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How are APC members improving their communities' lives? In this column we're highlighting stories of impact and change by our members, supported by APC subgranting. In Pakistan, Media Matters for Democracy has been working on media building, fighting censorship and defending women journalists in an increasingly regressive context. 

As its name points out, APC member Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) believes that a tech-friendly, diverse, inclusive and professional media industry is key to a progressive and democratic society. To this end, the Pakistan-based organisation has been working on media building in the country since 2016.

MMfD, led by journalist Sadaf Khan, undertakes policy research and engagement for better media regulation in Pakistan. It works for the acceptance and integration of digital media technologies and towards creating sustainable citizen journalism initiatives in the country. They focus on generation of public debate, data and digital journalism, and inclusion of citizen voices.

Their work doesn’t come without challenges, especially given that the team is based in a media environment described as “deliberately regressive”, with increasing attacks on journalists, as Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have denounced. 

Confronting online harassment of women journalists

Before they joined APC’s subgranting programme, MMfD worked in a voluntary capacity. “Subgranting helped us get off the ground and work in a more focused manner. We managed to confront burning issues such as online harassment of women journalists,” Sadaf Khan said in an interview with APC.  

MMfD has worked extensively on issues threatening women journalists’ safety and freedom of expression in Pakistan. The organisation has witnessed an escalation of hate speech, incitement to violence and graphic sexual abuse in recent years, particularly hurled towards women journalists. On International Women’s Day 2021 they released a statement calling for an end to online attacks against women journalists, which followed a series of joint statements released between August and September 2020 and endorsed by over 150 journalists and a diversity of networks and institutions.

The statements highlighted the prevailing trend of digital violence against women journalists from supporters of all political parties and different public and state institutions, and called for the government and political parties “to improve the political culture to encourage inclusive and tolerant discourse within political parties and in public spaces (…), to immediately take public positions against abuse of women journalists and to distance themselves from individuals and accounts that abuse women journalists.”

Earlier in 2021, an MMfD study on the effects of online harassment against women journalists revealed that 93% of women journalists withheld their personal opinions online. Women journalists, who were interviewed for the research, said they had become careful about posting on social media to the point of vetting the text of their tweets twice and bracing for the potential fallout of any opinion they share. All of this has a heavy psychological toll on the targeted journalists, the report revealed.

Monitoring digital rights

Another project that has had a strong impact on Pakistan’s media landscape is MMfD’s Digital Rights Monitor. Funded through APC’s subgranting programme, it is the first (and so far only) website on internet rights from a journalistic perspective in the country. From reporting on digital rights and internet governance issues in Pakistan to collating related resources and publications, the project aims to improve reporting on digital rights issues through engagement with media outlets and journalists.

“We started the Digital Rights Monitor as a pretty small-scale project with an APC grant. This was useful to us because APC will not bind us to a political agenda. APC has never interfered editorially in our work, which I fear I might be getting from any state-based entity. So in that sense APC was the perfect partner and support to launch something like this,” Khan said.

This piece is a version of a story highlighted in Continuing the conversation: Lessons from APC subgranting, a report that presents the findings of interviews and surveys of APC members and partners who were recipients of funding through its core subgranting programme, supported by Sida, and of subgrants offered through other APC projects and staff working on subgranting in the organisation.

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