Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

The Google logo on display at the Smart China Expo at Chongqing International Expo Center in southwest China’s Chongqing. (File photo / AFP)
Updated 20 November 2018
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Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

  • Pakistan digital growth is supported by population and increasing penetration of internet, IT experts
  • Prime Minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom to meet next week to draw comprehensive policy

KARACHI: Destine to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030, Pakistan, supported by a growing population, fast growing business and increasing penetration of Internet, is poised to grab first position among the digital economies, Information Technology (IT) experts say.
US technology giant, Google, says Pakistan is quickly becoming a “digital-first country”, which means there are new opportunities for brands to reach and engage with consumers that may have previously been overlooked.
“It shows that Google has realized the marketing potential of the country and they are now encouraging businesses to focus on Pakistan as a potential market,” Badar Khushnood, vice president of growth at Fishry.Com and vice chairman of [email protected], commented.
According to Google, there are five reasons for “considering expanding your digital campaigns into Pakistan”.
Pakistan’s growing population is the first reason that makes the country attractive for the foreign and local investors to venture into the IT sector.
“Pakistan has a population of more than 202 million people, which means there are lot of potential consumers coming online every day. And the country is even more urbanized than neighboring India, with nearly 40 percent of total households living in cities,” writes Lars Anthonisen, head of large customer marketing, South Asia, Google.
Pakistan’s economy grew by 5.7 percent in fiscal year 2018. HSBC in is recent report published in September 2018 has projected Pakistan to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030.
Around 90 percent of the companies in the country are SMEs which are contributing more that 40 percent to the country’s 313 billion economy, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
Third attraction, according to Google, is the country’s growing smart phone users. Pakistan has 152 million cellar subscribers, and 60 million 3G/4G subscribers, according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
This number will likely grow quickly as smart phone prices have dropped over the last few years. Pakistan also has some of the cheapest data prices in the world, which is helping to grow mobile app usage, according to Google.
However, experts say more work is needed to be done to fully utilize the existing potential. “We need to work on optic fibers, penetration of 4G, creation of data centers, telecom infrastructure and most importantly creation of awareness among masses,” Pervaiz Iftikhar, a member of the newly formed prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s overall Internet penetration stands at 29.9 percent with 62 million broadband subscribers, a fourth attraction for the investor, as per Google. In spite of this, digital consumption in the country continues to grow quickly. YouTube watch time, for example, has seen over 60 percent growth over the last three years.
The Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the largest Chinese investment venture in Pakistan with around $62 billion, a fifth reason to look toward Pakistan.
The mega project under BRI is not only limited to the infrastructure and energy sector but it is also contributing to the growth of the IT sector in Pakistan.
“One of the first CPEC projects is to lay 820 kilometers of fiber-optic cable, connecting more Pakistanis to the Internet. This is in addition to ongoing investments in 3G and 4G network expansions from China Mobile, and the company has already announced plans to invest another $225 million in 4G expansion (bringing its total investment to $2.4 billion),” writes Lars Anthonisen.
“We have to connect every village through fiber optics that will not only create thousands of jobs but would multiply opportunities for the IT business countrywide,” Pervaiz Iftikhar added.
“A lot of potential exists in the IT sector of Pakistan with the young population turning to computers, smart phones and other digital means, and the country offers big market for local and foreign investors”, Jehan Ara, another member of the prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom and president of [email protected], commented.
Badar Khushnood, who is also former consultant of Google, Facebook and Twitter, called for comprehensive policy for the growth of the IT sector.
“Taxation systems should be rationalized, simplified, and encouraging for startups. The country also needs data protection laws, and broader cyber laws,” he added.
The first meeting of the prime minister’s Task Force on IT and Telecom is expected to be held next week in Islamabad. “Comprehensive strategy including short term and long term measures would be discussed in the upcoming meeting of taskforce because country needs a policy for the persistent growth of IT and Telecom sector”, Pervaiz Iftikhar informed.


In fear of the state: Bangladeshi journalists self-censor as election approaches

Journalists hold banners and placards as they protest against the newly passed Digital Security Act in front of the Press Club in Dhaka, Bangladesh, October 11, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 December 2018
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In fear of the state: Bangladeshi journalists self-censor as election approaches

  • The government has denied accusations it’s trying to curb press freedom and Hasina assured a press briefing in October that “journalists who do not publish false news need not worry” about the DSA

