–Information Minister Fawad says it’s ‘essential’ for govt to regulate digital media given its far-reaching consequences
–Says govt will act indiscriminately against individuals who propagate any sort of ‘extremist views’ on social media
ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday revealed that the federal government had decided to launch a comprehensive crackdown on “hate speech” on social media in Pakistan.
Addressing an event in Islamabad, Fawad announced that the government had formed a working group, comprising representatives of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other security agencies, in this regard.
“We have developed a comprehensive mechanism to keep a check on hate speech on all social media platforms,” Fawad said.
“There must never be any tolerance for hate speech. We will act indiscriminately against individuals who propagate any sort of extremist views,” he added.
The minister said that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had successfully controlled “managed hate speech and fake news on traditional modes of media, but the government is bringing a new authority called the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) which will serve as a one-window operation for digital, print and electronic media.
Modern media comes with its own set of challenges, he said, adding that the pace at which informal digital media is taking over the formal media makes it “essential” for the government to regulate it.
Explaining that the main efforts would be to uproot threats of violence, the information minister said that the move would hopefully encourage healthy debates that are not emotionally fueled.
“This week we have made some important arrests on the basis that they used social media to issue fatwas and advance their extremist narratives and threats. In the next few weeks, we will launch a strict crackdown. He made it clear that the state will not allow extremists to dictate their narrative by use of force.
“We will monitor social media activity and work to eliminate fake accounts. People who violate Pakistan’s cyber laws will be prosecuted. We want to encourage discourse and debate in Pakistani society but that is not possible when you have people threatening each other’s lives over differences of opinion,” he said.
“The state wants dialogue but that cannot happen if other does not let you do that,” he said. “If you are told that ‘my opinion is final and if you disagree I will shoot you or you should be hanged for saying this’ then you are using the state’s powers. Only the state has the power to use force or violence. Any individual cannot be allowed to the same.”
He said the government wanted to build a national and international [counter] narrative against extremism. Mentioning Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the information minister claimed that it provides a massive opportunity against extremism.
Pakistan has managed to rid itself from “an irregular conflict” which he said was more complicated than “regular conflicts” where at least the enemy’s identity is clear.
He said the country got mired into an “irregular conflict” in Afghanistan. He said that the “regular conflicts united nations as it happened in 1965 when the entire country knew that the battle was against India. But in irregular conflicts you do not know the enemy and that creates doubts in minds”.
The country, however, managed to escape this conflict due to its sheer resilience, else it would have met the same fate as the Middle East.
After a heavy loss of lives, we managed to leave terror behind, he said, adding that the next phase now is to consolidate on this and not allow people to exhibit hatred because the first stage of [this process] is extremism and the next is terrorism.”
He said dialogue is a basic principle of every democratic society, adding that the people have complete right to stick to their opinions and express themselves. However, people do not have the right to curb others’ freedom. The extent of my freedom ends where others’ begin.
The government’s decision to merge all media regulatory bodies into a single organisation, PMRA, has been denounced by media houses, activists and civil society.
The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) in January decried the government’s draft for the new law to oversee print, electronic and social media stating that one law could not encompass all media categories since each had its own issues.