MOIB), Health department, the Inter Services Public Relations Pakistan (ISPR), and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were part of the committee too. Dr. Khalid, who is also one of the members of the committee, said that they identified and removed many fake posts that termed Coronavirus as a hoax. He also pointed out that social media companies such as Facebook did not promptly respond to fake news complaints raised by the government and it was difficult for them to identify fake content that was shared in local languages.

The curious case of Corona remedies:

Perhaps the largest number of fake news in Pakistan was related to the cure of the virus. Ranging from immunity boosting drinks that can prevent the infection to home-made remedies that can cure corona positive patients; social media was filled with unverified and false information. According to Ramsha Jahangir (@ramshajahangir) - a journalist and researcher with a focus on technology and human rights - the key factor that led to the rapid spread of misinformation was the novel nature of the virus itself. “The corona crisis was unprecedented; it was new and unknown. There were no hard facts about Covid-19 and the situation was constantly changing. Even WHO had to change its policies a couple of times. Now, it has been eleven months and we still don’t have a definite cure to Covid-19, which is why everybody is coming up with different theories.”

As the number of Corona cases increased in Pakistan; desi remedies recommending the use of garlic, saltwater, onions, lemon juice, senna leaves (sana makki) and ginger have all featured in viral posts on social media. In a matter of a few days, several whatsapp forwards started making rounds suggesting remedies for the cure of coronavirus. Most of these remedies were falsely credited to WHO, UNESCO, US and UK based doctors.

A post went viral in which UK based Dr. Nazir Ahmed, a non MBBS doctor dealing in herbal medicine, claimed that he had cured over 150 Covid-19 patients with tea made out of sana makki. This misinformation was soon debunked but not before the demand of sanna makki reached an all-time high in the country. Some of the government officials also shared such posts on their social media accounts and gave way to corona related rumors.

Source: https://twitter.com/fasi_zaka/status/1240619748079153152

https://tribune.com.pk/story/2234073/1-tribune-fact-check-sana-makki-cure-covid-19

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/669097-growing-demand-drives-herb-prices-up

If we put aside the misinformation that was spread via social media, the government’s core messaging around corona was also problematic to some extent.  We can see that eleven months into the pandemic and we as a nation have not been able to adopt mask-wearing and social distancing practices at a mass level. Dr. Arslan Khalid defends the government “I believe that everybody became a medical expert during the corona crisis. This trend was not limited to social media only; mainstream media also added to the misinformation. The way Plasma therapy was hyped by our media, even though its effectiveness is still unproven, that could have been avoided. It’s not just the government, media and civil society should also sensitize the public.”

Fact-checking efforts around Covid-19:

The cure for Covid-19 pandemic is yet to be found but effective and timely fact-checking can surely cure the disinfodemic. In the wake of the corona crisis, many international organizations have launched fact-checking initiatives that aim to debunk the myths and provide sound scientific guidance. In Pakistan, we can identify  few such initiatives, but their reach and effectiveness is still to be determined. The government of Pakistan, for example, has added a section on its Corona portal  titled Myths about Covid-19. It has also introduced Chatbots on Messenger and WhatsApp and a Fake News counter on the Press Information Department (PID) website. Around 200 influencers have been taken on board by the Prime Minister Office to keep the public well-informed (#ehtiyatcorona Urdu for ‘be careful about corona’).

https://covid.gov.pk/

http://coronacounter.pid.gov.pk/fake-news.html

Apart from this, we have a few independent fact-checking organizations such as Soch Fact-Check, Sachee Khabar, and Surkhi who are working to debunk myths around coronavirus. According to Ramsha Jahangir, there are no dedicated fact-checkers in the mainstream media, but a few organizations such as Dawn and Express Tribune have some fact-checking mechanisms in place.

Fact-checking is being done in Pakistan at some level, but these initiatives have limitations in terms of reach and effectiveness. Misinformation spreads at a rapid speed; and these portals don’t have the capacity to counter false news with the same strength and magnitude. Much more needs to be done now to enhance Pakistan’s response to this disinfodemic.

 

Using Digital Literacy to fight Fake News:

Now that the country is going through the second wave of Covid-19, there is a dire need to launch Digital Literacy programs and equip the citizens to identify and counter fake news. Zarrar Khurro argues that “Fact-checking has now become a life skill. Everyone should learn to do a basic Google search and reverse image search before forwarding any Covid-related remedy.” It might be easier said than done but there cannot be a better weapon to fight disinformation than to equip the public with fact-checking skills. The consumers of fake news need to be apprised of this disinfodemic and how to counter it. To achieve this goal, a collaboration is required between all the key stakeholders; the government, media, and civil society. Media and Information Literacy (MIL) programs should be designed to address Covid-19 disinformation. Educational institutes could step up to impart fact-checking skills among students. Local body officials can also play an important role by engaging people in their constituencies.

The existing fact-checking infrastructure also needs an overhaul. There must be dedicated fact-checkers in the newsrooms across the country. At the same time, the capacity of independent fact-checking organizations should be increased. Government should actively work with social media companies to identify and debunk any false information related to coronavirus. While doing so, it must keep its personal vendetta aside and should not target the voices through dissent. Our experts have a few more suggestions to curb the disinfodemic:

Zarrar Khurro (Senior journalist – Dawn)

Journalists should exercise caution while reporting corona related information. Always attribute the information to credible sources only.

Government should facilitate independent fact-checkers to debunk Covid related misinformation. Information shared in local languages must be closely monitored for fact-checking. 

Education and Health ministries should collaborate with educational institutions to create Media and Information Literacy (MIL) programs focused on Covid-19. Training programs for teachers, students and parents should be organized.
Ramsha Jahangir (Journalists and Researcher)


Mainstream media has a wider reach than that of independent fact-checkers. The media must step up now and hire fact-checkers in their newsrooms. 

Debunked and fact-checked content must be translated in Urdu and local languages.


We need to create digital literacy programs that do away with the jargons and go down to basics. A common person doesn’t understand the difference between misinformation and disinformation. S/he doesn’t know how to report Fake News on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. These skills should be taught to people in the language that they understand.

Zainab Husain (Managing Editor at Soch Fact-Check) (@ZainabHusainn)

Journalism degree programs throughout the country should introduce mandatory courses on fact-checking and source verification. 

Local media organizations should take advantage of the resources offered by International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and First Draft. Links: https://www.poynter.org/ifcn/ & https://firstdraftnews.org/

Digital media portals that have a good number of followers should exercise some responsibility before publishing viral stories. They should publish only verified information and should regularly debunk myths around coronavirus.

Dr. Arslan Khalid (Prime Minister's Focal Person on Digital Media)


Media should regularly debunk the myths around coronavirus. It seems we have to live with this crisis for more time now, so awareness campaigns on the mainstream media should not be stopped.

We need to tweak the communication strategy in the wake of the second wave. Core messaging can remain the same but we need to expand our delivery channels and address misinformation proactively.

Our health communication strategy needs to be revised in order to prepare a ground for Covid-19 vaccination, if and when it becomes available.