The Express Tribune
Published Date: Nov 29, 2013
Rights activists criticise government’s hazy ‘national agenda’
More than a year after being banned, YouTube makes the
discussion on alternative media in Pakistan somehow look like a waste of
both energy and time, especially with a government representative on
one side of the table.
After a rather mediocre statement by Information, Broadcasting and
National Heritage Secretary Dr Nazir Saeed at a conference held here on
Wednesday, someone from the audience was bound to voice concern over the
issue, and it was internet freedom activist Sana Saleem. It seemed the
secretary had no straight answer to her question regarding the
government’s stance on the world’s most popular video-sharing website —
once the most popular alternative media tools in the country.
"It is the jurisdiction of the Information Technology ministry which
is soon to announce a conclusion," was Saeed’s diplomatic reply. "I
assure you, in due course, a positive decision will come," he added.
The small hint of optimism in his statement was overshadowed by his
earlier remark that private media outlets should promote positive
discussions while keeping "our national agenda" in view.
When Tahira Abdullah, a rights activist, challenged the comment by
saying the citizens needed to know what the national agenda is in clear
terms, an emotional Saeed replied to the effect that we should not get
emotional when discussing certain issues — a statement so dismissing
that the questioner later termed it pejorative and reductionist.
Despite the official’s statements, the two-day international
conference on "Alternative Media in Pakistan: Opportunities and
Challenges," organised by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung (HBS) Pakistan,
presented a diverse array of the enterprising ways Pakistanis are using
alternative media — a loose term used to describe non-mainstream media
sources such as social media networks, video-sharing websites and
Participants said it provided educational and networking
opportunities to the citizens as well as access to rare information that
might be ignored by the mainstream media. Prospect presented by these
media are important given the significant rise in number of internet
Memes, rationality and tolerance
Eqbal Ahmad Centre for Public Education Director Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy —
a respected physicist — was hopeful the age of the internet to herald a
change in the current societal mindset, though he also said rationality
today was less prevalent than ever before.
Hoodbhoy believes the internet is a tool for propagating memes — a
term that means units of cultural thought. "We have to find the memes
that counter the narrative of ignorance and irrationality," he
The forward-thinking physicist, through an under-production series of
short videos that shows him talking about scientific and social issues,
demonstrated an attempt to provide such memes.
In another session, Imtiaz Alam, secretary general of the South Asian
Free Media Association, said the youth should use social media to form
cultural spaces and fight the menace of intolerance that has taken over
Pakistan’s social narrative.
My school: the tyrant
In a passionate and impressive talk, The Second Floor (T2F) Karachi
Director Sabeen Mahmud tore apart the traditional system of schooling
which, according to her, is “tyrannical” and kills creativity and
curiosity in children. "The current system is turning them into
conformist and submissive individuals, something which asked for schools
to be held accountable," she said.
Further elaborating her point, Mahmud said teachers in traditional
schools needed to change their existing roles to those which ask the
students of experimenting with their artistic and scientific ideas as
exemplified by a T2F initiative that, despite financial problems, is
displaying a steadfast commitment to alternative approach towards child
No modern democracy can exist without free media according to German
Ambassador Dr Cyrill Nunn who said, "We value the vital role of all
media outlets in the proper functioning of a modern democracy as well as
strengthening of Pakistani civil society."
The conference will conclude on Thursday.
No to the big brother-society
Reporters without Borders (RwB) Germany Chief Executive Officer
Christian Mihr said his organisation was trying to limit the exports of
surveillance products that can be used to spy on journalists and
citizens to countries including Pakistan.
The organisation is trying to legally force the 200 or so companies
of the global surveillance industry to define their human rights
policies and restrict exports especially to countries where the state of
press freedom is abysmal.
Matthias Spielkamp, editor-in-chief of Berlin-based irights, an
organisation that provides information on copyright and legal issues,
gave the keynote address at the conference about journalism after Edward
Snowden with a focus on changes in media caused by internet.
While the news stories dealt with NSA’s activities, he noted, it was
Glenn Greenwald — the journalist who broke the stories for The Guardian —
who became the subject of debate.
"It was interesting to observe that other journalists attacked
Greenwald for his advocacy of privacy issues," he added. "The fact that
governments are breaking their rules to snoop on their citizens should
He said it did not matter whether the battle for citizens’ privacy
spying-encouraging states was carried out by a journalist or an
activist, as long as the fight continued to be fought.