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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.

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.

 

November 11, 2020 - Comments Off on Punjab Police Women Safety App: Old Approach, New Interface

Punjab Police Women Safety App: Old Approach, New Interface

November 11, 2020

This week the Punjab police launched it’s ‘women safety’ android phone application in an effort to leverage technology to enhance policing for women’s safety. After immense and justified backlash in the aftermath of the horrific motorway gang-rape incident in Septemeber, it is not surprising that the Punjab police is attempting to implement women-centric reform. However, as an organisation 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.

The application can be downloaded from Google Play Store here.

What does it do?

The main feature of the application is its ‘panic button’ which can alert the law enforcement authorities regarding an incident of gender-based violence at a particular location. Apart from that, the application provides access to numbers of the following agencies: Punjab Police Emergency Helpline 15, Rescue 1122, Punjab Highway Patrol and Motorway Police.

         

Furthermore, the application has an ‘emergency live chat’ feature, though it is unclear whether the feature is a chatbot or run by the Punjab Police personnel. There is also a section on laws relating to violence and harassment; however, our team felt that the section needed to be translated into Urdu as well and could do with more visual/video-based content to make the laws more accessible. Lastly, the app crowd-sources safety reviews of different locations across the province, allowing users to pin rate locations as “secure”, “partially secure” and “not secure” according to their experience.

   

The Location Review feature is a good idea as it allows policymakers to track which locations are marked and unsafe and design policy interventions to rectify the problem. This, however, comes with a caveat as the data will only be meaningful if a large number and diverse set of users contribute to it. Additionally, data collected from these reviews should not be used to justify surveillance and over-policing measures in certain locations, which create additional human rights concerns and issues of discrimination rather than solve the problem of women’s safety.

Limitations

Currently, the application is only available on Playstore and compatible with Android phones, which excludes those with iOS-based phones. Furthermore, given that Pakistan has one of the highest gender digital divides in the world, the application essentially only caters to women with smartphones and access to mobile internet. According to the GSMA “Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020”, Pakistan has the widest mobile ownership gender gap as women were 38%  less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 49% less likely to use mobile internet. As per a study by LirneAsia, a think-tank based in Sri Lanka, Pakistani women are 43% less likely to use the internet than men.

The digital safety team at DRF reviewed the application to find a number of issues in terms of privacy. Given that the app collects highly personal information including phone number, location access and NIC number, robust data security and protection policies must be in place to ensure that the women using the application can trust the technology. Furthermore, the permissions of the app include GPS and network-based location, phone number, access to phone contacts, media files and storage.

The digital safety team at DRF reviewed the application to find a number of issues in terms of privacy. Given that the app collects highly personal information including phone number, location access and NIC number, robust data security and protection policies must be in place to ensure that the women using the application can trust the technology. Furthermore, the permissions of the app include GPS and network-based location, phone number, access to phone contacts, media files and storage.

       

Unfortunately, when the team tried to review the privacy policies in place, the link redirected to the ‘Career page’ on the PSCA website, https://psca.gop.pk/PSCA/privacy-policy/:

For anyone using the app, it is apparent that women’s privacy and safety of their personal information was not a priority for the Punjab Police or the developers of this app. For many women reporting a crime of gender-based violence is accompanied by immense anxiety about privacy in terms of their identity and information--without these assurances, women are unlikely to place their trust in the app. In the absence of personal data protection legislation in the country, lack of privacy policies and protocols is a huge concern. Any intervention for women’s safety that neglects to keep their private data safe is counterproductive and wholly incomplete.

Technology as a Silver Bullet for Women’s Safety?

This is not the first time that authorities and tech developers across the world have sought to introduce applications that can address the issue of gender and sexual violence. In fact, this is not even the first time the Punjab government has attempted this, as the current application seems to be a relaunch of an old application developed by the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) introduced in 2017. Nevertheless, there is increasing consensus within researchers and experts that women’s safety applications are unsuited to adequately addressing the question of violence against women.

Firstly, these applications treat women’s safety as an issue that only occurs in public places and crimes perpetrated by strangers. This approach fundamentally misunderstands issues of violence, which are perpetrated inside the home (domestic violence, marital rape and sexual violence at the hands of family members and ‘trusted’ individuals). This means that applications such as these are only scratching the surface of the violence and harassment that women face in society at large.

Secondly, no amount of technology and applications can solve the systemic problems of misogyny and patriarchal mindsets within the police and public institutions. Often women do not report cases of violence because of societal perceptions around victims and victim-blaming by law enforcement bodies. Technology will not change these attitudes. Applications such as these just provide a new interface for an old institution. Until and unless law enforcement bodies and the legal system, in general, engage in systemic reform at every level, any technological interventions will be rendered superfluous.

