Author: admin

22 Dec
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Indie digital media start-ups keep public interest journalism and pluralism hopes alive in Pakistan

In a country where the freedom of religious expression and the rights of religious minorities are denied regularly, a group of independent news websites are stemming the tide of hate with public interest journalism.

 

The Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan (DigiMAP), a collective of 13 online news outlets that represents the emerging ecosystem of online journalism in the country, produced over 50 news stories during 2021 to give voice to marginalized communities, especially Pakistan’s diverse religious minority groups.

 

An analysis of their news coverage, now published as a research report, shows that DigiMAP outperformed its legacy digital news media counterparts on almost all indicators related to public interest journalism, quality, diversity and pluralism in news reporting on the issues and rights of religious minorities.

 

The findings reveal that while Pakistan’s well-resourced and well-established legacy news media is unwilling or unable to supply quality journalism about marginalized groups, the relatively poorly resourced and nascent online news media is bravely attempting to revive some of Pakistan’s many pluralisms.

 

From the margins, for the marginalized – promoting pluralisms

 

The DigiMAP was formed in 2019 with support from International Media Support (IMS) through its partner Freedom Network, a media freedom watchdog that monitors journalist safety issues in Pakistan and promotes civil liberties and media professionalisms.

 

Within two years, the DigiMAP member news outlets have put into action their mission of practicing independent public interest journalism and representing not only the “socio-political and economically marginalized communities ignored by the mainstream media” but also “Pakistan’s demographic diversity and pluralisms – including geographic, ethnic, linguist, religious, cultural and class”.

 

In 2021, DigiMAP member news outlets set out to report on the delivery of rights to Pakistan’s religious minorities, with journalism support facilitated by IMS in the form of mentorship for news reporting through its partner IRADA (Institute for Research, Development and advocacy). The results are encouraging.

 

According to the recently published research titled “Digital Media and Diversity: How Pakistan’s Media Reports Minorities”, DigiMAP coverage of religious minorities was found to be markedly better than the coverage of legacy news websites on a set of five journalism quality indicators and six cross-cutting indicators, which measured the public interest angle, context, and diversity of human sources, among other features.

 

The key findings of the report, which was jointly published by IRADA, Freedom Network, and DigiMAP in December 2021, are:

 

  • Ensuring gender representation in reporting: Over half of the 52 DigiMAP stories on religious minorities quoted women sources. DigiMAP stories featured women twice more and directly quoted women sources three times more than the comparable legacy news coverage.
  • More explanatory reporting: Most of the DigiMAP content (65% of 52 news items) featured the opinions of experts to explain the issues of religious minorities. In comparison, only 44% of the legacy news website stories quoted experts.
  • Providing context for issues: A majority of the DigiMAP stories (54%) included research or data to contextualize the reporting on religious minorities, compared to only 6% of legacy news stories that did the same.
  • Specifying the human rights framework: Most DigiMAP stories (54%) made a reference to the 2014 landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the delivery of rights to religious minorities. However, none of the legacy news media coverage on religious minorities referred to the ruling despite its significance.
  • Highlighting the public interest: A majority of the DigiMAP news stories on the rights of religious minorities had a clear focus, included human sources from the religious minority communities, did not perpetuate negative stereotypes, and directly specified the public interest dimension of the issues being reported.
  • Ensuring in-depth coverage: Nearly 70% of the 52 DigiMAP news stories on the rights of religious minorities displayed in-depth coverage through the use of multiple human sources compared to only 48% of legacy news coverage.
  • The performance of the online news media shows that the independent, public interest journalism start-ups are keeping the hope alive for diversity and pluralism in media coverage as well as public interest journalism by telling the stories of marginalized groups effectively and ethically.

 

Supporting sustained public interest journalism

 

One of the key ingredients for the DigiMAP reporting was the mentorship support offered by IMS partner IRADA. This mentorship included help in development of story ideas, quality checks on news focus and sourcing, and editorial review before publication.

