Blocking blasphemy

Published: September 19, 2012
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Pakistan has no formal agreement with Google, which owns YouTube, to censor inflammatory or blasphemous content at the source. PHOTO: FILE

Pakistan has no formal agreement with Google, which owns YouTube, to censor inflammatory or blasphemous content at the source. PHOTO: FILE

After a high-level meeting in Islamabad involving the interior ministry, the information technology ministry, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority and the Federal Investigation Agency, the government decided to block the video sharing website YouTube and prevent access to the blasphemous anti-Islam film, which has caused fury and violence across the Muslim world. The sense of outrage is understandable but we also need to ask if this is the best way to handle the situation. YouTube did not make the film; it exists only as a space where people can share videos. Millions of Pakistanis who have access to the internet, use YouTube  regularly, not only for recreational purposes but also for educational and professional reasons.

Currently, Pakistan has no formal agreement with Google, which owns YouTube, to censor inflammatory or blasphemous content at the source. In the case of obviously offensive content, such as the film, perhaps, an agreement with Google would make sense in which, instead of blocking the whole website, blasphemous videos could be blocked for users in Pakistan. Of course, the wider principle that content should not be blocked is a utopian concept because anti-hate speech laws exist in all countries, even in the US. It would be safe to also say that most Muslims, in Pakistan and elsewhere, would not want to watch such offensive material in the first place.

On a somewhat related note, the threat by the interior minister to cancel visas of Google staff working in Pakistan was unnecessary, especially since Google did not make the blasphemous film. We need to ensure that the decisions taken regarding net usage are rational and do not establish dangerous precedents which can be misused in the future. More thought is needed on how to handle these sensitive issues so that steps are not taken in panic, possibly causing more harm than good. Banning YouTube plays right into the hands of the makers of the blasphemous film, giving them attention they don’t deserve.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • sabi
    Sep 19, 2012 - 1:53AM

    It is highly ridiculous decision to ban you tube to prevent watching this blasphemous movie from very people who have staged massive protest against this movie.If someone still watch this movie despite showing his/her outrage then it’s a duplicity of chracter.
    Immature decision from immature govrenment.

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  • gp65
    Sep 19, 2012 - 3:38AM

    “Of course, the wider principle that content should not be blocked is a utopian concept because anti-hate speech laws exist in all countries, even in the US. “

    There is a difference between free speech and hate speech. Free speech may offend people’s feeling and even maybe obnoxious but does no physical harm or encourage others to do physical harm. Examples of hate speech in Pakistan can be easily had by finding LeJ vides inlcuding beheading videos that the published. Amir Liaqat saying Ahmadis are wajib-ul-qatl also qualifies as hate speech. See the difference? Pakistan wants to allow hate speech in Pakistan by Pakistani citiznes against Pakistani citizens to carry on without any government intervention but curb free speech in US on a video that most Pakistanis have not seen,

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  • Overseas Pakistani
    Sep 19, 2012 - 4:01AM

    You are wrong. There are no anti- hate speech laws in the US. The right to freedom of speech (and expression) is practically absolute in the US. In your role as a private US citizen you cannot be prosecuted for saying offensive things, making art that offends any religious or other group, or even burning the US flag, as long as the expression does not involve violence towards any person or damage to another person’s property. The US govt has no authority to censor any movie, you tube video made by a US citizen or legal US resident (i.e. green card holders).

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  • sabi
    Sep 19, 2012 - 4:04AM

    Does banning youtube in Pakistan make any sense where nation has overwhelmingly rejected and showed its rage against the movie.Youtube programms don’t open automaticaly but one has to type some words to get the desired programm.There are thousands of dirty programms on youtube but since I don’t like it I don’t open it.

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  • Cautious
    Sep 19, 2012 - 10:52AM

    The Editor is incorrect when he says the USA has laws against hate speech — not surprising since it appears that almost all Pakistani’s think that it’s against the law in the USA to deny the Holocaust or say anything bad against the Jews (both incorrect myths). There are “hate crimes” which are just additional penalties imposed in the event you attack someone because of their race or religion – but that’s entirely different than the “hate speech” the Editor is referring to.

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  • Ammar Khan
    Sep 19, 2012 - 1:57PM

    Russia to block Youtube over Anti Islam Movie as well

    http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/18/idINL5E8KINW820120918

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  • Cautious
    Sep 20, 2012 - 4:08AM

    Blocking Utube was more direct and effective than the Editor’s prior view that the USA should change it’s laws/Constitution to enable it to censor the film. Both approaches are equally futile and help no one.

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  • Capt Iqbal Khan
    Sep 21, 2012 - 12:20PM

    There are blocked sights of youtube in Many countries.
    You can not watch a pornographic movie in Qatar. Accepted; people should have freedom of expression but if the freedom of speech offend me without any of my action, it must be removed from youtube.There are hundreds of sights on Utube where the contents are removed by google AS IT DID NOT COMPLY WITH GOOGLE’S POLICIES., WHY NOT THIS FILM????

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  • Sarah Ibrahim
    Sep 22, 2012 - 4:38AM

    This video and the timing of being put onto the web is all propganda. It is funny that the American government, Google who own youtube will allow such slander to be advertised. Freedom of speech in this country is all a load of none sense. If we were truly able to be what we want then why must the government in America be a Catholic.. sounds communist to me. Why is it that a Toronto Blue Jay is being repramanded at preseant for making comments which goes against gay people. His salary is being donated to the Gay alliances. Free speach is none sense unless it suits people. The reason the government doesn’t want to take this film down which is a directly INSULTS be against Muslims and is full of uneducated rambalings is because it gives him the perfect plight to penetrate the coutries thriving with OIL. Instead of creating business they create conflict within our communities and instead to STEAL what it is that they want. What people don’t want to understand is that Muslims have the greatest love for their one God and all Prophets and any slandar towards the great people sacraficing themselves and bringing a message of light to them. If the pope was murdered it would start a world wide war, slandaring the last prophet is the same thing in the view of muslims. In any case its funny becuase Muslims are the only religion that respects all the relgious figure heads.

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