Thirdly, surveillance cannot and should not be posited as a solution to women’s safety. DRF has pointed out several times that technological interventions that seek to increase surveillance of women’s movement and bodies in order to ‘protect’ them are simply benevolent and paternalistic patriarchal control in another name. Technology often ends up replicating familial and societal surveillance of women’s bodies which does not truly emancipate or change the root causes of the violence against them.

Fourthly, if the app seeks to serve all women it should take into account issues of accessibility for women and persons with disabilities. Currently, for instance, the app lacks features to make the text and graphics readable for visually impaired persons. The app does come with a video explaining how to use it, however more visual and video content regarding the laws and other features will make it more accessible to women who are not literate.

This application comes less than two months after the motorway incident which shook the mainstream national consciousness on the issue of gender-based violence, particularly rape. It is no secret that the Punjab Police received immense criticism because of the victim-blaming remarks of the CCPO Lahore, Umar Sheikh. As per data collected by the DRF team, through monitoring of English-language newspapers, 123 cases of gender-based violence have been reported in just two months after the incident. Incidents such as these often compel law enforcement to engage in interventions and reform that creates the public perception that steps are being taken to address the problem--however cosmetic changes such as new apps do little to actually change things. ‘Internet Democracy,’ an organisation based in India, has noted that after the 2012 Delhi rape case several ‘women’s safety’ applications emerged. Similar to Pakistan, these technological interventions did little to change the ground realities that women face on a daily basis.

Conclusion

It seems that the Punjab Police has taken a top-down approach to women’s safety by developing (or rather rebranding) technology to ‘protect’ women without taking into account the actual lived experience of women and gender minorities in Pakistan. No effort seems to have been made to consult women’s rights and digital rights organisations when making the technology. Technology cannot be expected to enact social change or facilitate marginalised communities if its design does not incorporate the very communities that it seeks to serve. Additionally, technology cannot be used as a smokescreen to dent criticism of policing and the barriers women face at the hands of law enforcement if it is not accompanied by structural and meaningful reform.

 

November 2, 2020 - Comments Off on Pakistani students in Wuhan: the other side of the story

Pakistani students in Wuhan: the other side of the story

Autor: Tehreem Azeem

Tehreem Azeem is a digital media journalist and a Ph.D. scholar at the Communication University of China.

She tweets @tehreemazeem

Supported by 


“Can you connect me with any Pakistani student in Wuhan?”

This was the common request I was getting from my friends and colleagues working in media houses of Pakistan. I came to Beijing in September of last year to do a PhD in Communication Studies. Four months later, I saw China battling a novel coronavirus which we all today know as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Some of my friends in the media took my comments too for their stories on the situation of Pakistani students in China but I was living in Beijing, 1,115 km away from the virus-hit Wuhan. They were more interested in connecting with someone from Wuhan. Soon, we realized the media was interested in the ‘we are dying here’ statements only. Many of the students stopped talking to the media as it was not helping them; instead, it was making their families in Pakistan more worried.

Hira* completed her PhD in December from a university in Wuhan. She had booked a flight of late January which got cancelled after the city was put into lockdown. The university had stopped her stipend as she had graduated. Her university allowed her to stay on campus for free the whole period.

‘It was tough. The university was helping us at every level. They gave us masks, sanitizers, and anything we wanted to get from outside. My problem was a bit different. My stipend had stopped. I did not know how long the quarantine would go. I requested the embassy to at least send us (those who had graduated) to Pakistan. We had nothing to do here,’ she said.

She finally left Wuhan on the first flight of Pakistan International Airlines on 19 May 2020. She spent her quarantine talking with Pakistani girls in a WeChat group. That was the time when some students from Wuhan University of Science and Technology released a video on social media in which they said they had limited food supplies and the government must evacuate them. I asked Hira if she was getting the groceries easily in Wuhan.

Screenshot from the video message of Pakistani students of Wuhan University of Science and Technology

‘Yes, that was not the problem. I had rice, pulses, and spices. I could also order groceries online. Prices of few commodities did go high but I would not say that I was not getting anything.’

Hira said the students were scared of the uncertainty of the whole situation. They just wanted to leave China.

Pakistan decided not to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan. The news was immediately picked up by international media. Deutsche Welle news published a video on their YouTube channel with the title ‘Is Pakistan abandoning its citizens in China?’. The anchor talked to a student from the Xianning city of Hubei province to know the living conditions in lockdown. He told him that he could not even go out of the campus and the city was in complete lockdown.

‘There is no transportation. Our city is totally locked down - no trains, no airports. We are just trapped in our rooms and no one is here to help us.’

Later, a TV anchor took senior journalist Shahzeb Jillani on the video link to get his comment on this issue. Jillani clearly said the real reason behind Pakistan’s decision to not evacuate its citizens from Wuhan was Pak-China friendship.

