ISLAMABAD - Interior Ministry on Wednesday asked the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to formulate standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the introduction of regulations for social media in the country.

The PTA was also asked to consult the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) for devising SOPs that should ensure freedom of expression, while simultaneously checking “unbridled misuse of social media”.

The directions came during a meeting held at the Ministry of Interior and chaired by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

The minister in  a press conference had said, the other day, that the government was not going to impose any restrictions on social media but some red lines were being drawn to regulate all kinds of activities on the new media.

His remarks came following a countrywide crackdown on social media activists by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for anti-army campaign.

The meeting directed PTA chairman to formulate SOPs for putting in place a framework which ensures that social media is used as a medium to facilitate positive, constructive and healthy interactions, as an engine of growth and a platform for promoting exchange of ideas and not as a tool to propagate false information, pass defamatory comments, ridicule or humiliate sacred personalities, national institutions or jeopardising social, religious and cultural values of any community, a spokesperson the ministry said, while quoting Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

The interior minister has also asked National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq to convene a meeting of representatives of all parliamentary parties for evolving consensus for putting in place a framework to ensure that social media platforms are used in a positive manner. 

The meeting asked chief of the NADRA and the PTA to review relevant laws and regulatory frameworks of neighbouring democratic countries and that of the developed nations for devising a system that should ensure freedom of expression, while simultaneously checking unbridled misuse of social media.

The PTA chairman was asked to consult all stakeholders including the service-providers, civil society, mainstream media and others, for setting guidelines, duly supported by the legal framework, to regulate the use of social media for constructive purposes and nation-building process.

The chair has also asked the Foreign Office to get in touch with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) secretary general for convening a meeting at the OIC-level on the issue of presence of blasphemous content on the social media as per the commitment given to him by the secretary general during his last visit to Pakistan.

Pakistan is willing to play host of the OIC Conference in this connection, he said.

Being a democratic government it is our obligation to ensure and protect the right of every citizen for the freedom of expression but we are equally bound by the law and constitution of the country to protect our citizenry and institutions from the assault, which is carried out through social media under the garb of freedom of expression, the PTA chairman said.

The minister observed that no conscientious person could be a silent spectator to the threat, which was posed to our socio-cultural values, institutions and the younger generations by the mayhem, which was sometimes propagated by a section of social media.

The right to free speech is stitched to the sense of responsibility and ownership. Ghost users through their fake IDs feel no qualms in misusing their right of expression and thus infringing the rights of others who are deeply affected by their imprudent actions, the meeting observed.

The minister directed that initial draft of the SOPs should be prepared in a week's time for further consideration.

Over the issue of registration of international non-government organisations (INGOs) under the new policy framework formulated by the interior ministry, the minister directed the ministry to finalise the process of making decision on pending application within one month.

The minister also directed the interior secretary to set up a wing in the interior ministry with the help of the Nadra for facilitation of registered INGOs.

The secretary interior, the PTA chairman, advocate general, the Nadra chairman, Islamabad police chief and senior officials of the FIA, the ICT Police and the Nadra as well as the ministry attended the meeting.