 

Based on this mentorship model and coverage, the research report offers the following recommendations:

 

  • Ensure sustainability of mentorship: Journalism support organizations should continue to provide journalism fellowships and mentorship support to digital journalism platforms for inclusive news coverage.
  • Capacity-building for digital journalists: Thematic reporting on the issues of marginalized communities might require investigative reporting skills and multimedia storytelling techniques, therefore training workshops can be conducted for digital journalists to improve the quality and presentation of their news content.
  • Safety training to digital journalists: Digital journalists who work on stories related to religious minorities are likely to face social, political, and religious pressures during and after reporting. Therefore, it is important to equip them with holistic safety skills.
  • Draft a code of ethics to guide responsible reporting about marginalized groups: A code of ethics on sensitive and professional reporting about marginalized groups, especially religious minorities, could help guide the portrayal of minorities in media.
  • Encourage engagement between media and minorities: To address challenges of reporting access, engagement between minority groups and digital news platforms should be facilitated beyond news needs towards a newsroom-audience relationship. This will engender greater trust between media and religious minorities.
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28 Oct
By: admin 0 0

Regulatory repression, attacks on online speech hurt digital media freedoms in Pakistan: IRADA report

Islamabad (27 October 2021): The state of digital media freedoms in Pakistan remained weak during 2020-21 due to regulatory pressures and threats against online expression, according to a new report released by the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA). The report titled “Regulatory Repressions amid Pandemic: State of Digital Media Freedoms in Pakistan 2021” was published by IRADA on the occasion of the International Internet Day, which is celebrated worldwide on October 29 every year.

While Pakistan showed limited gains in Internet access and use during the global pandemic, the digital freedoms of media workers and Internet users were threatened by the government’s enforcement of controversial rules to regulate online content and its proposal for converged media regulation through a new centralized regulator, according to the report.

The report is a compendium of research studies published during 2020 and 2021 by national and international media and Internet stakeholders, including regulatory authorities, digital rights organizations and media freedom watchdog groups.

IRADA Executive Director Muhammad Aftab Alam said the compilation of findings and recommendations from local and global studies is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the digital rights situation in the country. “We hope that the report will provide relevant stakeholders, including journalists, digital rights advocates, human rights defenders and policymakers, with a consolidated guide to the issues related to digital media freedoms in Pakistan,” he said. “The report can help them develop strategies to overcome the challenges to digital rights in the country and create a progressive and safe enabling environment for digital media.”

The report covers five areas related to digital media freedoms – access, online freedoms, privacy, legal framework and judicial actions – in order to develop a wide-ranging understanding of the challenges faced by journalists and citizens in the effective and ethical use of online spaces in Pakistan.

According to the report, Pakistani journalists were consistently targeted with abuse, harassment and coordinated campaigns on social media to malign and discredit their journalism during 2020-21. At the same time, the general public was exposed to alarming levels of online disinformation, including false messages about Covid-19 origin and treatment, which put their health and safety at risk.

The digital divide negatively affected women, religious minorities and other marginalized groups in Pakistan during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the report, even though Internet connectivity and affordability showed slight signs of improvement.

Online freedoms remained at risk in Pakistan, with the country dropping to 25 points out of 100 in 2021 from 26 points in 2020 in the Freedom on the Net annual report. A data protection bill being developed by the federal government remained stuck at the draft stage despite receiving recommendations from digital rights groups, the report indicated.

The telecom regulator appeared to intensify its monitoring of social media content and took enforcement actions against social media apps on grounds of morality and decency, according to the report, while the number of complaints of cyber harassment filed by women also saw an increase during the pandemic. The report also shared court rulings that endorsed the importance of free speech and privacy in Pakistan in 2020-21.

