The special committee headed by Minister for Interior, Ejaz Ahmed Shah, to tackle the widespread misinformation and fake news linked with Coronavirus pandemic on social networking platforms and electronic media has finalized its legal framework.
Last week, National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) had notified the formation of the committee to closely monitor both mainstream and social media for COVID-19 misinformation and ordered regulatory bodies to take strict action against those involved in disseminating misinformation.
NCOC had taken this decision after the United Nations (UN) urged the world to undertake measures to curb the spread of misinformation and launched a worldwide campaign called ‘Pause.’ The UN claimed that misinformation about COVID-19 is spreading faster than the virus itself.
Besides Ejaz Shah, the committee comprises of Prime Minister’s focal person on COVID-19, Dr. Faisal Sultan, focal person on digital media, Dr. Arsalan Khalid, representatives of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) cybercrime cell, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) cyber-vigilance and web analysis departments, and the NCOC’s analysis group along with officials from the health and information ministries.
Yesterday, the committee held its inaugural meeting at Interior Ministry Secretariat at Islamabad in which the legal framework received the assent of Chairman Ejaz Shah.
Unconfirmed news not to be flashed
According to the legal framework, PEMRA’s Director General has been strictly ordered to ensure that no unconfirmed news related COVID-19 gets aired on news channels.
PEMRA will be directly responsible for disseminating accurate and credible COVID-19 information to the masses during the pandemic.
Miscreants to be tracked down
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been authorized to trace and bring wrongdoers to the court of law.
During the meeting, Ejaz Shah reportedly said people who are involved in spreading fake COVID-19 information are linked with anti-Pakistan elements.
He strongly directed the authorities to utilize the available resources to find the miscreants behind the spread of COVID-19 misinformation.
Role of social media platforms
Social media platforms are already working in collaboration with the government to curb the COVID-19 fake news.
For instance, in April, Facebook announced that it would remove the content from all its platforms that violated the WHO’s recommendations and the Pakistani government’s guidelines.
Facebook and PTA have been in direct contact with each other since the Coronavirus outbreak as PTA has so far reported 42 items to Facebook for removal.
Criteria for content to be false flagged
Prime Minister’s focal person on COVID-19, Dr. Faisal Sultan, will be responsible for flagging false content on social media platforms and news channel after input from ISPR.
The content flagged will be then forwarded to the health ministry to ascertain whether it qualifies as misinformation based on expert opinion.
The health ministry will check whether the identified content has the potential to strike fear, panic, or insecurity in the government or the public as listed in the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA).
In case the content does not conform to the standards of the health ministry, PTA and PEMRA will contact the person who has uploaded the false information initially.
PTA and PEMRA will approach FIA and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies with a written order under Section 10a of PECA 2016 for spreading panic among the public if the wrongdoer does not take down the content.
According to Dr. Arsalan Khalid, the special committee will apprise the NCOC every week on measures taken to tackle the spread of COVID-19 misinformation.