Has Pakistan’s YouTube ban served any purpose?

Published: November 7, 2012

YouTube was banned in Pakistan on September 17, 2012 to pacify incensed emotions that were unleashed across the country following the release of the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims”. 

Two months later, the service still remains blocked in the country for an indefinite period.

A video of the report can be viewed here.

A “knee-jerk” failure

Following the ban, YouTube’s ranking on Alexa.com, as among the most visited websites in Pakistan has fallen from the third to the eighth slot. On the other hand, the rankings of several proxy websites that allow users to bypass the ban like proxfree.com, unblock-proxee.net and many others have soared following the ban. This proves that YouTube is still getting traffic through alternative routes.

Several other popular video sites such as Vimeo and Daily Motion that also host blasphemous content have not been banned. Given the failure of the government’s move to block access to such content, experts argue that the “knee-jerk” reaction was ill-thought out.

“Content on the Internet is not distributary, but voluntary. Therefore, if one book is bad, you cannot close down the entire library,” says Sana Saleem, executive director and spokesperson for Bolo Bhi-a non-profit organization that works actively in areas like Internet freedom and digital security.

Jahanzaib Haque, Web Editor at The Express Tribune agrees. “Either we block the entire Internet, form our own version of the Internet like Iran is trying to do, or come to terms with the fact that we live in a global society,” says Haque.

However, the ban has complicated things for artists, entrepreneurs and political parties who have started to rely increasingly on sites like YouTube to engage with their followers.

While almost everyone has turned to alternate avenues like Vimeo, Daily Motion, Bing and Blip.tv, none of them are as user-friendly or have as large a user-base as YouTube.

Up-coming pop singer Ali Gul Pir states that such things are a part of the deal when one choses to work in Pakistan.

“Instead of fighting continuously, it is best if you find other ways,” says Pir.

Awab Alvi, a member of the PTI states that while the ban has affected everyone, not much has been said or done to revoke it due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

The need for cyber laws

“Anything with blasphemy becomes a no-go zone, but it’s time to stop using nationalism and religion as a blanket for everything,” Saleem argues.

She emphasized the need for a concrete set of cyber laws. It is the current legislative vacuum that is repeatedly used by the government to block access as they deem fit, Saleem argues.

“You [citizens] have a right to express yourself and to access information, both of which have been infringed upon through this YouTube ban. Having a concrete set of cyber laws could have prevented this from happening,” says Haque.

Earlier in the year, a URL filtering and blocking system was also proposed by the Ministry of IT. If approved, the system would act like an online ‘Big Brother’, blocking out content at the URL level, somewhat similar to the firewall used by China.

With elections just around the corner, some like Alvi also expressed fear of content being censored by the current government.

To ensure a free and fair space for public discourse, a participatory approach is needed in drafting cyber laws, added Saleem. Also meticulous attention needed to be paid when defining terms like “blasphemy,”  “morality” and “national security”.

While Interior Minister Rehman Malik hinted last month that the ban might be lifted, no clear timeline on the action is available yet.

Past bans

The PTA banned YouTube in 2008 for the first time on grounds of containing blasphemous content. The decision was then linked to blasphemous cartoons and the release of a documentary film entitled Fitna, by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders.

The service was banned once again in 2010 along with several other websites, in the wake of an offensive competition about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on Facebook.

A video of the report can be viewed here.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (57)

  • MZJ
    Nov 7, 2012 - 7:57PM

    If the government of the ‘Islamic’ republic of Pakistan was truly so hurt by this blasphemous content as many of us were, instead of blocking youtube, it should have sponsored the making of a movie which showed Islam in a good light. Unfortunately however, ISPR doesn’t sponsor such movies, it only is a part of those movies which twist what real Islam is all about.


  • Usman786
    Nov 7, 2012 - 7:57PM

    Youtube may have some educational advantage but crush its parent company Google to earn profit from Pakistan – may be block google search website.


  • NAkhtar
    Nov 7, 2012 - 7:59PM

    It is simply nonsense to ban UTUBE, millions students, scholars have been deprived to access information throiugh UTUBE,Classic lectures, historical talks and scientific informations are banned, who gets what by banning this facility?


  • Pir Bulleh Shah
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:00PM

    If even one Muslim was saved from betraying the true path, the ban has been totally worth it and must continue.


  • maheen shaikh
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:07PM

    two weeks post the ban or even less everyone used proxies. it’s been almost two months, banning youtube was just so counterproductive


  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:08PM

    Comparing to Facebook, YouTube is not that much popular in Pakistan.


