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[Islamabad, Pakistan – May 3, 2023] – Pakistan’s media landscape is a vibrant tapestry of diverse voices and perspectives, representing the richness of our society. However, amidst the celebration of these voices, we must confront the multifaceted challenges that impede the media’s ability to function independently and without fear.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in its 2022 World Press Freedom Index, ranks Pakistan 145 out of 180 countries, highlighting the urgent need for improvement. The index notes concern about the safety of journalists, citing instances of violence and intimidation. Moreover, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that at least ten journalists were killed in connection with their work in Pakistan between 2017 and 2022. The alarming levels of violence against journalists in Pakistan remain a grave concern and sow the seeds of fear and self-censorship, stifling the free flow of information.

Another significant challenge is the rise of fake news, disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation in Pakistan. Bytes for All highlights the detrimental impact of these phenomena on the media ecosystem. The circulation of false information erodes public trust, undermines the credibility of journalism, and strew confusion among citizens. It is crucial to address this challenge while upholding the principles of freedom of expression and the responsible dissemination of information.

Legal and regulatory constraints also impede press freedom in Pakistan. The presence of laws that curb freedom of expression, such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) regulations, contribute to an environment where journalists face risks of arbitrary arrest, prosecution, and even imprisonment. These laws can be misused to silence dissenting voices, curtail investigative journalism, and restrict access to critical information.

Therefore, Bytes for All emphasizes the need to critically analyze the legal framework governing press freedom in Pakistan in relation to these challenges. While combating misinformation and disinformation, it is essential to safeguard against the misuse of laws that could inadvertently restrict legitimate freedom of expression. Striking the right balance between addressing the spread of false information and protecting journalists’ ability to report truthfully is imperative.

Furthermore, Bytes for All recognizes the economic pressures faced by journalists and media organizations in the digital era. As the media landscape shifts, sustainable business models become increasingly crucial. Supporting media outlets to adapt and thrive in the face of technological advancements and changing audience behaviors is paramount.

Bytes for All urges the Government of Pakistan to address the challenges posed by fake news, disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation while safeguarding freedom of expression. The government should work closely with media organizations, civil society, and technology platforms to develop comprehensive strategies that promote media literacy, encourage responsible reporting, and counter the harmful effects of false information. We also urge the authorities to strengthen legal protections for journalists, ensuring their safety and security, and fostering an atmosphere that promotes freedom of expression and supports constructive journalism.

On this World Press Freedom Day, Bytes for All calls upon the government, civil society, and all stakeholders to collectively safeguard press freedom, protect the rights of journalists, and combat the challenges posed by fake news, disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation. By collectively addressing these challenges, we can shape a future where journalists can operate without fear or intimidation, and where the media plays a pivotal role in upholding democratic values, promoting transparency, and nurturing an informed and inclusive society.