ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s telecom authorities lifted a three-year ban on popular video-sharing site after the Google-owned YouTube launched a local version that allows the government to remove material it considers offensive.
“The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed internet service providers on Monday to unblock YouTube with immediate effect,” said a senior government official.
A senior PTA official, who wished not to be named, told The Express Tribune that internet service providers (ISPs) have been directed to unblock the country version of YouTube, adding that a notification has also been issued.
“Now, there is an understanding between the PTA and Google that objectionable material will be restricted in Pakistan as and when the local authority reports it,” the official said, adding that Google had assured Pakistani authorities that an online process would be available for requesting blocks on offending material.
Several ISPs confirmed receiving directions to unblock the site.
On September 17, 2012, a high-level meeting chaired by then-prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had deliberated over a sacrilegious video clip which was causing outrage across the country and much of the Muslim world.
Unable to have the offending video removed or to block access to specific web pages containing the offending clip, Pakistan joined the likes of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sudan in placing a blanket ban on the website. Threat of similar bans in Saudi Arabia prompted YouTube to selectively curb access in that country while it took a court order to censor it in Brazil.
The government’s action was followed by a similar directive from the Supreme Court which ruled that the site should continue to be censored until a way was found to block all blasphemous content.
In order to lift the ban on the website Islamabad asked Google to launch a localised version of the site, which would have bound the latter to block access to blasphemous content for users from Pakistan. An arrangement it practiced with its localised versions in other parts of the world, including Indonesia, Egypt and India in wake of the sacrilegious film.
Despite several attempts, Google and the Pakistani government failed to reach any agreement in this regard. The Silicon Valley-based internet giant did not accept the government’s demand, leading to the ban, which has now entered its fourth year.
But last week the internet giant announced the launch of YouTube’s localised versions for Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, addressing Islamabad’s long-standing dispute regarding the availability of blasphemous content on the world’s largest video-sharing platform and paving the way for its return.
The move was well received by the public with social media with #unblocked trending. Traffic to the site from Pakistan has also jumped exponentially since the localised version was announced last week. But for most, the unblocking means little since they have resorted to using virtually private networks to circumvent the ban for years.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2016.