Lift the YouTube ban
An end to the YouTube ban may be on the horizon. There is no definite date for a lifting, but the government seems prepared to move in that direction. The information minister said on March 16 when speaking to journalists in Lahore that software has been developed that will ‘filter controversial content’. If this is indeed the case, then we would warmly welcome such a move so long as the filtering process was not a further encroachment on freedom of speech. The ban has now been in place for a year and a half and appears to have done little other than provide work for those who create the software that allows individuals to bypass whatever obstacles to viewing the government may create.
Millions of internet users use proxy servers and those who are determined to view all YouTube content may do so with only very little inconvenience. It remains to be seen just what is going to be designated ‘controversial content’ but no matter what the efficacy of the filter, there will be those who seek to circumvent it.
Pakistan is a country where the internet is expanding. E-commerce is taking off and online-retail via cardless cash transactions is now quite commonplace. YouTube is the online bazaar. YouTube is a platform also for the creative communities of Pakistan — the artists and designers who are able to publicise and market their products. The volume of educational material available online via YouTube is vast, and many academic bodies use YouTube as a distance learning tool. It is true that not all YouTube content is benign or uplifting, and it is home to some very unpleasant hate material. If that can be effectively filtered out then that may be a just-bearable form of state censorship. The YouTube ban has become so porous as to be virtually pointless, and is denying access to a majority of material that is offensive to nobody. We await ‘good news’. It is long overdue and cannot come soon enough.