Anusha says YouTube to be opened, but after proper filters
By: Waseem Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: After a nine-month ban on YouTube, Pakistanis may finally be able to watch and share useful videos on the world’s most popular video website soon.
The new government has declared it as one of its top priorities to restore YouTube with proper filtration of blasphemous and pornographic content and through assertive talks with Google.
Pakistan banned YouTube on September 17, 2012 after the site hosted clips from a sacrilegious film deemed blasphemous by Muslims across the world. The film, ‘Innocence of Muslims’ triggered massive street protests in Pakistan Egypt, Libya and many other countries.
Soon after the ban, the Ministry of IT issued a key policy directive to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block all blasphemous and pornographic material on the internet by installing effective modern filtration system.
Although Secretary Information Technology (IT) Zafar Iqbal blames PTA for failure to devise a filtration system to re-open YouTube, the new Minister of State for IT & Telecommunication Anusha Rahman does not buy the argument and believes that Ministry could have done better during the last nine months. “PTA is just an enforcement body, our ministry is responsible for the policy decisions so it’s our job to ensure re-opening of YouTube as soon as possible with thorough screening of objectionable material. I will immediately start work on it after presentation by the ministry officials on Monday,” Anusha told The News. She admitted that the Ministry did not forcefully pursue the matter during the last nine months.
The minister of state said the government will go all out to ensure that a proper filtration system is in place to allow re-start of YouTube in Pakistan. “We will pump in extra money if needed and do whatever is in our capacity to bring YouTube back to Pakistan without compromising our ethical values,” she said adding that she will also request Google, the parent company of YouTube to remove objectionable material from the website or at least its access in Pakistan is blocked.
When her attention was drawn towards refusal of Google in response to a similar request by previous Pakistani government, she hoped the company would listen to the new government. “It all depends on our negotiation clout. If they persisted with their stance we can block Google in Pakistan as a last resort as there are many alternative search engines available on the web,” she said. In the past, Pakistan and several other governments had asked Google to remove the blasphemous video from the website but Google has been denying the requests. Instead it blocked the access of blasphemous videos in various countries, including Egypt, Libya, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and India, however, it didn’t block the videos in Pakistan in response to which government had to block the entire website through local internet service providers (ISPs).
The minister of state made it clear that YouTube would not be unblocked without ensuring blockade of objectionable material. “We cannot face the embarrassment of opening the website and closing it again after protests. We have to ensure that proper filtration system is in place before we open the website,” she said adding that she cannot allow her children to watch some of the videos that are available on YouTube.
Earlier, Secretary IT Zafar Iqbal told The News that delay in lifting ban on YouTube is caused by PTA’s inability to devise a filtration system.
“PTA is the enforcer. We have already written to PTA several months ago requesting them to formulate a system to filter and block pornographic and blasphemous content but they have not moved forward in this direction,” he said. He opined that PTA may have been unable to proceed on the matter due to the fact that the authority had been functioning without a Chairman and members for last several months.
Last year, the Ministry issued a directive to PTA asking it update the system for effective monitoring and control of blasphemous and pornographic material. The policy directive has been drafted cautiously to ensure that the move does neither affect the freedom of information in any manner nor allows the authorities to misuse the facility beyond the mandated goal.
“It is imperative to have a sustainable solution to continuously monitor and control the display of blasphemous and pornographic content over internet in Pakistan without compromising the scope of article 19 of the Constitution that guarantees right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam etc.” it reads.