Category: REPORTS

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
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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:

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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 


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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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
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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 ( has also been created to receive applications/requests from journalists in distress.

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06 May