‘The official stance is that Pakistan does not want the disease to spread. It is acting under WHO guidelines and the Chinese have assured them that we will take care of the situation but the real reason we all know is the special relationship between China and Pakistan.’

No doubt, that was the main reason Pakistan refused to airlift its people from Wuhan. The government first announced to provide financial aid to students in Wuhan and later said it will also send food. The students did receive money but that was not equivalent to USD 840 which was promised. Each student in Wuhan received 3500 yuan which makes USD 496. However, eight students of the University of Chinese academy of sciences and twelve students of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural sciences did not receive this money till the end of March. They received the money after the issue was highlighted in a report of Independent Urdu.

The Pakistani media should have investigated these stories but it preferred to disturb our families in China. Social media influencers or bloggers were no different. Comedian Junaid Akram in a podcast while criticizing the government on its stance about students in Wuhan said that he received calls and messages from relatives of people living in China. He said that students in China had not much food to eat and that they were surviving on whatever rations they had.

Junaid Akram released this podcast on 2 February 2020

TV channels in Pakistan showed visuals from the video message of students from Wuhan University of Science and Technology in their news bulletins. Jamal Ahmed was a student of The Communication University of China in Beijing. His family told him to take the first available flight to Pakistan after they watched these reports on TV channels. Ahmed had to buy an expensive ticket and return to Pakistan; otherwise, he had planned to go after his graduation in July. He talked to a couple of journalists before his departure.

‘I told a journalist that China has even closed mosques so people could not gather at any place. The reporter wrote in their report that Muslim students are even not allowed to go to mosques in China. I contacted the person and asked them to correct it. They changed it after half an hour.’

Ahmed stopped watching TV after he returned home. He said watching TV during the outbreak was creating more panic than the virus itself.

Nazish Zafar of BBC Urdu says the media was taking information from the videos students were posting on social media. She says those videos had different messages – some students wanted to come back, and some did not. The media preferred to stay with the videos, which showed panic, helplessness, and fear.

‘Also, there was no official statement to verify and crosscheck their claims of food shortage. President Alvi and the Foreign minister after their visit to China told the media that the students had asked for Pakistani food. This statement somehow confirmed that the students had food-related issues.’

Sisters Sehar Iqbal and Mehar Iqbal are studying Chinese literature at Wuhan University.  They started vlogging in January. They released a video on 26 January 2020 in which first, they showed the masks their university had given them. Later, they went out of the campus to buy groceries for lockdown. They say we don’t know how long we will have to live like this. In their next video, they talked about the situation of foreigners in Wuhan. They said the situation was not as bad as it was being shown.

‘Our teachers are taking care of us. The whole Pakistani community of our university is in a WeChat group. Our representative took details of each student and forwarded it to the embassy. It’s not like we are alone here.’

Both sisters, Sehar Iqbal and Mehar Iqbal share screen in one of their video on YouTube: Screengrab

They also told that the university had opened its cafeterias and supermarkets which normally are kept closed during summer and winter vacations. Dawn news shared their video in a news story. Aljazeera also published their video on its website and social media platforms on 3 February. This video became the most-watched video on its Facebook and Twitter accounts that week. Both sisters talked to many media houses after that giving the same stance that the situation was not as bad in Wuhan as the media was showing.

When I approached them to have their comments for this piece, they told me that the Pakistani students of their university were threatening them for their comments on media. They said to me that the Pakistani community of their university had decided to give a single narrative in media to push the government to send a plane for their evacuation.

They shared screenshots of a few messages they had received on the Chinese messaging app WeChat with me. In one message, a student told them to take permission from him before giving any comment in the media. The student has written in his message that even male students take his permission before talking to the media. He also wrote that the girls were disrespecting him for not doing so.

Iqbal sisters told me that that particular student is still in China. He did not go back to Pakistan when the plane finally arrived in Wuhan.

A friend of them sent them a message to tell that many members of the Pakistani community had asked him for their fathers’ mobile number. Apparently, they wanted to call him to stop their daughters.

They also received a message from a Chinese number on their WhatsApp in which the sender said that they were not supporting their brothers and sisters. In a friend request on WeChat, a person not only abused them but also threatened to leak their biodata.

The girls said that their WeChat id and WhatsApp number was already shared in the Pakistani community. Some students even called their house and talked to their parents.

The girls were in touch with an official in the embassy of Pakistan in Beijing. They shared these screenshots with the officer. The official did not do much except calling the dean of their department who called them and assured of his full support. Iqbal sisters did not file any complaint to the International Students Office of their university. They said they were so afraid and they did not want any of those threats to come true.

Both sisters appeared in Zara Hat Kay of Dawn News on 9th April 2020. In this show, they mentioned that they were receiving threats for their comments. They also told the hosts how their university was taking care of them during the peak of the outbreak.

