The day was September 17, 2012. Pakistani government slapped a ban on video-sharing website YouTube for not removing objectionable content that had sparked country-wide protests. A little over three years went by. The gun draw showed no signs of letting up; the government was in no mood to budge from its position and YouTube’s parent company, global internet giant Google Inc, took it as a test of its community guidelines that it has enforced world over.
Those who had earlier almost forgotten how it feels like to look up Pakistani music videos, TV dramas of the yore or simply viral cat videos soon worked their way around the prohibition with countless proxy sites springing up.
YouTube launches Urdu version for Pakistan
However, it now seems Google might just have blinked first. A country-specific version of the website has been rolled out. While Pakistani authorities are yet to come out on the matter officially, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority DG Nisar Ahmed told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the domain has been launched with technical facilities of removing objectionable material from the site.
This gives rise to a pertinent question – will YouTube remain the same free space as it once was? With the power to censor anything that they consider objectionable, will the authorities not silence voices of dissent as well? Beygairat Brigade’s music is a case in point. Band front man Ali Aftab Saeed’s satirical lyrics have in the past not gone down well with the government. However, he feels once something is on the internet, it’s impossible to restrict it. “When my song Dhinak Dhinak came out, radio and TV stations were instructed not to play it. But people downloaded it and it was soon all over the place,” he tells The Express Tribune. Saeed feels Pakistanis are no more interested in YouTube. “Our audience has now gotten used to Facebook’s videos. Mobile operators do not charge for Facebook and Twitter, hence YouTube’s return will not really change things.”
Music producer Zohaib Kazi says audience reaction won’t be immediate since they are now scattered across several such platforms. “It will take time for them to now get used to YouTube again,” he adds.
SC judge says YouTube is an educational tool
Then there are artists like Ali Gul Pir who owe their success to nothing but YouTube. “Whatever I am today is because of YouTube. I think a local domain of the website is a great idea,” he tells The Express Tribune. Citing a court proceeding with regards to the ban, he said, “If you want to access blasphemous content, you can do it on any platform. Why single out YouTube?” About four months before the ban, he uploaded a satirical song Waderai Ka Beta on the website. “We had taken the song to several channels that refused to play it, saying this sort of music does not have a market in Pakistan,” he adds.
Within days, the track spread like wildfire and helped him cement an identity as a popular sketch artist. “In whatever form it may be, YouTube’s return is indeed a step in the right direction. Pakistani artists might be able to monetise their content officially with the help of its content partnership program,” he maintains.
YouTube launches country-specific homepage for Pakistan
In the absence of YouTube, several music streaming platforms also emerged as an alternative source for accessing Pakistani content. Does the return also mean redirecting of traffic back to YouTube? Content director at Patari, Ahmer Naqvi, disagrees. “It happens all over the world that portals like YouTube co-exist with other music streaming portals,” he says. Naqvi feels the return will give people access to Pakistani pop culture. “So in a manner of speaking, it will also benefit us. For instance, if people listen to a song by let’s say Abdullah Qureshi on YouTube, then they may come back and listen to other songs by him on Patari.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2016.
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