The report is available on: https://irada.org.pk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/State-of-Digital-Media-Freedom.pdf

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20 Aug
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Govt attempt to muzzle media and public interest journalism through draconian PMDA rejected outrightly by stakeholders, media, legal fraternity human rights community and civil society 

JOINT STATEMENT BY PFUJ, HRCP, PBC,  AGHS, SAFMA, DigiMAP, FN, IRADA, DRF, MMFD and others

ISLAMABAD: Key stakeholders of media and civil society have completely rejected as draconian and unacceptable both the government proposal to create a new authority to regulate the entire spectrum of the country’s media sector including print, electronic, digital and film, as well as its attempt to wrongly claim support for it, a joint statement issued here, declared.

The proposed establishment of Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) by merging all existing media and sundry regulators and repealing major media related legislations is unacceptable because this entails bulldozing existing structures and mandates for the purpose of addressing government concerns rather than reforming them from the perspectives of either the media, journalists, citizens or media consumers of Pakistan.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Asma Jahangir’s AGHS, Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan (DigiMAP), Freedom Network (FN), Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Media Matter for Democracy (MMFD) and others oppose and reject the PMDA.

This joint statement is also being publicly endorsed by dozens of civil society organizations, human rights defenders and prominent journalists, citizens and groups. All key media industry associations including All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), Council of Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) have already outrightly rejected PMDA proposal, as have leading political parties including Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N.

While rejecting as patently false the repeated claims of the Federal Information Minister that the PMDA proposal is endorsed by any of the signatories of this statement, we reiterate that we collectively reject outrightly and oppose vehemently the proposed PMDA that the federal government has repeatedly announced it intends to establish shortly, as it is draconian in scope and devastating in its impact on the principles and constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression, media freedoms, right to information and human rights as well as the practise of the noble profession of journalism.

We believe the proposal reflects a dictatorial “martial law mindset” hostile to the concept of people’s pluralist freedom of expression and embodies the anti-media proclivity of an army of government spokespersons that demonize the media and distribute “certificates of treason and patriotism.” This is unacceptable and runs contrary to rights-based constitutional democracy in which dissent is a legitimate tool of democratic exercise. Citizens and media differing with government policies and holding contrarian perceptions is the lifeblood of democracies and do not constitute treason or mischief. The government must respect these democratic principles.

The government proposal includes repealing all current media related laws including The Press Council Ordinance 2002, The Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002, the Newspaper Employees, (Conditions of Services Acts) 1973, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002 as amended by PEMRA Amendment Act 2007, and The Motion Pictures Ordinance 1979 and to merge all the current media regulators into a single entity called “Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA).”

Instead of reforming these laws, upending the current media regulatory regime, as proposed in the law, will destroy all public media as it exists in Pakistan today, despite its myriad current complications, as the proposed PMDA is in direct contravention of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promises of expanding freedom of expression before he took oath of office.

The proposed PMDA is designed to further tighten the grip of the government on all forms of media that includes not just print and electronic but also internet and digital media, and even films and drama now. The government is attempting to formalize a regime of coercive censorship even when it has no right to police the freedom of expression of 200 million citizens of Pakistan as guaranteed in the Constitution.

We express concern that after strangulating the legacy media of print and electronic that have served the country’s struggle for democracy, public interest and human rights for decades, even during the period of martial law, the government now wants to subjugate the Pakistani cyberspace also where Pakistani media is finding a new space to practise public interest journalism that is being strangulated in offline spaces. This cannot be allowed to happen as it will be tantamount to restricting digital rights and trample free speech in digital spaces and democratic diversity and socio-cultural pluralisms online.

The incumbent government is already exercising a coercive censorship policy on mainstream media and since 2019 aiming to introduce intimidating online regulations through PEMRA and PTA which have been vehemently opposed and rejected by all stakeholders and even by national and international media watchdogs and global social media giants.

The entire media sector, journalists’ community, civil society, political parties and citizens of Pakistan will oppose this dictatorial regime on media, including print, electronic and digital, tooth and nail and not allow PMDA to become the proposed new headquarters of censorship in the country.

Proposed laws that create draconian institutions such as PMDA are favoured by dictators not democrats. Such non-representative and monopolistic approaches to law making in democratic setup and elected governments has always proved to be disastrous not just for the country and society but also for government themselves. The government and ruling party will itself become the biggest victim of the draconian law by crushing freedom of expression of citizens and media freedoms for journalists as no one will be left to speak for it and communicate with its constituents.

