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Pakistan Criticized Over 'Draconian' Proposal To Regulate Web TV

FILE: Many Pakistani journalists have turned to YouTube and other online platforms after losing jobs because of mounting censorship.
FILE: Many Pakistani journalists have turned to YouTube and other online platforms after losing jobs because of mounting censorship.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has joined associations in Pakistan in calling on the country's parliament to reject a "draconian" proposal for regulating web TV and online video-streaming services, saying it shows the "authoritarian" broadcast-media regulator's intent to censor content "relentlessly."

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) published a proposal earlier this month to regulate content on video platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo and streaming services such as Netflix.

RSF said in a statement on January 29 that a "parallel and much more drastic proposal for regulating content censorship" is being circulated to federal government agencies.

"By means of pressure and harassment, the Pakistani authorities have been forcing more and more journalists to censor themselves in the traditional media, with the result that the Internet has become one of the few remaining spaces where independent voices can make themselves heard," said Daniel Bastard, the head of the Paris-based media-freedom watchdog's Asia-Pacific desk.

"We urge parliamentarians to reject this proposal outright because, even in the toned-down version published by the PEMRA, it reflects a determination to control all information," he added.

Earlier this week, scores of citizens' groups and journalists' organizations in Pakistan slammed the government's "attempts to curtail freedom of expression, right to information and digital rights; and appropriation of internet and cyberspace."

"The environment for free speech for the citizens and the media is already heavily curtailed in Pakistan as part of an ongoing process of suppressing civil liberties and engendering a climate of censorship," they said in a joint statement. "These newly proposed regulations and measures...can and will be used to censor online content and curb freedom of expression and right to information of media practitioners and citizens."

According to the PEMRA document, online TV operators would have to pay up to 10 million rupees ($65,000) for a license -- a sum few individuals or media outlets would be able to afford to operate an ordinary YouTube channel, according to RSF.

It said video media outlets could also be suspended for violating PEMRA's existing code of conduct, which the regulatory authority used last year to "summarily" interrupt several TV news channels.

RSF said PEMRA lacked independence, with its members being unable to resist the influence of the military establishment and intelligence services.

Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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