Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging Pakistani federal authorities to rescind newly adopted rules for regulating social-media content, saying they pose a “major threat” to journalists’ work.
The Paris-based group on February 18 joined other media freedom watchdogs, both inside and outside Pakistan, in saying that the new set of regulations would give the authorities unflinching powers to stifle free speech and press freedom.
“The vague and ambiguous wording used in these regulations testifies to the arbitrary nature of the measures planned by the government,” Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said in a statement.
Bastard said that regulation of social media “is necessary, but should not become a disguised form of censorship.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government approved the new rules in late January, amid accusations that it has sought to censor the media, and intimidate and silence its opponents. The government has rejected the allegations.
According to the new rules, reported by the media last week, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication would appoint a so-called national coordinator empowered to “arbitrarily” demand the removal or blocking of any content deemed to be harmful, RSF said.
The rules provide for other measures designed to “step up government” control over social media companies, the watchdog said, citing the requirement for such companies to open offices in Pakistan.
They could also be fined up to 500 million rupees ($3.24 million) if they fail to remove or block content within the stipulated deadline.
Online platforms could also be required to surrender all information, private or public, about any user.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has said "these stringent but vague rules...threaten the ability of journalists to report the news and communicate with their sources."
Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.