  • Cautious
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:14PM

    One thing for sure — the rest of the World didn’t blink nor care when Pakistan banned Utube – that includes Google the owner of Utube. Muslims are going to have to get used to the concept that they are minority on this planet and have no right to tell others what they can read, write, or watch – if you want to ban Utube or even the internet go right ahead as you only harm yourselves.


  • Osama
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:15PM

    Not even the countries like Saudia Arabia, Iran and other Islamic countries banned youtube then why should Pakistan ??
    You tube should be restored but the video should be blocked


  • Saad
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:26PM

    may i say…. get a life dude…!!!! you already seem high !!!


  • secular pakisani
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:32PM

    everyone use proxy sites to watch youtube


  • umer
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:39PM

    Good example of illitrate response by a masses of stooges,those must not watch those movies because it is still very much there only we are closing our eyes by blocking a source of knowledge


  • confused
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:42PM

    Youtube ban should be lifted with immediate effect. Simply ban the pages containing Innocence of Muslims, why ban the whole website? Since 2005 Youtube has grown to become a web essential like Google, banning it only serves those who don’t want freedom of information flow. It also hinders artists in promoting their work


  • Raza Khan
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:49PM

    It has served no purpose whatsoever!


  • Aryabhat
    Nov 7, 2012 - 8:53PM

    Ohh Yes it has.

    It has helped improve Pakistan’s Soft image in the rest of the world!


  • Eyes wide open
    Nov 7, 2012 - 9:01PM

    The real reason for the Youtube ban is the content criticizing Peoples Party and the merciless spoofs of Rehman Malik.

    Even if there was an Islamic element to it, which it isnt, a ban on Youtube does not help the cause of Islam or Muslims. Remember the Prophet said – educate yourself even if you have to go to China. Surely he knew about opposing and sometimes insulting views Muslims will face abroad


  • Syed
    Nov 7, 2012 - 9:05PM

    We need to allow google to establish its operation in Pakistan so Govt can gain revenue and control the content beemed to the country just like every European country.


  • Bill Maher (SFO)
    Nov 7, 2012 - 9:17PM

    @Pir Bulleh Shah

    “If even one Muslim was saved from betraying the true path, the ban has been totally worth it and must continue.”

    Wow! What devotion to the faith. You are one of kind and we kmon Allah hasn’t produced too many like you, it’s hard work.



  • Mandeep Vaid
    Nov 7, 2012 - 9:26PM

    The more prohibitions in a country, the more incentives to transgressions.


  • gp65
    Nov 7, 2012 - 9:29PM

    @Pir Bulleh Shah: “If even one Muslim was saved from betraying the true path, the ban has been totally worth it and must continue”
    Not just 1, 100% of Muslims can be saved by simply not searching for the video on you tube. If someone is determined to search for the movie, then the youtube ban will not help to ‘save’ that person because as you may have noted, there are proxy servers that allow you access to youtube.


  • gp65
    Nov 7, 2012 - 9:37PM

    @Usman786: “crush its parent company Google to earn profit from Pakistan – may be block google search website”

    The economics of digital advertising were discused on tribune earlier. The total revenue that all companies involved in any shape way or form with digital advertising (whch includes tickers that run) is $5 milion. Google’s revenue from Pakistan would therefore be a subset of $5 milion. Do you imagine that the loss of this $5 milion will ‘crush Google’? It is probably a rounding error for them.

    @Osama: “You tube should be restored but the video should be blocked”

    I’m curious why you think the video should be blocked. Are you worried that a practicing Muslim will want to offend himself/herself and commit blasphemy by deliberately searching for the movie and watching it? Youtube does not automatically start running the movie as soon as you launch the app you know.


  • ayesha
    Nov 7, 2012 - 9:50PM

    Nobody cares whether its blocked or not,it is still accessible through proxy sites..


  • notsocautious
    Nov 7, 2012 - 9:56PM

    absolutely, they should remove the banRecommend

  • whab
    Nov 7, 2012 - 10:02PM

    The order to ban youtube was first given by Lahore highcourt. Judicial activism on extreme. basic right to access information was violated. no one appealed because of the sensitivity of issue. We all know that majority of people want to access it, so lets not be held my extremist minority and access our rights under this democracy


  • Babar
    Nov 7, 2012 - 10:14PM

    Please remove this stupid ban on youtube. It is only hurting people looking for old Pakistani art and educational videos. What does the government want, send us to dark ages? We need it for our own culture. The guy who is asking to ban google, is actually asking to ban all knowledge. There is no difference between these people and the worst of Taliban. Heck even taliban use google.