There is an urgent need to expand media freedoms in both the digital and physical information spheres to protect all information practitioners including print, electronic and digital journalists instead of further curbing political and social pluralisms in the country, and

limiting them under a proposed PMDA that proposes expensive licensing of media operations, annual renewal permissions and trials of print, electronic and digital journalists and other content producers, including citizens.

Pakistan continues to slip further in rankings on freedom of expression and safety of journalists and information practitioners issued by global media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders, International Federation of Journalists and Committee to Protect Journalists. If the government proposal materializes in the shape of a law or ordinance, it will end up pushing Pakistan on the bottom-most world ranks of media freedoms.

Pakistan’s economic progress depends on its digital transformation and a thriving cyberspace that fosters creativity, innovation and free expression underwritten by global standards of digital rights. Ther proposed PMDA will kill this spirit of digital progress and we will collectively oppose this.

By aiming to undermine the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and right to information as enshrined in Articles 19 and 19-A, the proposed new PMDA law is ultra vires of the constitution. We reject it completely and urge the government to abandon this misadventure failing which we will be constrained to launch a countrywide movement in concert with the media industry, civil society, digital and human rights groups, parliamentarians, political parties and global media and digital rights groups to oppose it.

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27 Apr
By: admin 0 0

Harsh regulations curbing civic freedoms in Pakistani online spaces: report

ISLAMABAD: Internet freedom in Pakistan declined dramatically during 2020 due to increased governmental blocking of political, social, and cultural websites, beefed up operationalization of an undeclared policy of connectivity restrictions, increased disinformation and weaponization of the cybercrime law PECA as a tool to curb dissent.

This is the crux of the findings of the “Annual Pakistan Media Legal Review (PMLR) 2020” report launched by the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), an independent Pakistani organization working on issues of civil liberties, to commemorate World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

“The accumulative effect of these outcomes,” according to the report titled “Growing Fear and Hate in Pakistani Online Civic Spaces,” was that the already unfriendly legal framework governing freedom of expression, right to information and digital rights in Pakistan worsened considerably during 2020.

Launching the report in Islamabad, IRADA Executive Director Muhammad Aftab Alam announced that “We havededicated this year’s Pakistan Media Legal Review 2020 to late I. A. Rehman – an iconic human rights defender, an uncompromised voice for freedom of expression and rule of law – as an acknowledgment for his unprecedented contribution and efforts for realization of rights of marginalized segments of the society.”

As per key highlights of the report, “Pakistanis experiencing major setbacks in enforcement of digital rights, freedom of expression and right to information – especially in online spaces – through regression in the areas of internet policies and regulations. This is resulting in a rise in censorship, hate speech, digital surveillance and breach of privacy and disinformation and misinformation online.”

The report says that media legal context of Pakistan in 2020 was characterized by an aggressive government seeking to extend and expand its authority to overregulate the media sector and to redefine the boundaries of free speech not just of media and information practitioners, including journalists and online citizens, but also of opposition political parties and civil society movements and their leaders.

Nevertheless, the report added, the government in 2020 accelerated its efforts to beef up internet controls with the intended consequence of expanding its policy of reduced tolerance for dissent.

The Report noted that “the cybercrime law was repeatedly invoked against journalists and opinion makers for exercising freedom of expression and social media activism. During the year 2020, a large number of journalists and social media activists became target of the draconian PECA 2016.Several journalists and rights activists faced inquiries, abductions, investigations and arrests related to their online / social media activities and posts.

As per the Report, “thirteen (13) incidents of actions under the PECA against journalists or human rights activists have been reported during the year.” The Report stated that Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) either has initiated inquires or issued notices to journalists and online information practitioners or cases were registered against them under the cybercrime law. At least two of them were arrested as well for their allegedly unlawful online activities.