While talking to me, they said that their university was providing three-time meals, masks, sanitizers, fruits, sanitary napkins for female students, and diapers for the families with children.

A PhD student of their university who wishes to remain anonymous and who had sent them a threatening message said that the community had decided to put pressure on the government through the media for their evacuation.

‘The whole situation was uncertain here. Everything was closed at that time, and we had no idea when things will come to normal at that time. No student from Wuhan University said that they were not getting food supplies. Some of us had medical issues; three women were pregnant. The outbreak was putting them into depression. Some people were above 40 years of age. That is why the community here was pressurising the government for evacuation.’

I also asked him about the threats Iqbal sisters were receiving for not following what the community was directing and sticking with their comments. He said it might have happened and no one should be blamed for it. It was the uncertainty and the fear of getting an infection that made them harsh.

 This single event tells us how user-generated content can affect media reports if not verified or cross-checked. The Iqbal girls went through a lot, more than any of us whose families would call them hysterically after watching TV reports about our situation in China. That was a tough time. It has passed, but we have lost our faith in the media of our country.  

*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the individual(s)

October 27, 2020 - Comments Off on Support Systems and Mental Health

Support Systems and Mental Health

Support System or for that matter Social Help, is frequently recognized as a key segment of strong connections and solid mental wellbeing, however, what precisely does it mean? 

Social help includes having an organization of loved ones that you can go to amid hardships or mental health crises. 

Regardless of whether you are confronting an individual emergency and need quick help, or you simply need to invest energy with individuals who care about you, these connections assume a basic part by the way you work in your everyday life.

Having a couple of individuals, you trust and can go to, can assist you with overseeing regular difficulties, settle on difficult choices or in any event, during an emergency circumstance. 

Support Systems are a significant aspect of our lives. These frameworks incorporate anybody we trust and can go to for help, guidance, or some other sort of enthusiastic help. Our social emotionally supportive network might be comprised of our loved ones; the 

people we uphold; each have their own social emotionally supportive networks that can include: 

  • Family individuals 
  • Friends 
  • Therapists 
  • Teachers 
  • Anyone else whom one can trust
  • Pen pals
  • Or even one’s own pets

At the point when one has a group of strong connections, one benefits in the following ways: 

  • Improved physical and enthusiastic wellbeing.

 Support systems are gainful for keeping up with physical and psychological well-being. Our connections can assist us with remaining dynamic and take part in exercises that we find significant. It can likewise improve our passionate prosperity. 

  • Improved feeling of having a place and security.

 Investing energy with individuals and knowing one is in good company lessens sentiments of confinement and dejection. Having individuals to connect within a period of scarcity can be soothing. Drawing in with other people who have encountered depression, for example, by joining a support group, can assist one with seeing that one is in good company and there are approaches to overcome misery. 

  • Better critical thinking.

One’s encouraging friends who act as our support system can assist us with working out issues and lessen pressure. Friends or family members that are facing the same issues as us, might have the option to furnish us with helpful direction, guidance, and methodologies that have worked for them. 

  • Responsibility.

 Being responsible for another person, or pet has been demonstrated to be a key factor in making a fruitful way of life changes. 

Pets are also a great motivator for people. Dogs especially are great at encouraging owners to get exercise, and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression. Cats on the other hand are very therapeutic, it’s been scientifically proven that people with heart diseases who’ve kept cats have minimal chances of getting a heart attack.  Pets can also have calming effects on their owner. Just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet can give owning a chance to relax and calm their minds. Caring for a pet also gives your day purpose and reward, and a sense of achievement. It also helps you feel valuable and needed.

We can definitely conclude by saying that a support systems for people suffering from mental health diseases can highly impact their lives positively. It is necessary for one to find a good support system or an environment where one feels motivated to even carry on daily chores that feel difficult for a person suffering from mental health issues. 

October 10, 2020 - Comments Off on Understanding What Anxiety Looks Like

Understanding What Anxiety Looks Like

Written by Saba Sabir

On this mental health day we would like to break the stigma associated with mental wellness. Stress is a real problem that negatively impacts health and safety.

We often do not realize that we’re stressed until it begins to consume us and we aren’t always good at identifying signs of stress and burnout in ourselves. In fact, sometimes it is easier for another person to point them out. It is important then to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress and any changes we might experience in our minds, bodies, and routines. Mentioned below are some signs and symptoms which are indicative of high levels of stress and anxiety. We can then work towards managing stress after understanding how it manifests in our bodies.

September 25, 2020 - Comments Off on What Is Emotional Regulation And Why Is It So Important?

What Is Emotional Regulation And Why Is It So Important?

