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The Dawn

Published Date: Nov 28, 2013

Social Media being misused and creating confusion

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.