- The government realises control is beyond it
By directing the Information Technology Ministry to take aboard stakeholders before implementing the social media rules recently approved by the federal Cabinet, Prime Minister Imran Khan reversed an earlier decision which had perhaps not been implementable at all, and which could have well led to another set of rules which would be ignored. However, though this step of Mr Khan may be popular, it does throw a worryingly lurid light on the decision-making process of his government. While the PTI claims it is interested in taking the country into the Digital Age, it seems to have thought of it as foreign exchange earnings by start-ups, without realising that those start-ups require a society which is familiar with the digital marketplace, which is not bound by the kind of restraints familiar to governments. The speed with which the government has given up may well show the social media companies how vulnerable this government is to arm-twisting. Also, the government should have realised that this was not a move to win over its base, who still rely on the social media to spread the party’s message.
It is not clear how this proposal got through first the IT Ministry, and then the full Cabinet, without any questions asked about whether the rules had any stakeholder input. Indeed, the process of getting something onto the Cabinet agenda by a ministry is supposed to be rigorous process, and even if the Ministry had no one raise the question of consultation, surely the vetting process of the Cabinet Secretariat would have caused the question to be raised. The Prime Minister can ex officio change a Cabinet decision, but doing so should be an embarrassment for someone. There is the disturbing prospect raised of there being a decision-making process where such a thing might happen.
What if the social media platform companies had not been strong enough to make a fuss? If it is possible to sneak in a one-sided set of rules, without consulting the stakeholders, on social media, is it not a possibility that other decisions might be slipped past the Cabinet in similar fashion? The Prime Minister should not only congratulate himself on a lucky escape, but must examine how such a flawed decision could get taken. There might not be squawking by powerful interests in future cases to save him.