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Senior journalists highlight concerns over rising cyberbullying trend in Pakistan

Although there are many institutions and laws, we have not seen their effects so far, said Iftikhar Firdous, a Peshawar-based Senior journalist.

by TNN Editor - 03 May, 2023 1521

Muhammad Faheem

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that allows individuals to express their opinions and ideas without censorship or restraint by government or other authorities. However, freedom of speech does not give people the right to make online threats and engage in harassment.

Online harassment and intimidation are the use of electronic communication to threaten or harass someone, often using social media platforms, text messages, or email.

Cyberbullying or trolling can take many forms, including spreading rumors, making derogatory comments, sharing embarrassing photos or videos, and impersonating someone online.

Although freedom of speech protects the right of individuals to express their thoughts and ideas, it does not extend to cyberbullying, which is a form of harassment and can have serious negative effects on the mental health and well-being of the victim. Cyberbullying can also be illegal in some cases, depending on the nature of the harassment and the laws of the jurisdiction where it occurs.

Also Read: DigiMAP honors journalists’ unwavering commitment to press freedom on World Press Freedom Day

Unfortunately, journalists are often subjected to cyberbullying and harassment, especially when their opinions or reporting are controversial or critical of certain individuals or groups. This is a concerning trend because it can have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which are essential to a functioning democracy.

Senior journalist and bureau chief of Aaj News in Peshawar, Farzana Ali, says that it has become very difficult for journalists to report news in today's times due to the invasion of a generation on social media that has no sense of shame and argument, only cult-following. "If you look at it, there is full freedom of opinion, everyone criticizes you while expressing your opinion, but this is not freedom of the press because freedom of the press is related to truth," she added.

According to her, the freedom of opinion that exists today is such that people only want to hear the truth of their choice, which is not related to the news, due to which the actual news is lost. A campaign is started against the journalist who reports the real news, in which there are no boundaries and it becomes difficult for the journalist to talk.

Farzana Ali said that on social media, male journalists are called bribe-takers and liars, but for women, words that have degraded to the extent of "randi" (prostitute) and character assassination are used, after which pressure is created by family members. "The family just says to be careful," she added.

On the other hand, pressure groups have also put their people on social media. If journalists talk about terrorism, they are accused of being against the country. If they talk about politics, they are accused of being biased towards a particular party. If they talk about social corruption, it is called Westernization. "At present, we are moving towards political and religious extremism which has made it difficult to talk. The situation continues to worsen. The state has to get its hands off the heads of groups that are doing all this," Farzana Ali added.

She said that although freedom of expression is a fundamental right, it is not an absolute right, adding that freedom of speech has limits, especially when it comes to speech that promotes hatred, violence, or discrimination. In the case of cyberbullying, it is important to recognize that the harm caused by this behavior outweighs any potential benefits of free expression. It is therefore vital to take steps to prevent and combat cyberbullying, including educating people about its effects, enforcing laws to discourage it, and providing support and resources for victims.

Senior journalist and analyst Iftikhar Firdous said that the trend of cyberbullying against journalists started when political parties launched their social media wings. "It's not just one party but all the political parties that have started doing the same thing. Even official departments have created their own social media accounts and teams, and if any news is not compatible with them, then they start suppressing the journalist without following any procedure."

According to Firdous, when people disagree with the news of any journalist, there is a method of issuing an explanation or refutation on it, which even the government departments do not follow. Instead, they directly start pressuring the journalist.

Firdous further added that there are no proper rules and regulations in Pakistan regarding the issue. In the past, people used to have special groups that suppressed journalists, but now they create fake accounts and start insulting and threatening them. They even go as far as targeting their personal lives.

He said that there are no such platforms for the security of journalists and to bring out the truth. Although there are many institutions and laws, we have not seen their effects so far.

On the other hand, political parties deny their involvement and say that they have nothing to do with the abuse and threats. But it is also a fact that this is actually a tactic to separate themselves from the issue.

It is important to recognize here that journalists have the right to express their opinions and report on issues of public interest without fear of retaliation or harassment.

Cyberbullying and other forms of harassment can not only be emotionally distressing for journalists but can also negatively impact their ability to do their jobs effectively and contribute to a free and open society.