The report also noted that that 2020 saw the re-emergence with a vengeance ofbanning of social media applications and platforms. Several social media applications including BIGO Live, PUBG, TikTok, Tinder, Grindr, Say Hi, Tagged and Skout were banned by the authorities.

“Freedom of expression is a guaranteed fundamental right in the shape of Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan,” Mr Alam said, adding that “the government needs to roll back its increasingly coercive policy and hostile practices aimed at curbing free speech and bring them in alignment with the best practices of diversity and pluralism in expression and allow online spaces to be representative of the people’s opinions and interests.”

The complete report has been released on:Irada website.

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18 Mar
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Technical Stakeholders’ Consultations to Formulate Holistic Operational Strategies for Legal Cell in Combating Impunity of Crimes Against Journalists in Pakistan

With the UNESCO / Global Media Defence Fund (GMDF) support for “Reducing High Impunity in Crimes Against Journalists in Pakistan through Prosecution and Litigation”, the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) – an independent Pakistani registered social development organization – has established specialized legal cell in December 2020 ‘to provide free legal aid to journalists facing threats, attacks, restrictions and/or judicial peril during the rightful exercise of their professional duties in Pakistan and hold federal and provincial governments accountable through strategic litigation on their failure to enact special legislation on safety of journalists.’

To develop holistic operational strategies for effectiveness of the legal cell in combating impunity of crimes against journalists and online information practitioners in Pakistan, IRADA is currently conducting a series of technical consultations with the stakeholders across the country. In three of the five technical consultations, a large number of representatives of unions of journalists, digital media / journalism platforms, legal fraternity and academia participated and contribute to formulation of a collective strategy to make Pakistan’s journalists and information practitioners safer. These consultations have been organized at Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad. Remaining two consultations will be conducted in Karachi and Quetta before end of this March.

The participants of the consultations stressed upon the need for an institutionalized response – such as this Legal Cell – to the state actors’ authoritarian and dictatorial practices and non-state actors’ illegal and criminal actions against journalists and freedom of expression in the country. While appreciating the establishment of the legal cell, participants underlined importance of an inclusive approach in extending support to all journalists, especially those from socially marginalized segments such as women and religious minorities.

The participants were informed that the rate of success / relief in the cases, which are supported through the legal cell, is 100%  so far. The participants, therefore, suggested to comprehensively document the support provided through the legal cell and benefits. They argued that this documentation will help legal cell to determine nature of threats and develop a systematic response through pre-determined set of solutions.

Given geographical spread of the crimes against the journalists across the country, both in urban centres and rural areas, the participants suggest to extend legal support to the journalists in remote areas as well. Creating liaison between provincial bar councils and association and journalists’ unions through the legal cell will also help combat the culture of impunity of crimes against the journalists at local level as well, participants suggested. Role of academia, particularly law and journalism schools, in sensitizing next generation of legal experts and journalists through clinical education was also highlighted.

Latest of these consultations held in Islamabad on March 16, 2021.

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04 Feb
By: admin 0 0

IRADA launches legal cell to defend journalists in courts of law

Islamabad (February 05, 2021): The Institute of Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), a research organization based in Islamabad, has set up a specialized legal cell to provide free legal assistance to journalists. The cell, that includes experienced practitioners of constitutional, civil and criminal laws from Islamabad and the four provincial capitals, will work in coordination with the Journalists Defence Committee of Pakistan Bar Council (PBCJDC). It will provide free legal assistance to journalists facing threats, attacks, restrictions and/or judicial peril during the rightful exercise of their professional duties in Pakistan.

Muhammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director of IRADA, described the purposes of the cell to increase safety and security for journalists working in all the different parts of the country. He said, “Journalists in Pakistan have been under tremendous pressure during the last two decades. They have faced enormous challenges ranging from assaults, intimidation, harassment and kidnappings to target killing and terrorism.” He also pointed out that physical and online safety of journalists has remained a serious problem in Pakistan since 2001 as more than 130 of them have lost their lives during this period.

