Tag Archives: Social Media

Pakistan’s Changing Media Landscape


“Social media has no reins. I believe soon deprived people will learn how to express their feelings effectively through social media” – Shabbir H Kazmi, Senior Business Journalist 

According to the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, Pakistan stands at 159th position among 179 countries. After independence from British India in 1947, media in Pakistan was fully controlled by the government. Successive dictatorships and also democratic governments used censorship and other means to gag media in the country.

In 2002, after the formation of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, broadcast media flourished, with large numbers of FM radio stations and TV channels starting to operate throughout the country.

In the past five years of democratic government, the media has become more liberal and vibrant. However, A 2012 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed the rising incidences of violence against the news media.

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Tunisian Partner Wins Award for Best Global Entrepreneurship Week Social Media


This March, participants from 135 nations gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Congress. First held in 2009, the annual event brings together entrepreneurs, leading thinkers, researchers, and policymakers to celebrate entrepreneurship, in particular the successes of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).

Every November, delegations from around the world, from Ghana to Turkey to the United States, organize GEW events that give future entrepreneurs the chance to expand their professional networks, better understand their countries’ business environments, and practice important skills, such as giving a pitch for a new business. Through partnerships with universities, community organizations, and businesses, Global Entrepreneurship Week teaches individuals how to create successful businesses that will support not only themselves and their families, but their nations’ economies.

In recognition of national committees’ outstanding achievement in organizing GEW events, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress bestows awards for most partner organizations, most activities, and best overall campaign.  And the winner of this year’s Buzz Builder Award for best use of social media?

That would be Tunisia. Led by CIPE partner IACE (l’Institut arabe des chefs d’entreprises), the Tunisian committee generated more social media support for its achievements during the 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Week than any other delegation, no small feat for a country of about 10.6 million people.

IACE’s Center for Young Entrepreneurs, whose year-round programming supports the next generation of Tunisian entrepreneurs, took the lead in organizing Tunisia’s Global Entrepreneurship Week. GEW Tunisia events demonstrated the diversity of the business community and gave future entrepreneurs the information and tools they will need to start their own businesses.

The Center for Young Entrepreneurs produced a video to celebrate a successful GEW: in six days, 5,000 people participated in 80 activities across the country in support of entrepreneurship. Promoting the video through their website and Facebook page, IACE and the Center for Young Entrepreneurs went up against delegations from fifteen other countries—including Mexico, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and the United States—to eventually win the 2012 Buzz Builder Award.

Tunisian society is no stranger to social media. In 2011, videos and images of protests in Tunisia quickly spread throughout North Africa and the world via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The ensuing revolution and ouster of the longtime regime set an example for similar regime changes in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere.

Almost two years later, IACE’s Center for Young Entrepreneurs invited the youth that sparked the Arab Spring to explore empowerment through entrepreneurship.  Inspired by changes in the region, Tunisians are clamoring for not only political but economic agency. With engaging, informative activities like Global Entrepreneurship Week, IACE is giving Tunisian youth the tools to transform their passion and ability into real economic opportunity.

Women Journalists and the Era of Social Media in Pakistan

“Online media is becoming the most popular, and for sharp career growth, one would have to embed technology in practice” – Daily Dawn, the largest circulated English Daily in Pakistan quoting Hammad Sddiqui, Deputy Country Director CIPE-Pakistan.

This certainly is the Social Era, where more and more people are getting connected via Facebook, Twitter and other similar platforms. Social media is now also considered an essential tool for journalists. In Pakistan there is a growing number of young journalists, working both in print and electronic media. Some of these journalists are familiar with social media – however, most journalists are not using these tools as effectively.

Recently, CIPE support a project by a Pakistani media development NGO Uks Research Center train female journalists on reporting on gender issues. Under the project “Powerful Women, Powerful Nation,” Uks arranged to conduct four workshops in the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, and Peshawar. I was invited to conduct a session of effective use of social media.

These sessions were attended by 100 working journalists. Some senior journalists did not even have email addresses, but I was astonished to see the enthusiasm among younger journalists in learning about Twitter and blogging.

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Liberation Technology

(Photo: the New Middle East blog)

We live in a connected world: social media platforms that did not exist a decade ago now boast hundreds of millions of users and mobile phones are commonplace in even the poorest and most remote regions. Are these technologies, which have reshaped daily life for millions, a catalyst for democratic reform, or part of a new digital panopticon through which governments can spy on and control their citizens?

