Archive for February 27th, 2008

Details Emerge on YouTube Ban

This morning, several Pakistan-related stories were prevalent in the news. However, the YouTube ban, a story that has developed over the past few days, especially piqued my interest. For those who aren’t aware, officials announced Sunday that the Pakistani government had ordered all internet service providers to block YouTube because it contained “blasphemous content, videos and documents.” A government official told the AFP, “The site will remain blocked till further orders.” According to the Daily Times today, “It has been learned that the step had been taken on account of the availability of a blasphemous Dutch film, videos regarding rigging during the polls, and anti-Musharraf material on the site.”

The plot thickens. On Monday, news sources reported that YouTube, which is owned by Google, said that many of its users could not access the site for about two hours on Sunday because of an error caused by Pakistan’s efforts to block domestic access to the site. Pakistan subsequently rejected these claims, and Shahzada Alam Malik, the head of Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) told BBC News, “We are not hackers. Why would we do that?” The Financial Times noted, “According to reports, a command to reroute all Pakistani web traffic destined for YouTube was accidentally replicated by one of its upstream providers, Hong Kong-based PCCW, causing traffic to the site across much of the world to be redirected to a so-called ‘black hole’ for about two hours on Sunday. PCCW said yesterday that it was investigating what had happened but declined to elaborate.” The FT also cited statements by Abdullah Riar, Pakistan’s information technology minister, who called any global fallout completely “unintentional,” and further defended the country’s decision to block the website, noting, “We have a difficult situation in our country. If we had not stopped YouTube there would have been a bigger backlash. We have seen such reaction in the past.”

The Daily Times reported on Pakistani reactions to the ban, noting that although most condemned the “blasphemous act,” the majority criticized the government’s way of “dealing with the issue.” Human rights activist Nighat Saeed Khan told the news agency that any act of blasphemy against any religion was condemnable, but the government had no right to ban the entire website. She asserted, “I think the government should have complained to the YouTube website staff instead of blocking it.” A student at Government College University told the Daily Times, “This certainly is not due to blasphemous material on the website. It is because of all those election videos that showed what kind of free and fair elections Pakistan was conducting. You can find blasphemous contents all over the Internet. YouTube videos of the All Parties Democratic Movementโ€™s February 16 rally and those against President Pervez Musharraf were relevant to the action taken by the government.”

The PTA also blocks websites that show controversial drawings of Prophet Muhammed, reported the Christian Science Monitor, due mainly to the twelve cartoons published in 2005 by a Danish newspaper that sparked riots and outrage among Muslims. The remnants of that incident still persists today. The Monitor noted, “In the latest in a series of demonstrations over the cartoons in Pakistan, hundreds of hard-line Islamists in the southern city of Karachi torched effigies of the Danish prime minister and the cartoonist on Sunday.”

Pakistan is not the only country that blocks YouTube – Turkey blocked the site after video clips allegedly insulted Kemal Attaturk, and Thailand and Morocco banned it last year. However, given the current atmosphere in the country, especially over the issue of free press and freedom of speech – could such a ban still have a detrimental impact on Pakistanis’ perceptions towards the government? Does the potential outrage over blasphemous video clips outweigh the potential/current outrage over freedom of speech issues? Do you agree with the government’s decision? [Image from AFP]

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