By Kashfa Zafar

Have you ever felt hangry? If you’re human, chances are that you’ve been so hungry at some point that you were extremely irritated by everything and everyone around, but you were probably too agitated to realize that your bad mood was the result of a fairly common human experience – hunger. Emotionally heightened experiences can be really overwhelming resulting in cognitive overload; Your mind might respond by ‘shutting down,’ suspending your abilities of rational judgment. That is why for someone observing your behavior, you might seem like a less-than-stable individual. Of course, you know that you’re not some irrational person but in the case of experiencing ‘hanger,’ even you might be surprised by the things you say or do without realizing the reasons behind your seemingly ecstatic behavior. If only you knew that you were simply hungry, and the solution to your troubles was just a refrigerator door away. Wouldn’t that make your life easier?

Well, the good news is that there’s definitely a way. It’s called emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is the ability to exercise control over your emotional state so you’re in a better position to respond appropriately to the demands of a given situation. Emotional regulation skills obviously extend far beyond the scope of simply experiencing hanger. These skills are positively correlated to your social and emotional intelligence and can provide effective management skills for those experiencing depression and anxiety. 

The key in developing emotional regulation skills is to cultivate and practice mindful awareness. When you find yourself in an emotionally provocative situation, remove yourself physically from that negative space and redirect your attention towards what you’re feeling physically. Notice how your body feels. Does your chest feel tighter? Is your heart racing? Are you experiencing a headache? Whatever the case maybe, you can applaud yourself for practicing what is known as cognitive reappraisal. Instead of focusing too much on your negative thoughts and feelings, you have now managed to divert your mind towards how these negative effects present themselves physically in your body. When you do this, you are regaining control over your judgment and actions and not letting your emotions drive your thoughts and behavior. Cognitive reappraisal is a simple yet highly effective tool used in many different types of psychotherapies. It the ability to reframe your cognitions or alter your way of thinking. So, in the case above, you have reframed your experience of the situation because instead of focusing on your negative feelings and thoughts that might have negatively affected your perception of the given circumstances, you’ve concentrated your attention to somewhat neutral bodily sensations. 

Now that you’ve rerouted your thoughts from the situation onto yourself, the next step is to explore your feelings. Simply acknowledging that you’re feeling ‘bad’ or ‘mad’ is only a start. Dig a little deeper and notice what kind of negative emotions you’re feeling. If possible, write them down. Ask yourself what emotion might be masking itself in the form of anger. Sadness? Guilt? Shame? Hopelessness? For this, you have to be honest with yourself. Execute the same mindfulness that you practiced when noticing how your body felt. Without judging what comes up for you, identify both the surface-level as well as hidden emotions. By practicing this exercise over time, you’ll not only be able to develop and refine your emotional awareness, but you’ll also be able to tell what kind of emotional experience you’re having by simply noticing how your body feels. Each emotion has a physiological reaction in the body, and because you would have monitored the physical manifestation of the identified emotion, you’ll know how to regulate your behavior without being emotionally flooded. 

Once you’ve become regular in the practice of emotional regulation, you’ll feel you have greater self-control even in the face of the most pressing and pressurizing situations. Instead of letting your emotions control you, you’ll be able to take charge of your life, be it personal, social or professional.

September 2, 2020 - Comments Off on Cyber Bullying And Its Effects On Teenagers/Adolescents

Cyber Bullying And Its Effects On Teenagers/Adolescents

By Sara Israa 

Cyberbullying or cyber harassment are no new terms. They are now commonly experienced by people who are active on social media and who use online spaces. Cyberbullying could be defined in many ways but basically it is when someone intentionally sends hurtful messages and pictures, spreads false information, threatens or blackmails you, hacks your social media, or impersonates you. It is something which is persistent, which is probably meant to intimidate the victim. The perpetrator might be known or unknown.

With the influx of technology, social media, and unlimited access to internet services, cyber bullying is on the rise. It won’t be wrong to say that online spaces are now becoming unsafe day by day, since we are not aware of the predators behind the screens. The peak of cyber bullying is now actually taking a toll on mental health. Teenagers are the most common victim of this since they belong to a vulnerable part of society and they also excessively use online spaces. It is disturbing because of its public and uncontrollable nature.

The teenagers who are cyber bullied experience a range of emotions such as increased anxiety, low and sad mood, school absenteeism, decreased self-esteem, difficulty focusing, and in extreme situations even suicide. Cyber bullying and adolescent mental health hold a strong relation together. There has been vast research that validates that harassment on the internet introduces feelings of guilt, worry, and depression. This at times aggravated since many teenagers have a hard time communicating. This results in self-blame which might be a reason for them choosing suicide. 

Cyber victimization at times also leads to teenagers isolating themselves and spending their time worrying over the consequences of being shamed online. Similarly, children who experience cyber harassment may experience anger outbursts and may have relationship problems later in life. Cyber victims are more likely to experience somatic problems, including difficulty sleeping, headaches, and stomachaches, as compared to their unaffected peers. Many children in order to overcome or get away with post shame of cyber harassment may also indulge in substance abuse. 

