A renewed debate on the YouTube ban has been heating up as the Nawaz Sharif government settles in, with hopes raised that the new administration would work to restore the video-sharing website as a matter of priority. Nine months have passed since authorities in Pakistan slapped a ban on YouTube for hosting a blasphemous video. While the previous PPP-led government and the caretakers attempted to remove the ban, they quickly backtracked in the face of a backlash from the right-wing lobby. The ban was even lifted very briefly last December, but then the government back-pedalled. In removing the ban, the government had ignored a policy advice from an inter-ministerial committee calling for continuing with the ban on the website until it agreed to remove the video voluntarily or until the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority found a way to block it — a job it has failed to do till date.
Google, the parent company of YouTube, had rejected requests from the previous government to remove the objectionable material. Still, this should not discourage the new government from pursuing the matter with perseverance and talking to the internet giant for a reversal of its decision. At the same time, the government should consider that a blanket ban on the website is in no one’s interest. It only goes to hurt the users — whether they accessed the website for entertainment, scholastic purposes or research. The example of Bangladesh can be thrown in for good measure, which recently announced lifting of a similar ban.
The new administration must find ways to undo the ban. At any rate, censorship-dodgers would always find ways to skirt regulatory controls. That, indeed, is the case with smart, internet-savvy young people, who are known to be accessing the website anyway. This alone shows that the people consider the ban to be unjustified and, therefore, the government, being the representative of the people, must lift the ban.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2013.
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