Why extend the YouTube ban?

Published: February 13, 2013
The writer is Web Editor of The Express Tribune and tweets @Jhaque

The writer is Web Editor of The Express Tribune and tweets @Jhaque jahanzaib.haque@tribune.com.pk

Even those outside of the ‘liberal-fascist’ viewpoint are now beginning to understand that the months-long ban on YouTube is suspect, and few believe this issue is about blasphemous content anymore. The question is, who benefits from the YouTube ban in Pakistan?

Actually, there is quite a long list of those benefitting from the ongoing blockage of YouTube, including some very powerful players.

First of all, we have the establishment, who are reaping multiple benefits from the ban. The blockage of the video hosting site ensures that we no longer have terrorist outfits and banned organisations, ranging from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to Baloch nationalists, uploading daily or weekly video updates from within the country of alleged battle conquests, soldier beheadings, or worse, videos of men dressed in Pakistan Army uniform torturing people. On the one hand, the spread of the militant/extremist/separatist narrative has been blocked, while on the other, the negative PR against the establishment has been stemmed as well.

Secondly, we have the political parties breathing a collective sigh of relief with YouTube banned. Time and again, YouTube has proven to be a deadly thorn in the side of the political elite, increasingly so, over 2012, as more and more people started to understand that the online channel gave individuals the power (for good or ill) to attack, mock, even expose the wrongdoing of those in power. The little guy (along with the conniving guy) realised there was little chance of being caught uploading videos to YouTube, and a high probability of the content snowballing via social media all the way into traditional media.

Whether it was private phone conversations between politicians and their secret lovers, or yelling “Shut up” or cursing at a gathered crowd, or even your face crudely plastered on the body of a dog, the threat of YouTube fuelled by mobile phone access across Pakistan has left politicians paranoid and genuinely fearful of (ironically) the democratising effect of these technologies. Additionally, let’s not forget that some political parties are now directly threatened by the more web-savvy parties who have learned how to use YouTube to their advantage.

Thirdly, we have the media elite who are sitting pretty with the YouTube ban in place. Traditional media has built a rocky relationship with YouTube. On the one hand, YouTube is a gold mine of crowd-generated content and also provides a place for the media to take its own content’s reach further than ever before, and allow for unlikely social change (think Rangers Karachi killing video). On the other hand, whether it is in the form of the Maya Khan debacle, the Aamir Liaqat Geo scandal or the daily pummeling mainstream anchors and media owners take via YouTube videos bashing or exposing them, those that have the real power in the media are not happy, till now.

The pattern emerging is clear. The YouTube ban is a classic attempt, albeit in a new arena, by those in power to maintain the status quo by blocking access to information. The public has allowed them to do this because the ban was initially framed in the name of religion. While the world moves ahead to more nuanced political and social systems, it seems Pakistan is still living in a Karl Marx textbook.

Unfortunately for the powers that be, this system — as exemplified by this ludicrous ban on YouTube — will not hold. The way forward is democracy, which signals the end of such autocratic shenanigans. The Internet in particular is a largely democratic, if somewhat anarchic system, and all overt blocks and bans will prove futile. If YouTube is banned, people will find a way around it or find new online spaces to operate in. Ban Facebook? Ban Twitter? Ban all sites disseminating information contrary to the agreed upon narrative? Best be prepared for a backlash, because ‘democracy is the best revenge’.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Something Clever
    Feb 13, 2013 - 11:22PM

    “The blockage of the video hosting site ensures that we no longer have terrorist outfits and banned organisations, ranging from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to Baloch nationalists, uploading daily or weekly video updates from within the country of alleged battle conquests, soldier beheadings, or worse, videos of men dressed in Pakistan Army uniform torturing people.”
    The ban does not prevent that at all. Though it might keep people who are tech-tarded from seeing it. I knew of the methods to get passed such things when I was 12-13 years old. I’m not saying that makes me anything special, just that getting around it is almost literally childs-play for those who desire to get around it.


  • MSS
    Feb 13, 2013 - 11:24PM

    Mr Haque has raised an issue that rears its ugly head repeatedly in China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and a host of other countries on the planet except the those usually accepted as the ‘west’. The banning of films in Pakistan and India, the banning of books that supposedly have content that somebody does not like either on religious grounds or caste basis or they do not like the author. Many times it is used by others who have the leverage to make financial gains from the ban.
    The governments simply take shelter behind ‘law & order’ excuse or ‘natinal security’ excuse. This is true of democracies as well as dictatorships. Mostly, it is the governments’ inadequacies in some form or the other but people have to pay the price.
    The sooner this practice is abolished the better it will be for the society in the long run.
    Purely from this angle, living in the west is definitely an advantage that goes unappreciated.


  • Maula Jat
    Feb 13, 2013 - 11:29PM

    Sorry but the Pakistanis are genuinely concerned about YouTube content insulting their religion. You have not suggested any way out.


  • Feb 13, 2013 - 11:42PM

    YouTube inconveniences the Govt you allege. True.