In 2007, when Larry Diamond coined the term “liberation technology,” these questions were largely academic – and were discussed at length in a collection of articles in the Journal of Democracy, recently updated and re-released in a book of the same name. But when democratic revolutions swept the Arab world four years later, spurred on by Facebook and watched around the world in real time on Twitter and YouTube, it seemed that the Internet had finally emerged as a force for positive political change in even the most repressive regimes.

At the same time, authoritarian governments are learning how to fight back, with some of the same tools. In many countries, the Internet has itself become an electronic battleground where repressive regimes are employing increasingly sophisticated strategies for repression and manipulation.

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Citizen Journalism is Gaining Momentum in Pakistan

Workshop participants in Karachi (right) and Lahore (left).

“If you’re going to fall out of love with public approval, something interesting will happen: people will be deeply attracted to your work.”Jeff Goins

Social media has transformed the debate around democracy and access to information in Pakistan by giving citizens and activists the power to write about topics that are impossible to cover in the traditional media. To help support the voice of these new citizen journalists, CIPE Pakistan organized blogger training workshops on June 15 and June 29 in Karachi and Lahore.

Forty-three participants, mostly younger people, were taken through the process of creating blogs to publicly voice their opinion on issues such as corruption, women’s issues, entrepreneurship, and corporate citizenship. The event activities can be followed on Twitter with the hashtag #Pakbloggers and on Facebook at http://goo.gl/AyrCF.

Participants learned tools and techniques for effective blogging that can easily reach the masses. They learned about the importance of blogging; the challenges and technical issues associated with it; CIPE themes such as corruption, entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility, and women’s issues; and how to use social media effectively in this modern age. The presentation is available at http://goo.gl/jldgo.

The participants were highly motivated to cover important issue, particularly corruption and the geopolitical situation, resulting in the development of the following blogs:

Geo Politics in South Asia and MENA

Enough!!!! Views on Women Issues around the Globe!

Take a Leap! A blog to Discuss Corruption Issues and Anti-Corruption Measures

Feminist Me

Lady UnderCover

Participants were of the view that these workshops helped them to better spread and market their ideas over social media. Topics covered so far on these blogs include:

These self-motivated bloggers are determined to unleash their potential to create notable examples of citizen journalism in Pakistan – provided they continue to update their blogs regularly!

Civil Society Restores Twitter Access in Pakistan

On May 20, the Pakistani Information Ministry blocked access to world’s largest micro blogging site, Twitter, on the pretext that the company had not removed derogatory material about Prophet Mohammad.

Pakistani authorities are known for taking such actions: exactly two years ago in May 2010, based on a verdict from a local court, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and 1000 other such websites were banned in the country. This time, however, civil society organizations and activists moved quickly to start a campaign against the government’s decision. In 2010,after ten days of hectic efforts, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority lifted the ban. This time it took just 10 hours.

Two years ago, on May 20, 2010, Jehan Ara, President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association and a civil society activist, wrote a blog suggesting that banning Facebook would not help Pakistan. She said “We stifle our own voices by banning a social networking site where 2.5 million Pakistanis could have been heard. We hide our head in the sand like ostriches. We react like little children do – closing our eyes and pretending that if we don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.”

The move to ban Twitter came only a day after Senator Rehman Malik who also is the Interior Minister tweeted “Dear all, I assure u that Twitter and FB will continue in our country and it will not be blocked. Pl do not believe in rumors.”

Immediately after the Twitter Blackout, social media activities started a campaign against government’s decision. They engaged Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, on Twitter, which they were able to continue to access through proxy sites and other alternative means. Facebook discussions started heating up, forcing broadcast media to focus on this story, which soon ran on all TV channels and online newspapers as breaking news.

The blogosphere also came out strongly against the ban this time. BoloBhi (Speak-up) wrote:

“Time and again, the government has blocked websites supposedly to protect ‘public sentiments and emotions’ and to prevent blasphemous material from circulating within Pakistan. This is being cited as a reason for the Twitter ban too. But this is akin to hitting your own foot with a hammer. Firstly, each time blanket bans are imposed, more attention is actually drawn towards such competitions and discussions. Secondly, what does banning the website in the country achieve?

