- Government still has time to review its new digital media laws
There has already been significant and justified outrage over the PTI government’s attempt to regulate social media through a ridiculous set of rules that digital companies such as Google, Facebook and YouTube will have to comply with in order to continue their operations in the country. Yesterday the Asian Internet Coalition (AIC), which includes all major companies that the rules would apply to, has issued a scathing rebuke of the government’s latest attempt to control the flow of information by restricting negative stories and analyses against itself. In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Law Minister Farogh Naseem and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman retired Maj Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa, the AIC has clearly stated that it would become near impossible for digital companies to continue providing their services in the country if the new “sweeping set of rules” are implemented. It correctly states that unless revoked “these rules would severely cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy”.
It is clear that not much thought or debate has gone into the formulation of this policy because in its current form, no digital company worth its salt will even consider, much less adhere to the laws on Pakistan’s direction, forcing them to close shop or be shut down by the PTA for noncompliance. This much has also been said in the AIC letter indicating that for them there are leaving Pakistan other lucrative markets would be a very easy decision. There are some worrisome contradictions as well. On one hand PM Imran Khan, in his meetings with various digital media company owners at different forums since he has been in office, has said that Pakistan is open for business while on the other he has greenlit a censorship law so draconian in nature that no digital company in its right mind would even look towards Pakistan as an investment opportunity. Unable to process criticism now that he is in government rather than the opposition; instead of developing a thicker skin, Prime Minister Imran Khan is exercising a dangerous and cowardly form of censorship at the expense of Article 19 of the constitution, the progress of Pakistan as a developing nation and its image of being a democratic state. One hopes the PT government takes time to review and amend the rules to make them more rational and implementable.