 Unfortunately, most teenagers are unaware of digital safety hence they fall prey to cyber bullies. Also, a vast majority of research shows that in the past decade cyber harassment has become so prevalent that it is not considered a public health concern. 

With cyber harassment showing a strong correlation with adverse effects of mental health it is high time now that we make the youth more aware of cyber safety. We at the individual and collective levels should try to make online safety more accessible. There is a dire need for mental health counselors to address the concerns of cyber victims and provide them with platforms where they can vent out and word out their perspectives and thoughts without being judged. 

There are some ways which adults or parents can use to save their children from being cyber bullied. Firstly, be empathetic and listen to your child so that he/she can confide in you without fear. As a parent or adult, you can make sure that your child’s profile is private and not public, limit the number of friends your child adds on social media and allow only those to be added which he/she knows in real life, ensure about passwords safekeeping and ensure that your child knows how to report, block or delete someone who is harassing them. Get them engaged in offline activities. Remember, the less time they spend on their devices, the less likely it is that they will be cyberbullied.

References

Nixon, C. L. (2014). Current perspectives: the impact of cyberbullying on adolescent  health. Adolescent health, medicine and therapeutics5, 143.

Vaillancourt, T., Faris, R., & Mishna, F. (2017). Cyberbullying in children and  youth: Implications for health and clinical practice. The Canadian journal of  psychiatry62(6), 368-373.

https://parents.au.reachout.com/common-concerns/everyday-issues/cyberbullying- and-teenagers

Munawar, R., Inam-Ul-Haq, M. A., Ali, S., & Maqsood, H. (2014). Incidence, nature  and impacts of cyber bullying on the social life of university students. World  Applied Sciences Journal30(7), 827-830.

June 19, 2020 - Comments Off on Virtual ‘Private’ Networks no Longer Private as PTA Requires Registration

Virtual ‘Private’ Networks no Longer Private as PTA Requires Registration

Areeba Jibril is a DRF intern focusing on issues related to privacy, free speech, and elections. She tweets at @AreebaJibril

Finding a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider in Pakistan is easy. A quick google search will pull up multiple free services. Casual internet users may register for these services to circumvent paywalls and access online content that has been blocked in Pakistan. They can do this without even really knowing what they’re signing up for. More sophisticated users may use VPNs to ensure that their IP addresses, and therefore their geographical location and identity, remain hidden from the websites they visit.

What casual users likely don’t know is that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has announced a registration requirement for all Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) by 30th June 2020. This is twenty-two days after they first posted a public service announcement on their website. The PTA regulations do not ban the use of VPNs entirely, but they do require users to register their VPN use with their Internet Service Providers (ISPs). To do this they must share their CNIC number, the purpose for which they would like to use a VPN, and which IP address they will be using their VPN with. The privacy intrusion is not limited to this information. –The notification is vague, therefore it is difficult to say with authority the extent of the privacy intrusions that may come about. There is online speculation about the extent of information that the government can feely request from non-VPN users and whether the same practices will apply to VPN-users as well.

The Pakistani government claims they’ve added this requirement to support the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry and promote the “safety of telecom users.” But requiring registration of VPNs defeats the purpose for which VPNs were created. VPNs cannot be private if they must be registered with ISPs, who are then required to share the information with the government. The information flow doesn’t stop there – the government has contracted with Sandvine Corporation, a US-based company, to monitor ‘grey’ internet traffic.

The 10th June announcement isn’t forthcoming regarding the significance of this announcement, by claiming that this is “not new”. It’s true that users have been reporting that their VPNs had suddenly stopped working since 2011. However, this new announcement includes the threat of legal consequences, without much clarity on what these consequences will be. The drastic consequences to privacy do not need to be new to be concerning. The PTA claims to be using its authority under clause 4(6) of Monitoring and Reconciliation of Telephony Traffic Regulations (MRITT), 2010. 

VPNs can be helpful for the average internet user when they want to access content such as television shows that aren’t otherwise available in Pakistan. But they serve a much more important purpose in promoting freedoms of opinion and expression by protecting the privacy of users. By using a VPN, users can ensure that the websites they visit and the content they post cannot be traced back to them. For many, anonymity is an important part of what makes the internet a safe place.

David Kaye, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, noted, “Encryption and anonymity provide individuals and groups with a zone of privacy online to hold opinions and exercise freedom of expression without arbitrary and unlawful interference or attacks… A VPN connection, or use of Tor or a proxy server, combined with encryption, may be the only way in which an individual is able to access or share information in [environments with prevalent censorship].”

As the list of registered VPN users will be shared with ISPs, the risk of private information being accessed by those with malicious intent will increase dramatically. Without the ability to hide their physical location, users will be in greater danger if they use the internet to communicate discontent with the government and seek help anonymously. 