Another blogger suggested:

“Pakistan should leverage the power of Twitter rather than getting swept away by the negative content. Banning Twitter does not going to make any dent to Twitter nor it is denying access to experienced Twitter users. There are hundreds of third party applications which make tweeting and retweeting possible and government cannot ban such applications. Social networking sites are like multi-headed hydra. You cut one head and many heads appear. The government could have sought advice of social media experts before taking this frivolous decision.”

Support also came from Hussain Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the US, who tweeted “Ban on any form of free expression has no place in a democracy. If someone offends, bar offender instead of banning medium.”

Sherry Rehman, the current Pakistani Ambassador to the US, kept tweeting until she was told she may be breaching the ban, according to news sources. Civil society activists also engaged her in advocating for restoring  access to Twitter.

Immense pressure from social media activists made Pakistani authorizes quickly realize that such actions are not welcomed by the Pakistani public, showing the power of social media technologies to democratize debate and quickly relay the thoughts and opinions of the public to high-level decision makers.

In any democratic society, free access to information forms the foundation of open and honest debate about how the country is governed. By trying to shut out one of the most important new mediums for public debate, Pakistani authorities unwittingly demonstrated just how much power these new social media tools have in the hands of dedicated civil society activists.

How Social Media is Shaping Debate in Pakistan

The new face of activism in the information age (Source: bolobhi.org, photo: Zaheer Kidvai)

Historically, Pakistani governments have been known for limiting access to information by their citizens. However with the emergence of social media, the situation is changing. Social media activists are becoming vocal and spreading information that was otherwise impossible to publish in the traditional forms.

Blogosphere has transformed the debate around democracy and access to information in Pakistan. Express Tribune was one of the pioneering newspapers that took a bold step and allowed its readers to comment on news published online. Its blog became an extremely powerful tool for disseminating user-generated content to a wider public. Now all major newspapers and television channels have active blogs.

Following are several examples of how social media is helping frame debates around sensitive topics in Pakistan.

To deal with the heavy-handedness of the government when it comes to information access, a group of journalism students started a blog called Pakistan Media Watch. The blog is aimed at initiating debates around controversial stories published in Pakistani media. They were extremely vocal, for instance, about killings and persecution of Pakistani journalists that all too often go unpunished.

Few people will recall that in mid-2010, after a provincial court order, Facebook and Youtube were banned in Pakistan. Sana Saleem, a social media activist wrote a blog in Pakistan’s largest circulating English daily Dawn:

“This is a sad day for new media in Pakistan. While many claim this to be a ‘victory’ against the offensive campaign, I feel at loss. The ban frenzy has only created a win-win situation for extremists on both sides. Instead of allowing people to opt for deactivating their accounts and registering their protests in the way they want, we have been forced to act like sheep once again, forced to jump on a bandwagon, and bear the burden of the perception that we are in fact an intolerant society.”

In a similar vein, Jehan Ara, President of Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) wrote on her personal blog:

“Nothing justifies the taking away of my right to access information online or offline, to use the networks I want to. I don’t need the government to make such decisions for me. I am quite capable of doing that for myself. If I want to protest against something I find offensive, I will (and I do). The PTA [Pakistan Telecommunication Authority] and the courts have no right to deprive me of my freedom to do so.”

The ban was eventually lifted after offensive content was removed, in a significant part thanks to the protests such as these, which pointed out that closing access to the entire social media services is not the right way to handle controversies over content.

A recent proposal by the Information Communication Technology Research and Development Fund (ICTRDF) of the Ministry of Information Technology to install a national-level website filtering system that may be used to further political agendas and curb freedom of expression also encountered stiff resistance from concerned citizens through the social media. According to local press, “The National Level URL Filtering and Blocking System (NLUBS) would help the government block websites systematically, much like the Internet censoring methods adopted by Chinese and Saudi Arabian governments.”

A local initiative Bolo Bhi which means “Speak Up” started a massive social media campaign against the unclear and potentially discriminatory policy by PTA to enable blanket filtering of up to 50 million URLs. Thanks to the efforts of Pakistani social media activists, on the 19th of March this year, local newspapers quoted a member of the National Assembly saying that the ministry reversed its decision and the Secretary in the Ministry of Information Technology admitted that “the URL project has been withdrawn due to the concern shown by various stakeholders.”

Sana Saleem, CEO of Bolo Bhi, in a recent interview gave an overview of the situation of social media activism in Pakistan:

As Sana concludes, “In a society where social spaces are shrinking, social media offers a space to share, interact, and mobilize. It is an enabler. But bridging the great divide between online activism and on the ground actions remains key.”