Some would say — and unfortunately one may agree with this to a certain extent — that in Pakistan, if something gives people entertainment and leisure, it should just be banned and done away with. Over the years, we have tended towards having a somewhat stoic approach to enjoying the good things of life, not that in today’s Pakistan such things are found in abundance in any case. One is speaking here with reference to the growing number of websites that are being blocked, by an apparently overzealous state telecom and IT regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, apparently without any oversight by any elected body and with no explanation or accountability of its actions. In many recent cases, some of the websites blocked have no blasphemous or pornographic content and are, in fact, used by hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis for educational as well as recreational purposes to download television shows, films, documentaries, learning applications and games for children.
The general attitude of the PTA can be seen from the way one of its representatives, in a July 25 Lahore High Court hearing of a petition seeking the unblocking of YouTube, explained how Pakistanis tend to use the internet. He told the Honourable Court that it was used for “leisure and entertainment” — the implication clearly being that that was a bad thing and should not be done. If any websites are blocked — and at last count the number was well over 15,000 — the ISPs take the excuse that they were ordered to do so by the PTA. The PTA, when asked, says that it was directed to do so by higher authorities but Pakistan’s internet users (no small figure and 30 million officially, at last count) need to be told who is behind all this banning and each block should be explained by a cogent reason. The lack of transparency and accountability of the PTA, coupled with its seeming ability to ban just about any website it so wishes, goes against the essence of democracy and the regulator must be made answerable for its actions.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2013.
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