Mr Alam regretted the fact that only less than 5 per cent of cases in which journalists were killed have been heard by courts. This, according to him, is mainly due to the absence of institutionalized mechanism to counter impunity in crimes against journalists. “On the other hand, legal action against journalists, particularly under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) of 2016, has increase which is adding to the already enormous curbs on the freedom of expression in the country, he said. “The unfortunate aspect of these actions is that journalists were mostly left to fend for themselves as their employers did not bother to come to their aid,” he added.

To change this situation for the better, Mr Alam stressed the need to introduce a mechanism that could provide legal assistance to journalists in distress whether due to the actions of the state or by the activities of the non-state actors. “IRADA’s legal cell has been set up to fulfill that need. It will offer the much needed ‘pro bono’ support to journalists facing legal charges and challenges,” he said.

He also explained the cell’s mandate as “assisting journalists in their work-related legal problems including civil, criminal and/or any other charges they might be facing before a court of law and/or administrative entity”. The cell, according to him, also aims at initiating strategic litigation in order to create legal precedents for the protection of both journalists and the freedom of expression in Pakistan.

Mr Alam said, “Anyone engaged in the business of producing and disseminating news and facing legal (civil or criminal) charges can approach the cell for assistance. This assistance can range from the provision of legal opinion to defending journalist in courts of law.”

He also explained that that a three-member committee, consisting of the nominees of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and IRADA, will oversee the functioning of the cell. The committee will be authorized to decide whether the cell should accept a request for assistance and what should be the extent of its support in each case. A dedicated email account (legal@irada.org.pk) has also been created to receive applications/requests from journalists in distress.

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25 Sep
By: admin 0 0

IRADA’s Annual Report on Proactive Disclosure of Information Launched

ISLAMABAD: (September 25, 2020) The Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) has released its annual report on proactive disclosure of information titled: “Right to information laws and transparency: progressive legislation, reluctant governments” in connection with the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), observed every year on September 28.

 

The study is a three-dimensional (3-D) assessment comprising inter-province comparison (which territory is the most PDI compliant and transparent about voluntarily sharing information online), intra-province comparison (which common departments in provinces are best at sharing their information online) and inter-indicator comparison (which of the common indicators outlined in the four RTI laws are most shared proactively online by the provincial departments).

 

According to the study, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government has achieved the best ranking and the federal government the worst ranking in terms of transparency and compliance with the mandatory proactive disclosure of information (PDI) clauses of Pakistan’s right to information (RTI) laws governing the federal and four provincial governments, according to a new study.

 

The study reveals that in the inter-governmental comparison of PDI, the KP government secured first position as the most transparent government in Pakistan with overall score of 67%, while Punjab government got second position with 47% collective score. Sindh and federal governments secured third and fourth positions respectively.

 

The study also reveals that among the Information Commissions (IC) charged with enforcement of the four respective RTI laws governing the federal and provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Punjab and Sindh, the KP IC has secured first position by scoring 100% marks, followed by Punjab IC with 89% score and the federal IC third at 63% points. The Sindh IC could not be assessed for the PDI because it does not have a website yet.

 

The results do not include Balochistan because the province does not have second generation laws like the other governments and is still using an outmoded first generation “freedom of information” law rather than “right to information” law.

 

The study – a comparative analysis of how the provincial governments of KP, Punjab and Sindh and the federal government fare under the 19 indicators common to all the 4 different RTI laws governing these regions – throw up other interesting results. For the purposes of this study, the federal territory is treated as a ‘province’ since the federal RTI law is applicable only on Islamabad, not the provinces.

 

For instance, the intra-province comparison reveals that among the federal government ministries, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is the best at proactively sharing mandatory information, scoring 53% marks while the Ministry of Interior is the worst among federal ministries with only 26% marks.

 

Among KP government departments, the Information Department has topped the others by achieving 89% marks while the Home and Tribal Affairs Department has come last with 47% marks.