Some users may decide they cannot risk this intrusion to their privacy and refuse to register their VPNs. It is unclear how these users will be treated. The government can request that non-registered users have their VPNs blocked. However, they have also said that users who fail to register their VPNs can face legal consequences if they cause “loss to the national exchequer.” They maintain that they are adding this requirement to terminate “illegal traffic.” These vague terms should be a great cause of concern. What is illegal traffic? What will be considered a “loss to the national exchequer”? When will users be held legally accountable for failing to register their VPNs? The lack of guidance increases the risk that these laws will be used to target political dissidents and unpopular speech.

The notification concerning VPNs, coupled with the news from a few months back regarding ‘Deep Packet Inspection’ (DPI) poses a serious threat to online privacy and security for the common Pakistani citizens. DPI allows unprecedented access to a private individual’s activity online. The added issue with the DPI technology is the fact that the government has been incredibly silent on how they plan on using the technology and what the purpose of it is. This silence and general vagueness is somewhat similar to what we’re witnessing nowadays when it comes to this notification regarding VPNs in the country.   

Pakistan is not alone in regulating the use of VPNs. Belarus, China, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Oman, Russia, Uganda, the UAE, and Venezuela have either introduced some measures to restrict the use of VPNs or banned the use outright. Iran allows the use of VPNs, but only if providers are Iranian while Russia bans VPN usage for sites that have previously been blocked by Russia’s governing body for telecommunications and mass media communications. Consequences for using VPNs are also wide-ranging. In China, the government has gone so far as to arrest a VPN provider. In Oman, private users face a 500 rial fine ($1300USD). 

Given the human and digital rights track record of these countries, this is not a list of countries that Pakistan should want to be on.  

Sources:
https://www.pta.gov.pk/en/media-center/single-media/public-notice---get-your-vpn-registered-080620

http://tickets.nexlinx.net.pk/index.php?/News/NewsItem/View/45

https://www.dawn.com/news/1512784

https://www.pta.gov.pk/en/media-center/single-media/public-notice---get-your-vpn-registered-080620

The coming Pakistan VPN ban: PTA sets deadline for VPN users to register by June 30th
https://www.pta.gov.pk/media/monitoring_telephony_traffic_reg_070510.pdf. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/08/vpns-are-a-vital-defence-against-censorship-but-theyre-under-attack/
Where are VPNs legal and where are they banned?
https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-41160383

June 11, 2020 - Comments Off on Quetta Internet Shutdown

Quetta Internet Shutdown

This article has been authored by Zainab Durrani who is a Project Manager at DRF

The recent incident of internet shutdown in Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, has been noted by the Digital Rights Foundation with a grave degree of concern.

Two days without the Internet

For over 48 hours, between 30 May and 2 June, 2020 Quetta remained without access to mobile internet services. This occurrence, especially in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic that is at its peak in Pakistan at the moment, is an egregious infringement on the residents’ right and access to information, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the world and depriving them of potentially essential and lifesaving information.

Internet shutdowns are a deliberate effort to cut-off particular communities from access to the internet, which includes information, social media platforms and services accessible online. Internet shutdowns come in a myriad of forms: the relevant authority can choose to throttle access to a specific section of the population by cutting off bandwidth; instituting broadband/mobile internet shutdowns, “Internet blackouts”; blanket internet shutdowns, mobile phone call and text message network shutdowns; service-specific (platform) shutdown e.g cutting off access to platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

This particular shutdown purportedly came after escalating tensions between members of the Hazara and Pashtun communities in Quetta. The deaths of three young men from the Pashtun community led to unrest in the city and the eventual blockage of internet services was to purportedly quell this unrest. However, as per sources, the reasons for the shutdown were unknown to the provincial government at the time, who were unsure as to why the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had disbanded services in the city. Additionally, no official public notice was given by the PTA to communicate the shutdown, and its expected duration.

Concerns for residents

Internet shutdowns are an ineffective way of dealing with unrest in a particular locality, in that they are a disproportionate measure and human rights groups over the world have pointed out that they have the potential to engender more panic in the absence of access to information.

The shutdown impacted the work of many throughout the city. As a journalist, Mr. Hafizullah Sherani from Voice of America expressed difficulty in filing reports, having to go through the extraordinary lengths which involved attempting to get connectivity on the roadside, in front of a friend’s office, at 2 AM ironically in order to file his story on the shutdown itself. Saadullah Akhter from Balochistan Express echoed this experience noting that ‘it was an abrupt suspension when the city was in grip of tension following Hazara Town lynching hence we faced immense difficulty in getting accurate information over the incident and sharing it with other colleagues and newsrooms.’

