ISLAMABAD, Nov 27: From relying on wall-chalking, posters and pamphlets as an alternative media, political parties and other groupings in Pakistan have very rapidly entered the digital world to connect with citizens without any strict government restrictions.

Most importantly, these parties are fast making inroad into the Pakistani youth as the latter are the main users of the social media. However, like many other countries, the digital revolution took Pakistan unprepared and there are challenges to deal with the impacts and misuse of the social media in the absence of proper legal frameworks.

To deliberate these challenges as well as the opportunities of the alternative media in Pakistan, a two-day international conference started at a local hotel on Wednesday.

The conference has been organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with Heinrich Boll Stiftung (SBS), Mediothek Media House Peshawar and the Eqbal Ahmed Centre for Public Education.

In his opening remarks, German Ambassador Dr Cyril Nunn spoke on the media and its political implications. He said media had been fast evolving in Pakistan which was a good sign for the promotion of a modern democracy. He said in the late 1980s, there were hardly two English newspapers in Pakistan and a state-run television (PTV) with the latter giving almost 50 per cent of its airtime to the then military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq.

The participants said though the social media had given its users more space and access to a wide range of information not covered by the traditional media, irresponsible use of the internet sometimes also created confusion over a number of issues among the citizens.

Besides, extremist elements and radical religious groups were also using the social media in an exploitative manner.

Nabiha Meher Sheikh, a teacher and writer from Lahore, said there were a number of ways in which women were victimised and harassed in the cyberspace. One of the harassment tools, she added, was doctoring pictures in order to humiliate a woman’s honour.

Many victims of harassment, however, are generally discouraged from seeking help through the court as the legal system is usually heavily weighted against them, she said.

Secretary ministry of information and broadcasting Dr Nazir Saeed said Pakistan’s liberal media policy had led to the proliferation of the media outlets in the private sector and the number of internet users was on the rise.

Responding to a question, he said the ministries of information and science and technology were working on a mechanism to unblock YouTube and a final decision in this regard would be taken in “due course of time.”

South Asia Free Media Association (Safma) secretary general Imtiaz Alam said though the use of social media had become widespread, South Asia’s connectivity still remained a huge issue.

He said despite geographical, cultural and historical affinities, the people of the region were still least connected with each other. Mr Alam said social media users should use the new technology to build bridges and bring people together by removing self-perpetuated hatred created among people of India and Pakistan.

International media policy expert Christian Mihr said the Snowden revelations had showed that governments worldwide continued expanding their surveillance capabilities in violation of individuals’ right to privacy, free expression and freedom to the press.

These surveillance activities were seldom regulated by strong legal frameworks that respected human rights, he added.

Mathias Spielkamp said in the digital world stories were becoming internationalised rapidly. He also spoke on the transparency and the impact of micro-publishing on the news media.

Those who also spoke during the morning session included SBS country director Britta Peterson, Rana Junaid Zahid, Tahir Dhindsa and Prashant Tandon (through Skype) from India.

Opinion

Editorial

Miles to go
Updated 14 Jul, 2024

Miles to go

Some reforms agreed with the Fund are going to seriously impact economic growth and fresh investments, at least in the short term.
Iddat ruling
14 Jul, 2024

Iddat ruling

IT was a needless, despicable spectacle which only ended up uniting both conservatives and progressives in ...
Cricket shake-up
14 Jul, 2024

Cricket shake-up

SOMEONE had to take the blame and bear the brunt of the fallout from Pakistan’s disastrous showing at the T20 ...
Injustice undone
Updated 13 Jul, 2024

Injustice undone

The SC verdict is a stunning reversal of fortunes for a party that was, both before and after general elections, being treated as a defunct entity.
Looming flour shortage
13 Jul, 2024

Looming flour shortage

FOR once, it is hard to argue against the reason that compelled flour mills to call a nationwide strike from...
Same old script
13 Jul, 2024

Same old script

WHEN it comes to the troubling issue of enforced disappearances/ missing persons — either Baloch or belonging to...