22 May | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

Internet shutdown threaten press freedom, journalists’ safety: CPJ

New York-based non-profit organization says ability of journalists to report, including via mobile internet, must be protected, and not censored

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based non-profit organization, has repeatedly documented how internet shutdowns threaten press freedom and safety of journalists in Pakistan, and other parts of the world.

“We must know that journalists play a vital role in helping the public understand what is happening, and their ability to report, including via mobile internet, must be protected, not censored,” according to the non-governmental organization.

With correspondents around the world, the Committee to Protect Journalists promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists. Also, the committee announced a new partnership with Forbidden Stories to strengthen safety of the journalists. Forbidden Stories is also a non-profit organization with the mission to continue and publish the work of other journalists facing threats, prison, or murder.

The committee pointed out that turning off or limiting access to the internet means that media workers were unable to contact sources, fact check data, or file stories until after an event has happened. “Shutdowns are more likely to happen during times of conflict, political unrest or during an election period and are used by governments to limit the public’s access to information,” according to international monitors at Access Now – a non-profit organization founded in 2009 and focused on digital civil rights.

‘Shutdowns mostly happen during conflicts, unrest or during elections and are used by govts to limit public access to information’

As part of the new initiative, the Committee to Protect Journalists will provide safety consultations to journalists working with Forbidden Stories, while journalists seeking CPJ’s assistance will be able to use SafeBox Network, which allows journalists at risk to share documents and information via a secure platform, provided by Forbidden Stories.

In Pakistan, journalists were barred from coverage in some areas while mobile phone and internet services were widely disrupted during the February 8 election day. In partner with Keep It On, the Committee to Protect Journalists monitored the situation and urged authorities to immediately reconnect Pakistan’s internet.

The committee pointed out that this follows the restricting earlier this week of internet services in ‘sensitive’ polling booths in Balochistan province and blocking access to an investigative news website. The committee has started recording election-related attacks against the press—attempts by governments to stifle critical voices and restrict the free flow of information that is essential for voters.

Political analyst Amber Rahim Shamsi told AFP news agency that prolonged legal proceedings, protests and potential for violence have raised questions on the legitimacy of the election. “In the short-term, any coalition in a highly charged political environment will find it challenging to enact unpopular reforms that Pakistan desperately needs,” she said. “No government will have the luxury of time and political security after these elections,” she said, adding that there are also fears that this political insecurity will continue until the next elections, which could be earlier than five years.

Academic and analyst Ayesha Jalal told AP news agency that coalitions were not uncommon in Pakistan’s politics, but they were not easy to manage. “Coalitions can become unwieldy, weak and prone to manipulation,” she said. “It also makes it far harder for any government to push through the kind of bold economic packages needed for the country to move forward and escape the deep structural problems that are ailing the economy, she said, adding that a split National Assembly and a weak government plays into the military’s hands.