Rights groups decry Pemra's efforts to regulate web content as 'attempt to curtail free speech'

January 28, 2020

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DRF says Pemra is trying to further curb citizen's rights to freedom of speech. — Dawn/File
DRF says Pemra is trying to further curb citizen's rights to freedom of speech. — Dawn/File

Digital rights activists on Tuesday categorically rejected the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority's (Pemra) proposal on regulating web TV and Over the Top TV (OTT).

The remarks come in the wake of a document released by Pemra, titled "Consultation on Regulating the Web TV & Over the Top TV (OTT) Content Services" on its website, seeking comments on the matter by February 14.

The document proposes a number of regulatory guidelines, including licensing, inspection, content regulation and putting a complaint handling mechanism in place for web TV and Over the Top TV (OTT) platforms.

In response to the document, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) — an advocacy group — issued a press release stating that in a public consultation co-organised by BoloBhi, Freedom Network (FN), Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) "[the] proposed measures, policies, drafts and proposals were rejected outright with consensus".

"The stakeholders rejected the drafts in their totality as attempts at expanding the Pemra footprint slyly by usurping and self-according to itself the mandate to regulate the internet with the thinly disguised aim to regulate online content," the press release further said.

According to the press release, the participants of the meeting agreed that any such measures by Pemra will result in the regression of a digital economic future for Pakistan.

The measures will also lead to decreased freedom of expression, increased censorship and diminished digital rights for Pakistanis, the press release said.

With regard to the consultative meeting, the press release quoted the participants as saying that "these newly proposed regulations and measures, through publicised and unpublicised versions of drafts, can and will be used to censor online content and curb freedom of expression and right to information of media practitioners and citizens."

It adds that the draft regulations "are thinly disguised as draconian attempts to discourage new media journalism, including YouTube / website channels being run by Pakistani journalists who have been forced out from mainstream media over the past two years by the authorities to curtail their professional and/or entrepreneurial work, or dozens of entrepreneurial and non-legacy current affairs news and current affairs websites that are filling the gaps in information from legacy media and providing useful local community information.

"No one should be charged a fee for operating information services online through independent websites," reads the DRF's statement.

In the end, the press release said that attendees of the forum appealed to the parliament to "prevent any and all attempts from all quarters to sneak into policy-making all such measures as the proposed [by Pemra]".