AG agrees to formation of complaints council for online content

Published February 20, 2021
The Attorney General for Pakistan has agreed to the proposal of the formation of a council to review ‘unwanted’ social media content, as currently there is no proper forum to examine social media feeds. — AFP/File
The Attorney General for Pakistan has agreed to the proposal of the formation of a council to review ‘unwanted’ social media content, as currently there is no proper forum to examine social media feeds. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Attorney General for Pakistan has agreed to the proposal of the formation of a council to review ‘unwanted’ social media content, as currently there is no proper forum to examine social media feeds, the stakeholders claimed on Friday.

AG Khalid Jawed Khan gave his consent while presiding over a meeting with the stakeholders and petitioners, who had challenged the social media rules Islamabad High Court, before assuring them that he would speak to Prime Minister Imran Khan and expressed the hope that the rules might be amended in the light of their suggestions.

Among other suggestions, the stakeholders and the petitioners had proposed the formation of a council comprising representatives of journalists, civil society and digital rights activists to solve social media-related complaints, on the pattern of Press Council of Pakistan that redresses complaints against print media content and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s Council of Complaints that handles the complaints against electronic media content.

The attorney general had recently assured the IHC during a hearing of challenges to the ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020’ that he would meet the stakeholders and the petitioners to review the social media rules.

Assures stakeholders of conveying suggested changes to social media rules to the premier

According to the petitioners, the rules had given unfettered powers to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to act against the uploading of social media content. The rules were framed, the government claims, to enforce the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) against the ‘unwanted’ social media feeds.

The petitioners — including Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) secretary general Nasir Zaidi, Awami Workers Party, Employees Union Dawn, journalist and anchorperson Amber Rahim Shamsi and a citizen Mohammad Ashfaq Jatt — had argued that the rules were contrary to the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution. They were of the opinion that the rules would inevitably lead to violation of rights to livelihood and freedom of trade and profession, guaranteed to the citizens under Articles 9 and 18 of the Constitution.

The representatives of the journalists’ bodies said there was no proper forum such as PCP or Pemra’s council to examine complaints related to online content instead the regulator had empowered the intelligence agency and government officials to check ‘unwanted’ content.

Advocate Kashif Ali Malik proposed streamlining of the decision and mechanism of challenging it to the appropriate forum.

Advocates Sikanadr Naeem Qazi and Haider Imtiaz section wise perused the social media rules and recommended that the interpretation related to the glory of Islam and national security be revisited.

Ms Shamsi pointed out that the rules allowed the regulator to keep a complainant confidential though it must be an individual’s right to know the name of an accuser.

AG Khan assured the participants that he would spoke to the PM, expressing the hope that the rules would be amended considering the input from the petitioners as well as the other stakeholders. He also said that follow-up meetings would be held to fine-tune the proposed amendments to the social media rules.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2021

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