Pakistani Bloggers Speak Out on “Emergency Rule”: BetterKnowanSFBlog - Metroblogging

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Photo of Metroblogging co-founder Jason DeFillippo courtesy of Joi Ito.

By Tyler Callister

In case you haven’t heard, the Pakistani people are not exactly rockin’ in the free world right now.

As part of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of so-called “Emergency Rule,” many TV news networks have been shut down and the government has threatened to fine or imprison members of the media who criticize Musharraf.

But never fear, the mighty blogs are here!

Metroblogging (affectionately called “Metblogs”) is a network of city blogs representing 54 cities across the world, three of which are Pakistani cities — Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore. Volunteer Pakistani residents write these Metblogs, providing first person coverage of and reactions to the nation’s current crisis. These blogs depict a Pakistan that’s shaken but still intact — adrenaline pumping but not in total chaos.

Zainub Razvi, a Metblogger in Karachi, Pakistan, wrote a recent blog post in which she praises...

Pakistani students who have been protesting President Musharraf’s suspension of the nation’s constitution.

Another Pakistani Metblogger, Faraz Khalid in Lahore, had a more neutral approach, pointing out that Pakistan has survived many forms of military rule in the last 60 years, and calling for Pakistanis to band together.

So what the hell does all this have to do with San Francisco? It was a San Francisco resident, Jason DeFillippo, and his friend, Los Angeles resident Sean Bonner, who created the international Metroblogging network that's used by these Pakistani bloggers and other city bloggers across the world.

DeFillippo and Bonner began blogging in Los Angeles in 2003 with their flagship site, blogging.la. This quickly bloomed into the Metroblogging network, first opening a Metblog in San Francisco and eventually opening Metblogs in cities throughout North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Asia, with each blog run by a handful of residents in those respective areas.

DeFillippo says that he hopes the government crack down on mainstream media in Pakistan will increase the citizens’ reliance on the Pakistani blogs. He says that bloggers in the Metroblogging network provide a special kind of perspective that you can’t find in mainstream media. Although DeFillippo and Bonner are at the helm of the Metroblogging network, they don’t edit any part of it. “What the bloggers write is what you see,” DeFillippo says. “We want an unfiltered voice from the people that live there.”

For example, when the Pakistani news channel GEO TV was shut down and protesters gathered for a candle light vigil in Karachi, Metblogger Dr. Awab Alvi gave his first hand account and said he supports the protest despite GEO's reputation for sensationalism. The first commenter disagreed, saying that GEO News spread slander and inaccuracies. Either way, the blog is democracy in action.

But as we pointed out last week in our discussion of blogging in China, the international blogosphere isn’t free of censorship by the government or other forces. The Pakistani government regulates the country's internet access, and has a history of blocking some sites seen as offensive. DeFillippo says that in the past they’ve also had gay bloggers in India and Pakistan who eventually had to quit in response to death threats. “We want people to write and have their voice out there,” he says. “But we don’t want anybody to get killed over this.”

Unlike many of the bloggers profiled in BetterKnowanSFBlog, DeFillippo has an extensive tech background — he’s been creating websites professionally since 1994. He currently lives in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District where he writes for the San Francisco Metblog.

Mark Pritchard, another blogger for the San Francisco Metblog, says that he thinks of Metblogs as the “refrigerator door of the city.” In other words, it’s a place where bloggers can post anything of interest — serious or silly, political or apolitical, in support of the president or opposed to the president.

The same can be said for Pakistan’s Metblogs and many of the other blogs in Pakistan. While CNN only covers the current political turmoil in Pakistan, the Pakistani blogs cover local news, give fun quizzes, cover local sporting events, cover local arts events, and, of course, voice opinions about “Emergency Rule,” proving that Pakistani media, even in the face of threats to free speech, is still very much alive. “These are people who live in the cities who just really want to talk about what’s really going on,” DeFillippo says. “And I hope that blogs will play a major part in that, especially in times of crisis like this.”


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