DHAKA: With less than a month to go to a general election, many journalists in Bangladesh say they are living in fear of ever-tightening media laws and engaging in self-censorship as a result.
While Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s administration has won plaudits globally for welcoming hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar, critics have lashed out at it for cracking down on free speech and an increasingly authoritarian rule.
In interviews Reuters conducted with 32 journalists and editors across print, digital and broadcast media in Bangladesh, the vast majority said the recent strengthening of defamation laws with a new Digital Security Act (DSA) has spread a climate of fear in the industry.
Dozens of journalists were arrested for defamation under the earlier law, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act.
The DSA goes further — penalizing obtaining papers, information, or pictures from government offices without official consent, said Asif Nazrul, a professor of Law at the University of Dhaka. “It would make investigative journalism on corruption, human rights abuses and bad governance very tough, if not impossible,” he said.
Another piece of legislation, the Broadcast Act 2018, was proposed in October to regulate broadcast news portals.
Both laws restrict bail and allow arrests without a warrant.
The government has denied accusations it’s trying to curb press freedom and Hasina assured a press briefing in October that “journalists who do not publish false news need not worry” about the DSA.
Journalists, however, question the timing of the laws and have staged protests in recent weeks in the capital Dhaka, particularly against the DSA, which they say will thwart their ability to report independently, especially on the upcoming election.
Critics of Hasina, who is seeking a third straight term in power, say the Dec. 30 election will be a litmus test for the strength of democracy in Bangladesh. The last election in 2014 was boycotted by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) as unfair and shunned by international observers, with more than half the seats uncontested.
Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, editor-in-chief of Manab Zamin, a popular Bengali-language daily, said self-censorship was becoming common.
“As an editor, I feel sad when I kill a report that was the outcome of several days of exhaustive work by a reporter. But I take the decision purely to save the reporter, because I know the risks involved in publishing it,” he said. “I fight every moment with myself and with my shadow.”

“DISTORTING THE TRUTH“
H. T. Imam, a member of the ruling Awami League and Hasina’s political adviser, said journalists need not fear doing their jobs, and “can write on whatever is happening on the ground.”
“But they should restrain themselves from distorting the truth – that is very important,” he told Reuters. “You should not equate liberty with license.”
The government also says new licenses to operate have been issued to several media organizations under Hasina’s rule, indicating its support of an independent press.
But while Bangladesh has a bevy of news outlets, many journalists say they can’t write as freely as they once did. The case of The Daily Star, the country’s most widely-circulated English newspaper, stands out:
“I used to write a column regularly and fearlessly. Now, I seldom do,” said Mahfuz Anam, who has been the editor of The Daily Star for 25 years.
Anam was charged with defamation and treason in more than 80 cases filed by Awami League workers in 2016, with damages sought exceeding $8 billion. They were filed in various lower courts across Bangladesh, forcing him to run around the country seeking bail, and he’s had to obtain periodic stays on them ever since.
Anam says his paper is barred from covering the prime minister’s events, and advertisers have privately told him that officials have pressured them to stop advertising in his paper.
Two officials at two of Bangladesh’s biggest telecom operators said the government had instructed them in 2015 to stop advertising in The Daily Star. They declined to be named for fear of reprisals.
“We never interfere or influence any private organization as it is completely their wish and right,” Information Minister Hasanul Haq told Reuters, referring to the advertisers. He said decisions on who should be allowed to attend the prime minister’s events were taken by Hasina’s security department.

VAGUELY-WORDED LAWS
Government assurances that the laws won’t be used against them have failed to assuage concerns of many journalists, who point to past arrests.
While the police says it doesn’t maintain figures on detained journalists, global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says at least 25 journalists and several hundred bloggers and Facebook users were prosecuted under the ICT Act in 2017 alone.
The new DSA has “vaguely-worded provisions that would allow authorities to clamp down even more on dissent,” the group said.
Under the proposed broadcast law, media outlets publishing or broadcasting anything deemed to be “false” or against national interest could be fined, lose licenses or see their staff jailed.
It’s unclear how the election results might impact media freedoms. The BNP says it would strike down the DSA if it wins, but it cracked down on media organizations seen as unfriendly when it was in power more than a decade ago.
Bangladesh now ranks 148th out of 180 countries on the press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, sliding from 121 in 2009 when Hasina came to power. Haq, the information minister, said the ranking was not fair as it reflected views of only private organizations. “It could be standard if it reflected both government and private views.”
Many journalists say there is a growing and conspicuous silence on public criticism of the government, especially online.
Those who speak out have faced action: On July 13, a day after Hasina told parliament it was impossible to accede to some student demands, Maidul Islam, a university professor, posted two words on Facebook “Hasi Na.” In the Bengali language, the words mean “Not Laughing.”
Days later, an activist backing the Awami League filed a complaint against Islam under the ICT Act, accusing him of defaming the prime minister. Islam was arrested and jailed for more than a month before he got bail, and if he loses the case he faces up to 14 years in prison.