 

Among Punjab government departments, the Information and Culture Department has secured the top position with 63% marks while the Communication and Works Department could get only 37% marks and came last.

 

Among Sindh government departments, the best could be done by the Finance Department by achieving 53% marks to attain the top position while the Information Department stood at the bottom with only 31% marks.

 

An inter-province comparison of public bodies revealed that the most compliant ones out of 24 public bodies assessed, the KP Information Department was best with 89%, the KP Law Department second at 74% and KP Planning and Development Department third with 68%. This means these three departments were the most transparent and best PDI compliant under any RTI law in Pakistan, beating both the federal government and all other provinces.

 

The least compliant public bodies in entire Pakistan included Federal Ministry of Interior with just 26% marks while the second worst was Sindh Information Department with only 32%.

 

In department-wise ranking, the information ministry/ departments collectively occupy the top slot among the most PDI compliant and transparent followed by law departments in second position and finance departments securing the overall third position. The departments of planning/development, communication/works and interior/home occupy the fourth, fifth and sixth positions respectively.

 

In the inter-indicator comparison, the least disclosed mandatory disclosure indicators by all the federal and provincial public bodies included description of decision-making processes, remuneration, perks and privileges and functions/ duties of staff. Budget/ expenditures and particulars about the recipients of grants, licenses and other benefits are also poorly disclosed indicators.

 

On the contrary, information related to organizational structure/ functions, staff directories, statutory rules, orders, notifications and relevant Act/ Ordinance are the types of mandatory information most proactively disclosed by the public bodies.

 

The federal RTI law entails PDI of 43 types of information (or simply indicators) while KP RTI law requires disclosure of 30 indicators. Sindh and Punjab provinces are required to proactively disclose 25 and 24 indicators respectively.

 

In all there are 19 indicators that are common to all the four RTI laws in Pakistan and the assessment of the status of implementation of PDI clauses by this study has been based on these 19 indicators.

 

Proactive disclosure is a distinctive feature of Pakistan’s second-generation RTI laws. These laws were enacted after addition of Article 19-A in the Constitution through Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment in 2010. These laws include: the Federal Right of Access to Information Act 2017; the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013; the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013; and the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2016.

 

These second-generation RTI laws require all public bodies, within their respective jurisdictions, to ‘proactively disclose information’ online on their websites. The laws require public bodies to ensure their online / digital presence by disclosing certain types of information on their websites.

 

However, the number and kinds of information, required to be proactively disclosed, vary in each law. Moreover, each of the laws provides a detailed list of public bodies and covers literally hundreds of public organizations within its respective jurisdiction. Each ‘public body’ as defined in the respective law, is required to proactively disclose legally required kinds of information on its website.

 

For example, Section 05 of the Federal Right of Access to Information Act 2017 requires all federal public bodies to ‘proactively disclose’ 43 types of information. Similarly, Section 05 of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 demands 30 types of information to be disclosed proactively by all provincial ‘public bodies’ in the province. Likewise, Section 06 of the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2016 necessitates 25 types and Section 04 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 mandates 24 types of information to be disclosed proactively by the public bodies in their respective provinces.

 

While the overall number of various types of information required by each of the sections varies, there are several clauses on proactive disclosure of information (PDI), which are common in the four laws. It is, therefore, feasible to compare the status of implementation of the common clauses within their respective jurisdictions.

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06 May
02 Mar
By: admin 0 0

NO CONSULTATION WITHOUT WITHDRAWAL OF CABINET APPROVAL OF ONLINE PROTECTION (AGAINST ONLINE HARM) RULES 2020

POSTED BY IRADA | MARCH 1, 2020

On February 28, 2020, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through PR No. 267 announced the formation of a committee to begin consultation on the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020. This follows the Prime Minister’s announcement to review the Rules and consult stakeholders, after the Rules drew sharp criticism locally and internationally. However, the government refuses to clarify the legal status of the Rules without which any consultation is merely token to deflect criticism and not a genuine exercise to seek input.