  • Yoku
    Nov 7, 2012 - 10:15PM

    You spineless Pakistanis, follow the Chinese who have banned both Facebook and Youtube (and Google Search is non-existent) and they have their own local versions such as Yoku, Toudou and QQ. This has contributed to more Chinese jobs in China than in Mountain View, California or other parts of USA.

    This whole Google lobby should just keep quiet and let local entrepreneurs work on local version of these popular Western media brands and Internet properties. Shameful. We will never stand on our own 2 feet if such people are allowed to lead and form Pakistani opinion.


  • Babar
    Nov 7, 2012 - 10:15PM

    And I don’t understand why can’t just the links which Pakistani people do not like can not be blocked and rest of the site restored.


  • Adeel
    Nov 7, 2012 - 10:36PM

    the most stupidest decision ever made…but what else can we expect from our current government!


  • Mandeep Vaid
    Nov 7, 2012 - 10:38PM

    Here in Germany nobody is interested in any biblical religions….the Germans say, enough is enough, we had enough from this mendacious religion and church in the Nazi era.

    This is the era of exact sciences, logic and rational beliefs.


  • Mahmood
    Nov 7, 2012 - 11:39PM

    Served a purpose? Yes it did – it blocked hundreds of thousands of videos used by the general public for constructive education and self development on an ongoing basis. And why? Because, we feel we’d rather wear blinders and pretend the problem doesn’t exist instead of sitting down and having a conversation about it.


  • Nov 8, 2012 - 12:02AM

    Best way to answer this question is ask yourself following questions:

    Are those videos still on youtube?

    Has youtube contacted Pak govt and apologized for what they did, or has it hurt them even a little enough to come on negotiations table?

    Once you answer those questions it doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out if the ban has actually worked or not.


  • Typical Pakistani
    Nov 8, 2012 - 12:04AM

    @Mandeep Vaid:
    Enough is enough for religion only.
    They are still so rational that most service centers even don’t bother to deal english speaking customers!


  • Khurram Sheikh
    Nov 8, 2012 - 12:10AM

    It’s like the double sawari back in the nineties, the govt. fails, ban double sawari, same is happening with the mobiles…..


  • suraj
    Nov 8, 2012 - 12:18AM

    I wonder about banning the YouTube. I think about 80% of the people have no access to internet and those who have it are matured and so educated that they are switching to alternative proxies to get the info what they wanted to know; and also mature enough to ignore such kind of videos. Several countries were just stopped access to that particular video; not banned the entire website.. I think the government will not lift than ban fearing backlashes from the people who doesn’t know or access to internet..


  • Megatron
    Nov 8, 2012 - 12:42AM

    It’s would have been a right decision if they have also banned google as it is the parent company …this could have served our purpose in the form of removal of video from utube…


  • s
    Nov 8, 2012 - 1:10AM

    Its these liberal facists taht have a problem. Its not about purpose, but its abt making a statement that how wrong they did


  • Lahori
    Nov 8, 2012 - 1:33AM

    @Babar: because one movie can be copied multiple times and uploaded time and time againRecommend

  • hasan
    Nov 8, 2012 - 2:03AM

    Please unban youtube. this is pathetic. the government is run by a bunch of idiots.


  • Nov 8, 2012 - 2:24AM

    Yes it has its purpose – Mullahs liked it!


  • Jamal Khan
    Nov 8, 2012 - 2:43AM

    This band reminds of of Forest Gump’s famous words “Stupid is a Stupid does”.


  • Mast Malang
    Nov 8, 2012 - 2:44AM

    @MZJ, It isn’t ISPR’s duty to make films on Islam, Its role is to communicate military information with general public and make the military image better in and outside the country. If you want to make a movie on Islam’s better image, appeal to cultural ministry or ministry of religious affairs. Why it has become a fashion to drag Pak Armed forces on everything..


  • notsocautious
    Nov 8, 2012 - 3:19AM

    actually i wrote the comment in reverse to check whether it gets shown here because nowadays you know our people get too apologetic… it should be “ban indefinitely till video removed”


  • Omar
    Nov 8, 2012 - 4:21AM

    Of course it hasn’t. Any one with a basic understanding of the internet can access youtube and i’ve been doing so ever since the ban. It’s an immature and juvenile society that has to ban everything offending its petty sensibilities. Why not just ban the whole world than? Yes you’ve banned some offensive content but people can easily access Vimeo, Dailymotion, and other video sites. Furthermore, there are countless docmentries and educational content you’ve blocked pakistanis from seeing. That includes things like Khan Academy, a series of free online educational videos on subjects as diverse as history and biology, and positive videos about Islam. It’s absolutely shameful that the government still considers this a valid use of government resources. The Pakistani are mature enough to look after themselves without the nanny state censoring our content for us.


