Home Opinion Op-Ed Internet Freedom – A Feel Good Report

Internet Freedom – A Feel Good Report

In the world where 'Freedom' is the most sought out commodity, how free is our media and to what extent one can go where he starts to irk the higher hierarchy. The writer, with his own experiences, tells the tale where freedom itself doesn't seem much free.

Freedom

Opinion |

This week, the Freedom House has released a report in which there are conclusions about which countries have Free, Partly Free, and Not Free internet. Before I tear it down piece by piece, allow me to remind the readers that the western tendency to pick and choose the standards it wants to use as predictors and indicators of the goodness of a country continues unabated.

For example, if the uploading of insulting videos about the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is covered by the freedom of expression then why is there is a watchdog to monitor the movement of money, which currently has placed Pakistan in its grey-list? Is there a watchdog for monitoring the uploading of such insulting and extremist content?

Can the movement of money be covered by the freedom of expression too, because money is a form of speech in America anyway? Major Pakistani newspapers have jumped on the report released by the Freedom House. The said report has laughingly placed the United States in the list of countries where the internet is free.

Mahreen Zahra Malik and Raza Rumi belong to the same school of thought that believes less in the use of ATMs and more in greenbacks inside envelopes

If anyone believes that fiction, all they need to do is either wake up or if they are sober then I recommend reading the latest book by Edward Snowden titled Permanent Record. Another book titled No Place To Hide by Glenn Greenwald would also come handy in waking up from this dream of freedom where freedom and privacy are viewed as sacrosanct.

Every keystroke, every credit card transaction, every google search, every girlfriend one keeps, even privileged information such as a conversation with a doctor or a lawyer are also recorded and kept forever in a system whose reach is limitless. Don’t take my word for it. Read the book by Snowden; the very man who designed the system.

Anyway, the laughable Freedom House report doesn’t stop there. It has placed India in the list of countries where the internet is Partly Free. Think about it for a moment. There were reports a few months ago that Indian officials admitted to pressuring Twitter to block accounts that were tweeting in favor of Kashmir and against the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

Read more: Freedom of the Press

At the regional headquarters of Twitter and Facebook, Indian staff is working, who were tirelessly working to block any social media account that was posting in favor of Kashmir. Did the Freedom House take this factor into consideration when declaring India as Partly Free?

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in August 2018 reported that the Indian government had reported to Twitter that an account belonging to a Kashmir based magazine called Kashmir Narrator was breaking the Indian law. The magazine had actually published a cover story on a militant who fought against the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

That publication was the crime. By the end of the month, the Indian police arrested the journalist Aasif Sultan and Twitter gladly withheld the account of the magazine. Did the Freedom House consider this? What does Nighat Dad of the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) think of this?

Here is a tiny slice of news for both the Freedom House and the mainstream Pakistani newspapers quoting from the report by Avi Asher-Schapiro and Ahmed Zidan of the CJP: Amid the crackdown, the Indian government continued to reach beyond its borders and enlist Twitter to censor accounts sharing news and information.

If anyone believes that fiction, all they need to do is either wake up or if they are sober then I recommend reading the latest book by Edward Snowden titled Permanent Record

The legal notices it sends are not public, but the Silicon Valley social media company passes some of them to Lumen, a project of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center, which publishes them in an open database. A CPJ analysis of those notices reveals that hundreds of thousands of tweets blocked in India since August 2017 under the company’s country withheld content policy were shared by accounts that focus on Kashmir.

Among dozens of accounts that were withheld, CPJ identified several besides @KashmirNarrator that were sharing news and opinion, raising serious questions about what safeguards are in place to ensure freedom of the press and the free flow of information. Indian legal experts told CPJ that the requests are issued with limited oversight and transparency, leaving scant avenues for appeal.

Read more: Defamation under freedom of expression

And while Twitter does not comply with every request, more accounts were withheld in India in the second half of 2018 than in the rest of the world combined, according to Twitter’s transparency reports.”

Partly Free? Really?

This is a vivid example of the most disingenuous practice of labeling countries based on pure whim. And it is sad that Pakistani newspapers report it unquestioningly and unscathingly. That is cheap journalism. This report is viewed as a Godsend for those who claim that they are censored and their circulation is disrupted by the Khalai Makhlooq.

It is disingenuous because these newspapers indulge in the same censorship that they accuse the khalai makhlooq of. The only difference is they do it more subtly and more quietly. Propaganda works best when the perception about it is what’s called Nimby (Not in my backyard).

The magazine had actually published a cover story on a militant who fought against the Indian occupation of Kashmir. That publication was the crime.

I am denied publication in these mainstream victimhood claiming newspapers. My write-ups go unanswered and unpublished for most of these mainstream newspapers. In one case, the newspaper stopped publishing me because I publicly disagreed with the editor of that newspaper on Twitter. But I have a much better story to share about the form of subtle censorship that these newspapers indulge in.

Unsurprisingly, they don’t ever want to talk about it. I wrote a piece for the Daily Times. My piece was a critique of a biased article Mehreen Zahra-Malik had written for The Washington Post, in which she had criticized Imran Khan and the ISI. My scathing piece calling out on her bias and spin was published, which was a logical critique.

Someone on twitter tagged Malik in that tweet about the article. About an hour later, the article was removed from the website of the Daily Times. I contacted the sub-editor Erum Yawar asking why it was taken down? She told me that the team was uploading it again since there was a system glitch. Hours passed. I asked again, she changed her story and this time said the piece needed editing.

Read more: World Press Freedom Day: 48 journalists murdered in Pakistan since 2002

The next day, she stopped replying at all. I was furious. I reached out to the editor of the paper at the time, one Raza Rumi. He explained that it was very angry and critical write-up and that I should tone it down a bit and resend it. I protested that that was my writing style. I explained that the piece was based on logic and facts and that it was well researched.

Rumi said that I should not target Malik and just make it sound general. I said the article was about her piece and not some broad concept of journalism. Long story short, it was never published. The Daily Times never published me after that episode. That piece was gladly carried by the Global Village Space (GVS).

Mahreen Zahra Malik and Raza Rumi belong to the same school of thought that believes less in the use of ATMs and more in greenbacks inside envelopes (Lifafa). What about that form of censorship? Is that what they mean when they are referring to self-censorship? I have an advice for new writers if they want to be published in the leading newspapers of Pakistan.

Write anything about media censorship or journalism under assault and be a female or a feminist and boom, you’d be published unquestioningly. Don’t question much. Follow the agenda. In the end, if nothing works, then claim to be a victim of the khalai makhlooq and flee to Europe or the US where you’d be published in The Post and The Times. That’s the norm. Because dissidents and wives have one thing in common: they are loved as long as they belong to someone else.

The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at info@imranjan.com. Twitter @Imran_Jan.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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