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Freedom of Expression: Should There Be a Limit to it?

With all the talks of media censorship in Pakistan, the question is should people be allowed unhindered freedom of expression?

Pakistanis have only recently begun to explore their right to freedom of speech. With multiple reigns of dictatorship, heavy media censorship, complete control on the print and digital media by the governments, there haven’t been opportunities for the people to voice their opinions. With the advent of social media, things are beginning to change.

And yet, artists continue to face the burnt of media censorship. The latest example is the protest against Sarmad Khoosat’s films “Zindagi Tamasha“. The film that has not even released yet, is facing criticism based only on its trailer and presumptions.

The question arises; are Pakistanis ready for complete freedom to voice their opinions and share anything they want? The answer is for you to decide. 

Let’s talk about some good and bad things that have come out of social media becoming a common tool for expression.

Negative Consequences of Freedom of Expression

Fake News

One of the biggest concerns the world has right now is the use of media to spread fake news. From edited photos and videos being forwarded in Whatsapp groups to TV channels running news without any confirmation, fake news is not only U.S President Trump’s bane, but they can also do potential damage to Pakistan’s already endangered stability.

Recently people have started sharing edited slides from popular news channels to make them look real. Fake news not only comes in the form of fabricated clips of India planning to launch an attack on Pakistan or wrong quotes associated with politicians to lower their popularity, but they can also do damage on a smaller scale; with wrong Ayats and Ahadis shared on media to potentially harmful tips and tricks to cure diabetes overnight. 

Social media companies have been using freedom of expression as an excuse not to check spread of fake news. With a vast number of social media users being uneducated or not experienced enough to differentiate between what’s true and what’s a lie; the whole world is confused about how to stop the wide outspread of fake news. 

Warmongering

A harmful impact of freedom of expression, particularly among Pakistanis and Indians, but also some of the biggest powers in the world, is warmongering. Islamophobia and racial crimes all over the world have media to thank for. With a little help from propaganda news, paranoid and racist people become an accessory to spread crimes against a particular race or religion.

As seen by recent events, Indian news anchors and political experts have been screaming for blood, and the vast majority of citizens who hear this, then take to their keyboards to spread hate against the neighboring country, all without stopping to think how bad an all-out war between the two nuclear powers can be. On social media, everyone becomes a military strategist and a political expert.

Pakistani media, while straying away from direct talks of war due to government’s policies, became a tool for the emotional youth and warmongering religious leaders to call out for Jihad against India. 

With millions of people dead from the conflict between two countries since 1947, do we really need any more death and pain in the world?  

freedom of expression
Warmongering is common in India

Spreading Fear and Paranoia 

We have lost count of how many times in this year alone, we have heard the news and read Whatsapp messages of India planning to attack Pakistan. Our nation has been in grip of terrorist activities for several decades. There is already deep-seated fear and paranoia running wild among the people. And on top of this, popular “experts” and religious leaders begin sharing their farfetched opinions of how they are sure when and where India, Israel or the U.S.A will attack.

Spreading panic also comes in the way of blaming every incident or lack of progress in Pakistan on our enemies. This not only makes it our habit of throwing blame from failure on some “Khalayi Makhlooq” instead of analyzing and learning from our mistakes. We as a nation need to figure out how to work through our issues and progress. That becomes impossible if we always find someone to blame.

freedom of expression

Cyberbullying

In Pakistan, it is quite common for people to use their freedom of expression to bully or troll others, particularly celebrities. From leaving crass comments on female celebrities posts to outright threatening celebrities, Pakistanis do not understand most of these acts are considered cyberbullying. It is a punishable offense. Even sharing some female celebrities’ leaked photos is considered a cybercrime.

Positive Consequences of Freedom of Expression

Demanding Justice

One good thing to come out of social media becoming common is, now people can bring attention to any unfairness committed towards them by state authorities. Pakistani is still struggling to build a fair judicial system, that is not controlled by the powerful and rich. Police brutality and their inability to catch criminals when it comes to poor victims is also a major hurdle standing in way of justice. 

As seen from Khadija Siddiqui’s case, a young woman who was stabbed multiple times by the son of a powerful lawyer and denied justice by the court, raising the issue on social media actually resulted in authorities taking notice and affected the outcome of the case. Several other cases came into the limelight thanks to the free and unbridled use of social media.

Raising Concerns

When it comes to bringing attention to poor management in a region or some unfairness being committed towards a certain group, there is nothing like social media to raise your concerns.

From regional governments performing poorly to corruption being committed on a large scale, social media has become an effective tool to make those in power to take notice and instigate a positive change. In Pakistan and other countries, people are taking to media to share videos and images of anything wrong happening around them. An example of this is widespread complaints about Karachi’s waste problem resulted in the federal government taking notice.

The Role of Anti-Nationalist Elements

It’s not only the country’s own people who can affect the running of the country by their opinions on media. From proof of Russian government influencing the outcome of U.S presidential elections to Indian agencies spewing hatred against Pakistan in Balochistan, with the development in technology, anti-nationalist elements have also upgraded their ways of spreading propaganda in the country.

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Conclusion:

It seems the freedom of expression has both good and bad outcomes. However, people in Pakistan or the rest of the world are still not progressed enough to be able to distinguish between real news and gossip. 

Strict control over media is also not the answer. In China, the MeToo Movement was met with multiple bans and arrests by the government, and women had to find creative ways to bring allegations against powerful people to light. 

With the media progressing faster than the government’s attempts to keep the wrong or harmful information in check, the whole world is confused about whether or not to limit the freedom of expression.

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