This shutdown impacted the lives of dwellers from all walks of life, who, in the process of getting through an unprecedented pandemic, are relying heavily on connectivity not only to remain in touch with friends and family, but to coordinate efforts to arrange resources such as plasma of recovered patients to help those suffering from COVID-19.

Not only was it a problem as a field reporter, notes journalist Rani Wahidi, but as a citizen who could not communicate with their family through secure channels like Whatsapp, to keep in touch throughout the day or share her location with them for safety purposes. The shutdown increased the difficulty of those stepping outside their homes to work during a global pandemic.

Are shutdowns effective?

Shutdowns are a common tactic used by the state to ensure elusive aims such as “security” and “safety”. This is particularly so in Balochistan which faces frequent internet shutdowns and connectivity issues. For instance, in 2018 parts of Balochistan witnessed three shutdowns over the course of a week, one of which occurred during the Pashtun Long March.

As per Access Now there were at least 213 recorded instances of internet shutdowns the world over during the year 2019 alone in 33 countries. Not only are these shutdowns generating a social cost that impedes human rights, there is an economic cost--and a hefty one at that. 

Researchers Samuel Woodhams and Simon Migliano report that:

"In economic terms, disruptions not only affect the formal economy but also the informal, especially in less well-developed nations. There can also be lasting damage with the loss of investor confidence and faltering development, all of which makes our estimates conservative.”.

"On the human rights side, these shutdowns clearly impact citizens' freedom of expression and the right to information and may even result in an increase in violence."

Internet shutdowns often have a severe impact on freedom of assembly and association as well as mobility. Sadia Baloch, activist and member of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) said that the shutdown impacted the protest they were organizing for 4 year old Bramsh Baloch who lost her mother to violence and received injuries herself in Turbat, Balochistan.

‘... it specifically affected our protest which was on the next day,our mobilization was affected as very few people got the news and the rest of Balochistan has no internet facility which is a problem itself.’

While time-bound and location-specific internet shutdowns are very common, however there have been long-term shutdowns in the country as well. The former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) territories of Pakistan have also been facing an internet shutdown for 4 years now. 1460 days, give or take. ‘In early June 2016, at Torkham, the border forces of Pakistan and Afghanistan clashed over the construction of a gate by the Pakistani authorities on the border. This clash led to the suspension of 3G/4G services in bordering towns and tribal areas.’

The suspension of services is legally condoned under s.54 of the PTA Act which covers national security. S.54 (3) in particular reads: Upon proclamation of emergency by the President, the Federal Government may suspend or modify all or any order or licences made or issued under this Act or cause suspension of operation, functions or services of any licensee for such time as it may deem necessary. 

This is despite Islamabad High Court (IHC) ruling that mobile network shutdowns, including mobile based internet suspension were illegal. The judgment, from February of 2018,  indicated that access to telecommunication services is a fundamental right of the citizens of Pakistan, and any attempt to suspend said services is a violation of their constitutional rights. The case is currently pending on appeal.

Digital rights activist Usama Khilji of Bolo Bhi expressed his concerns by noting: 

‘The long standing internet shutdown in ex-FATA is a gross violation of the fundamental rights to information and freedom of expression and increasingly the right to education as guaranteed by the Constitution. Millions of Pakistani citizens cannot be left out of internet access as it impacts their ability to communicate, access information, and access education especially since the pandemic started. The Universal Service Fund set up by the government & contributed to by telecom companies must immediately be utilised to enable internet access in ex-FATA.’

Over the last few years, the situation has taken a turn for the worse in terms of a greater cost paid by those cut off from the internet. Currently, as students hailing from outside metropolitans have had to return home due to the implications of the coronavirus spread and there are more people working from home, blanket and arbitrary shutdowns will have a disproportionate effect, depriving them of access to information, work and an education. 

Being a member of the #KeepitOn campaign, which consists of 158 organizations from 65 countries that are devoted to fighting internet shutdowns, DRF is committed to reporting on and continuing its advocacy for constant and safe access to the internet for all. 

Sources:
https://slate.com/technology/2020/04/pandemic-internet-shutdown-danger.html

https://voicepk.net/quetta-tensions-lead-to-internet-shutdown/

https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2019/sri-lanka-blocked-social-media-to-stop-misinformation-about-the-easter-terror-attacks-but-it-didnt-work/

https://www.accessnow.org/pakistan-shuts-down-the-internet-three-times-in-one-week/

https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2020/02/KeepItOn-2019-report-1.pdf

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/09/tech/internet-shutdowns-cost-intl-hnk/index.html

https://thediplomat.com/2020/06/balochistan-erupts-in-protests-over-a-murdered-mother-and-her-injured-4-year-old/

https://thediplomat.com/2019/03/balochistans-great-internet-shutdown/

https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/islamabad-high-court-ruled-mobile-network-shutdowns-illegal/