  • Pir Bulleh Shah
    Nov 8, 2012 - 7:55AM

    Seemingly many people are more concerned about Islam’s image among unbelievers than in the perfection of their own belief. What ‘Quran’ do they read?


  • Pragmatist
    Nov 8, 2012 - 8:37AM

    The ban on Youtube has certainly served its purpose. People the world over have stopped watching blasphemy videos because Pakistan cannot see them.


  • M.Ahmer Ali
    Nov 8, 2012 - 9:38AM

    Pakistan hasn’t served any purpose/thing by banning Youtube because Youtube was accessible easily by the using unblocking software.In the other words and indirectly as usual banning the Youtube in Pakistan by the Pakistani government was just a temporary step and in the other Muslim countries except Pakistan and Afghanistan Youtube wasn’t banned and was easily accessible but in that countries blasphemous contents were removed from Youtube even in India also….


    Nov 8, 2012 - 9:43AM

    YouTube ban doesn’t served any purpose. Bcz if some one wants he can open Youtube easily.

    To Stop these kind of Attacks against Islam..There must be a Common Goal of all Islamic Countries of the WOrld with one Single Stand Point…

    Otherwise they will come again and again….


  • Haider Hussain
    Nov 8, 2012 - 10:15AM

    That’s all our idiot politicians can manage to do…


  • Haider Hussain
    Nov 8, 2012 - 10:19AM

    What a joke..HAHAHAHAHA!!!


  • Haider Hussain
    Nov 8, 2012 - 10:23AM

    @Pir Bulleh Shah:

    Lolzzzz……you are so funny!!!!!!


  • RJ
    Nov 8, 2012 - 10:47AM

    Blocking Youtube is like trying to block the porous Afghan border. Those that want to get in can and there is nothing the current authorities can do in both cases.


  • M.Ahmer Ali
    Nov 8, 2012 - 11:09AM

    ***”@MUHAMMAD SAJID KHAN:To Stop these kind of Attacks against Islam..There must be a Common Goal of all Islamic Countries of the WOrld with one Single Stand Point…
    Otherwise they will come again and again….”***
    I totally agree with you and your stance/standpoint but the question rises here that who shall do so because eunuchs Arab countries’ and the other muslim countries’ leaders can only protest and condemn verbally and practically they have badly badly badly failed to protect Islam,Holy Quran and the sacred muslim’s persons from blasphemy just due to the slavery,beggary,cowardice and disunity…..Recommend

  • Citizen
    Nov 8, 2012 - 12:13PM

    Its been banned by the dam LHC. As usual these jokers have nothing else to do but go around judging what should or not be allowed. Dont they have criminals to catch.. serve verdicts to? Oh yes i forgot nothing happens to criminals in Pakistan! They all go free! Our lawyers/judges should be considered outlaws against justice.. remember when they went around putting rose garlands on a murderer! And yes if you want to hurt Google then simply ban all their services with a govt directive. Youtube is being accessed by thousands of Pakistanis using proxies and this is simply a weak stand against Google. We are notorious for our weak stance on everything around us, corrupt government, drones, you name it.



  • MZJ
    Nov 9, 2012 - 12:12AM

    @ Mast Malang:

    I know it’s not their job, but where they’re helping out the famous Shoaib mansoor make films, surely they can do the same for other filmmakers who may want to show Islam in a good light?

    Not every Mullah, not every Molvi and not every Muslim who commits himself to carrying out his duties clearly outlined in the Quran is an extremist.


  • Khawar
    Nov 9, 2012 - 9:14AM

    Its really a stupid decision!!! But what we can except from this government……..


  • yousaf
    Nov 9, 2012 - 12:32PM

    YouTube ban has sure taught us a lot.The ban has told us that it is immaterial in our life if something exists or does not.The ban has further made us more ‘care less’ and ‘care free’ about the happenings in our life.Well-done banners of YT


  • jz
    Nov 15, 2012 - 5:21PM

    i m really surprised by the youtube banning policy of govt…now all those who were not aware of proxies are now able to open any banned site…now banning any site is useless coz when ever site(s) will be blocked, every one can still visit that site…hats off to the policy of raja sahab


  • jz
    Nov 15, 2012 - 5:24PM

    youtube is also a source of getting religious education…there are many islamic lectures,hamd and naats are available there…
    those who banned youtube are not the hurdles in the way of Islam?


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