Journalists, Activists Discuss Censorship and Disinformation at Asma Jahangir Conference | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Journalists, Activists Discuss Censorship and Disinformation at Asma Jahangir Conference

Pakistan Press Foundation

The fifth Asma Jahangir Conference, hosted by AGHS Legal Aid Cell in collaboration with the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and the Pakistan Bar Council, was organized in Lahore on April 27 -28. Thousands of participants, including lawyers, judges, journalists, rights activists, members of civil society, and students, gathered to honor the legacy of the late Asma Jahangir. Jahangir, a tireless advocate for justice, equality for women, and the protection of minorities, inspired attendees to carry forward her mission.

The two-day conference featured over 22 sessions and welcomed over 80 speakers from around the world, including India, Palestine, the EU, and the UK. Notably, 140 female lawyers from underrepresented areas of Pakistan and 140 prosecutors and ambassadors from over 12 countries enriched the discussions with their diverse perspectives.

Session on Silencing the Media

During the session on ‘Silencing the Media,’ moderated by Matiullah Jan, a vibrant exchange of ideas unfolded. Journalist Hamid Mir raised concerns about the culture of rent-seeking in Pakistan, urging journalists to reclaim their independence. British journalist Owen Bennett Jones advocated for a fair legal framework for media freedom, cautioning against blindly adopting restrictive laws. Journalist Arifa Noor lamented the commercialization of media and emphasized the need to amplify ordinary voices. Indian journalist Sidharth Varadaranjan highlighted parallels between media challenges in India and Pakistan, pointing out the prevalence of self-censorship and state clampdowns on dissent.

These discussions underscored the complexities of fostering media freedom in Pakistan and the broader South Asian region, providing a platform for critical reflection and dialogue.

Session on Online Hate Speech and Disinformation

An informative session titled ‘Hate Speech and Disinformation,’ moderated by activist Usama Khilji, delved into pressing issues surrounding online discourse. Nighat Dad, Executive Director of the Digital Rights Foundation, questioned the rationale behind adopting cybercrime laws without a data protection framework and condemned targeted disinformation campaigns. Frederick Rawski, head of Human Rights Policy at Meta, explained the company’s efforts to find balance in handling content related to Israel and Palestine. Mehmood Al Hasan, Deputy Director of FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing, disclosed the agency’s challenges in monitoring online hate speech and disinformation, revealing its reliance on complaints to initiate action.

The session provided valuable insights into the complex dynamics of online discourse and the urgent need for comprehensive legal frameworks to protect digital rights and combat misinformation. As participants engaged in dialogue and exchanged perspectives, the conference reaffirmed its commitment to upholding civil rights and democratic principles in the digital age.

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