While Cabinet approval for the Rules remains in place, there can be no engagement or consultation. This only shows the government’s intent to use the consultation as a smokescreen while intending to implement and enforce the Rules already prepared and approved. The Rules as they exist, merit no discussion at all. How citizens are to be protected requires an open and informed discussion which takes into account existing procedures, laws as well as how they have been applied. The abuse of authority by the PTA and government, especially their misuse of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 to stifle dissent and Section 37 of PECA in particular to report and restrict political speech, will have to be addressed first.

We also call upon tech companies to unequivocally state the terms of their engagement with the government on the Rules. Too often, citizens and end users become collateral in agreements governments and companies reach in breach of their rights, and we wish to remind them their actions will be scrutinized against adherence to global best practices and international principles to protect expression and privacy.

For the benefit of public discourse, we will continue to make public information that illustrates sensible ways of protecting citizens as well as information from comparative jurisdictions, but will not participate in any process initiated to deflect criticism and seeks to draw legitimacy to carry forth the implementation of the Rules that were devised in bad faith.

We demand the following:

– The Rules must be withdrawn by the Federal Cabinet and the decision, as documented through the process, be made public before any consultation is held

– Civil society has been categorical that Section 37 of PECA must be repealed. The consultation must begin by addressing the overbroad and arbitrary nature of Section 37 under which these Rules have been issued and review the abuse of power by the PTA and government in carrying out its functions since the enactment of PECA.

– The consultation must follow an open and transparent process. The committee must make public the agenda, process it intends to follow and clear timelines. All input provided should be minuted and put together in a report form to be disseminated for public feedback with a specified timeline which is reasonable, before which no Rules should be approved or enforced.

To see the list of signatories, view document here.

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14 Feb
By: admin 0 0

IRADA denounces the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020

Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) denounces the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, reportedly approved by the Federal Cabinet. The rules have been prepared in a completely secretive manner, without any consultation with general public, parliament, social media platforms and civil rights groups. In an Orwellian twist, the piously titled rules, threaten free speech, invade privacy of citizens and restrict their access to information. These are not only in conflict with the spirit of Article 14 (the right to privacy), Article 19 (freedom of speech) and Article 19A (the right to information) of the Constitution of Pakistan. These are also against the principles of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Pakistan is a signatory to.

Another worrying aspect of the newly formed rules is that these go way beyond the scope of the laws — the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 (XVII of 1996), and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 (XL of 2016). The rules, for instance, provide for the office a National Coordinator for which there is no provision in the two laws. Similarly, the responsibilities of the national coordinator and his powers to identify and designate the social media contents as harmful are both vague and arbitrary. Concentrating too much power in the hands of a single individual without clearly laying down the definition of harmful contents is a dictatorial arrangement which goes against the letter and the spirit of a consultative parliamentary democracy that the Constitution of Pakistan provides for.

IRADA is also concerned that the state’s apparatus will use the new rules in the same way that it has applied PECA which was originally meant to be a tool in the fight against cyber terrorism and hate speech but is increasingly being used to curb political dissent. The rules have the potential to give the state a control over the personal online communications as well as access to private data without having to follow any legal or judicial procedures. Since the laws require social media companies to register locally, set up their offices in Pakistan, base their servers in the country and, thus, follow all the local laws allow the government not just to force these companies to share any data that any government agency requires. These also give the government the power to shut down these companies as and when it so desires. The stringent nature of the rules might, indeed, lead these companies to leave Pakistan thereby leaving the country in an information black hole.

IRADA rejects the draconian regulations aimed at severely hampering social media platforms where over 60 million Pakistani digital citizens express their constitutional rights to freedom of expression under Article 19 and right to information under Article 19-A and demands that the government must withdraw these controversial rules immediately. Instead, if so necessary, it should initiate a consultative process to devise rules that genuinely seek to prevent the potential of online harm to individual citizens and vulnerable communities. IRADA also urges the parliament, including all political parties represented in the Senate, National Assembly and the provincial assemblies, to reject and resist these draconian new measures.

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