04 May, 2012

Experts highlight Digital Divide in Rural Pakistan

Sana Jamal

Islamabad - Pakistani youth have made a remarkable move in social media interaction but the urban and rural digital divide keeps them far from making any collective progress in society. The participants at a seminar held in Islamabad on Thursday concluded that the popular use of social media has turned urban Pakistanis into internet activists, but the benefits of the new media have failed to reach the masses. 

To explore the possibilities for social media as a tool for collaboration to bridge digital inequalities, a seminar was organized by Centre for Civic Education Pakistan (CCEP) and attended by media professionals and social media experts to coincide with World Press Freedom Day. The journalists of the modern era expressed mixed views on the use of social media for their journalistic duties. Participants pointed out that one reason for limited use of social media by traditional journalists is that the new media is not accessible in local content and local language.

A journalist from Balochistan, Shahzada Zulfiqar, explained the restricted use of new media by Pakistani newspersons in this manner: “Journalists in rural areas use laptops only as a typewriter to write and print news and do not go beyond that.” This little use of technology portrays the great urban-rural digital divide in Pakistan. One journalist from KPK, Khadim Hussain, expressed concerns that the extremists were extensively using social media as compared to the liberal society. 

Matiullah Jan, a noted journalist, observed that “there is a disconnect within the society where the reform process is urban-based while the political process is rural-based.” Broadcasters and internet activists have failed to reach the rural majority which elects the leadership, he added. 
Raza Rumi, known blogger, maintained that “the new media is giving voice to the marginalized youth of the country and can help transform the society.” This transformation, however, would remain a distant dream unless the larger, rural population of Pakistan have an equal access to the new media, believed majority of participants.

An advocate of social media, Dr. Nadeem Omar noted that social media still remains a weak tool to connect and bridge the gap between rural and urban societies. Recounting three particular cases in which the social media has successful roles in Pakistan, he mentioned lawyers’ movement 2007-08, in   response to emergency and natural disasters. A blogger from Karachi, Noman Qadri asserted that “proper use of social media can trigger a quick and effective response as against street activism.” He advocated the promotion of social media for positive development of society in general.