End to the YouTube ban in sight?
The YouTube ban in Pakistan has just entered its sixteenth month–with its duration equally divided between the previous government which slapped it and the current government which was supposed to undo it.
That this saga has gone on for so long is not surprising to Pakistanis who are quite used to a status quo where very limited of public value gets done by the government, especially when it comes to the ICT sector. It was “religious sensitivities” that forced the then government to ban YouTube. It is the threat of “political fallout” that makes the current government unwilling to restore the service.
Meanwhile, Pakistanis belonging to different age groups, educational backgrounds and professions have suffered. Besides infotainment, YouTube is a tremendous source of knowledge and skills. There is no other video hosting and streaming platform like YouTube. Period! Thats why folks here have been using all kinds of proxy servers to access YouTube, but that drab experience is not worth the trouble for some.
Anusha Rahman, the Minister for IT and Telecom initially signaled that YouTube restoration is one of her top priorities. But the result is still awaited. The inter-ministerial committee, which the government formed this July hasn come up with a viable solution yet. Similarly, the manipulating plan for blocking online content through a URL filtering regime also doesn seem to be gaining traction any time soon.
But, if recent news reports are to be believed, this prohibition era is about to end soon. The Minister reportedly informed the senate standing committee on IT and Telecom last week that “the government had succeeded in convincing the Google management about religious sensitivities of Pakistanis”.
She informed if government meets Googles requirements, the latter will launch the local search engine with the domain name “YouTube.com.pk”, which will help in blocking objectionable content. She also mentioned that a draft ordinance is under preparation by PTA, which will be processed by the IT Ministry and then enacted for this localised service.
However, this plan of action has drawn sharp reaction from local privacy and rights advocacy groups. In a recent press release, “Bolo Bhi”, a not-for-profit advocacy and rights organisation denounced the efforts to prepare an ordinance that will enable a localized version of YouTube in Pakistan. It raised the question as to why the web content removal and access denial process has not been made open to public input.
It also observed that “the version of YouTube made available to Pakistanis would be one vetted by the government based on its notions of what is permissible content or not, rather than what end users decide to view.”
These are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed by the government. The idea here is to undo a wrong, but not by doing another wrong. Its time for the YouTube ban to go for good, but not in a way that online citizens get disempowered further.