ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a one-day conference on Thursday highlighted the role media can play in establishment of peace and security and prevention of conflicts in the country, but warned that at the same time media can be misused to incite hatred and spread rumours and therefore artificially create tensions. The event titled National Security, Nation Building & Mass Media was organised by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict & Security Studies (PICSS) at a local hotel. Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry was the chief guest on the occasion while State Minister for Interior Shehryar Afridi was the guest of honour. Other speakers included Federal Information Secretary Shafqat Jalil, Press Council of Pakistan Chairman Salahuddin Mengal, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Director General Wakeel Khan, senior journalists Naseem Zehra, Shaukat Paracha and Amir Zia and columnist and defense analyst SM Hali. PICSS Chairman Major General (r) Saad Khattak delivered the welcome address. Speaking on the occasion, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said media in Pakistan was the most modern in the world, adding that the freedom of expression available to media and citizens was unmatched. “Pakistan is the most deregulated country in terms of media freedom as well as the freedom of expression,” he said, adding that as the world was developing fast, the media was also growing at an unprecedented speed. “With the rapid advancement in technology, media models have totally changed. As the internet speed crosses a certain limit, local interventions and regulations will get irrelevant,” he said and added that world is fast moving towards international regulations from the local regulations. Fawad Chaudhry said the government wants to regulate the social media as it has become a tool of spreading disinformation and creating divisions in the society. “Information is power and can impact the public discourse. However, too much information also causes conflicts,” he said. “Freedom of expression is not only the core of a healthy media but also a fundamental human right and vital for a democratic structure. However, maintaining a balance between preventing harm caused by speech and protecting individual expression is equally important,” he said. In his address, Shehryar Afridi said an effective and democratic media is an essential part and indispensable for societies trying to make a transition towards peace and democracy. “If democracy is to work properly, society needs access to news and information. Lack of information can not only trigger a conflict but also make people desperate, restless and easy to manipulate,” he said. Afridi said maintaining national security was not the responsibility of any single department or organization but every segment of the society needs to play its part in the regard. He said media’s role in this regard is critical, adding that media has the power to defuse tensions and keep a critical eye on the government, opposition as well as society. “Instead of remaining stuck to the traditional approaches, we need to be proactive. We have to change our priorities,” Afridi said. “If our law enforcers are standing in front of the bullets and bombs, why couldn’t we?” he asked, adding that in naya Pakistan, every minister will go wherever the law enforcers go. The minister said the civilian government, law enforcement agencies and the military were on the same page as far as national security is concerned. “Everyone will be held accountable now. State won’t forgive those who damage the country in the name of religion or freedom of expression,” he warned. Speaking on the occasion, Shaukat Paracha said though there were certain shortcomings, overall most of the media in Pakistan behaves responsibly when it comes to the national security and interests. Naseem Zahra said the media in Pakistan should not become party to any conflict or issue and play its due role impartially. She said media in Pakistan has a history of fighting against the military dictators and standing with the democracy. Amir Zia said red lines have been drawn in Pakistan like every country in the world and media needs to work within its limits. He said a strong regulatory framework should be established in the country, adding that the government should also formulate a policy about foreign journalists working in the country. Published in Daily Times, November 23rd 2018.