    So does Blasphemy Law inconveniences alleged or real Blasphemers. Should you remove it for the same reason?

    Shouldn’t you write the removal of punishment for Blasphemy for people, more than for websites, shouldn’t you?

    People are more important than Web Sites, aren’t they. They are living beings.

    What sort of a country puts a website over a human’s life?


  • John B
    Feb 13, 2013 - 11:49PM

    The assumption here is that the TTP and company upload the videos of achievements and propaganda from PAK, whereas clearly that is not the case. Tons of TTP materials are uploaded in the You Tube everyday including all the political dramas, likely from AFG.

    PAK was all pumped up on the “video” and wanted its ban and created a mayhem. So why complain now, when the you tube is totally banned in PAK.

    One cannot ask for selective freedom of expression.


  • Keep it blocked
    Feb 14, 2013 - 12:08AM

    There are many other ways of keeping people informed, keep youtube blocked.


  • Loki
    Feb 14, 2013 - 4:23AM

    @Keep it blocked:
    Does that benefit us?! and there is no other way


  • numbersnumbers
    Feb 14, 2013 - 4:41AM

    Actually, the government is in a no-win situation on the YouTube ban.

    Fact: Google will not remove content that does not violate its rules.

    Fact: Pakistan could set up a local hub for YouTube that would enable the local hub to block any video it wants, but for some reason the government refuses to do so!

    Thoughts: If Pakistan were to set up a local hub that blocks any PERCEIVED blasphemous content as THE VIDEO we all have heard about for months,
    Allows any video that is rabidly anti-Semitic, anti-Shia, anti-Sunni, anti-Hindu, anti-Christian, or anti-minority!!!!
    Then the government would appear to be a hypocrite in the eyes of minorities inside Pakistan (not to mention the rest of the world)!


  • Mirza
    Feb 14, 2013 - 8:53AM

    A fair and pragmatic Op Ed and I agree with the writer. The is only an attempt to censor the YouTube by the establishment. This would help most rightwing forces to not just impose censors on others but cover their own footprints from the public. However, this is not going to work for long as there are ways to go around this ban. But most Pakistanis are not that equipped or resourceful to do that.


  • MSS
    Feb 14, 2013 - 1:29PM

    Well said. We all have to discard a very narrow mindset regarding religion, society, caste etc.. East, especially the nations of the subcontinent will never catch up with the west unless there is a separation of religion from the state and the religion becomes a personal matter within the walls of one’s own house. Education, of the correct type will go a long way in bringing about the change though it alone will not be sufficient.


  • this is no jat
    Feb 14, 2013 - 2:17PM

    @Maula Jat:
    Simply by not opting to view the video even though it is available. Let’s learn to distinguish the good from the bad and make right choices voluntarily.


  • mateen
    Feb 14, 2013 - 5:25PM

    Banning Youtube is serving interests of various stakeholders or not, it has proved nightmare for Netcafes as their income has drastically dropped and most of them can hardly meet their fixed expenses. This proves youtube is main attraction of cafe visitors being the most comprehensive web-library. Society at large is ignoring woes of Cafe owners as well as students heavily dependent on youtube for notes.


  • Shoaib
    Feb 14, 2013 - 5:39PM

    is it possible to block only certain content on youtube like the offensive videos and not block youtube entirely.
    BTW, what is a Karl Marx textbook?


  • Tariq
    Feb 14, 2013 - 5:44PM

    There are ways bypass the firefalls and youtube.


  • gp65
    Feb 14, 2013 - 8:14PM

    @Shoaib: “is it possible to block only certain content on youtube like the offensive videos and not block youtube entirely.”
    Two questions for you:
    1. Will blocking that movie in Pakistan prevent others from viewing it? No.
    2. If you do not want to view it, then does it matter if it is blocked or not, you can exercise the choice not to view it – can you not?

    Take accountability for your own actions and choices instead of imposing it on everyone else.

    @Author : I have always enjoyed your blogs and felt they are very thought provoking, so I am glad you are now writing an OpEd. This is where you belong.


  • rehmat
    Feb 14, 2013 - 9:20PM

    My fellow Muslims from Pakistan – where is your imaan on Allah. Why are you always operating on the fear that Islam is in danger. Don’t you trust Allah to safeguard it?

    Some people feel Islam is in danger because someone in another continent made a stupid movie, other people feel Islam is in danger if young kids laugh and enjoy themselves on St. Valentine’s Day, yet another set of people had felt that the young all girls band in Kashmir was threatening Islam just by singing songs, another set felt Islam was threatened by young Malala asking for girls to be educated. Stop this insecurity. Have faith in yourself and Allah.


  • Parvez
    Feb 14, 2013 - 10:20PM

    Short and to the point……………in politics when you suppress something it always manifests itself in another form, only stronger.


  • Feb 14, 2013 - 10:31PM

    Lets do a petition in High Court & Supreme Court. The right to free speech is definitely being violated and we have every right to petition. The people in power have no incentive to do that so we the people have to stand up. Lets do it.


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