YouTube watchers in Pakistan have now had to endure 100 days in solitude. The video-streaming website, for some unfathomable reason, still remains banned in the country. The original excuse for the ban — that the website was hosting an anti-Islam video — can no longer be the justification given that few even remember anything about the video now. This is purely a naked power play by the government and one that we should resist. This is about controlling our behaviour and denying us access to the internet. This is about the only logical explanation left since YouTube has millions of videos of which a bare handful would be considered objectionable by the government and the judiciary.
It seems that the ban will stay either until Google, YouTube’s parent company, agrees to take down videos we don’t approve of or the government can find a way to block videos that don’t fit its decency criteria. The former is a non-starter since Google has made clear that it wants no part of this censorship agenda while the latter has proven technologically impossible for the authorities. At this point, it is time for the government to realise that the rules of the game have changed. It is not possible to censor the internet the way that governments used to censor media in the print age. One video that is banned on a website can simply be viewed on other websites or through proxy servers. These bans are an inconvenience — as the website is also used for educational purposes — rather than a major hindrance.
The fight against the YouTube ban is important to cause the government to think twice before it embarks on another round of censorship. The proposal to build a firewall like China, where the internet would essentially be controlled by the government, is extremely worrying. We need to make it clear that we do not wish to regress to a dark age when a centralised authority controlled all access to information. Retreating to such an era would essentially mean that we were longer living in a democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.