ALMOST two months after the government blocked YouTube, the video-sharing site remains inaccessible to Pakistanis. Google and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority have failed to reach an agreement over blocking links to The Innocence of Muslims, despite the fact that such arrangements have been made with other governments, and as a result the PTA has stuck to its convenient solution of putting in place a wholesale ban on the website. In some countries Google is more willing to comply because it has large, localised operations and banning certain videos in those countries would not block the same videos elsewhere. But if the Internet giant is not going to budge on the issue, surely the Pakistani government should be trying to find a way to block specific videos, even if that requires buying more staff or new technology.
The fundamental question is this: after the massive strides Pakistan has made towards freedom of expression, will it continue to take a step back every time someone irresponsible in some part of the world posts something offensive on the Internet? Pakistanis now have the ability to generate and consume a profusion of content through traditional media outlets, social media, and websites and blogs, giving them more space to express themselves than ever before. That has been one of Pakistan’s defining achievements over the last decade. And yet in its populist or moralistic zeal, or simply for security reasons, the government continues to take clumsy, arbitrary actions that block large chunks of the Internet when banning specific material becomes inconvenient or challenging. In today’s globalised world, there will always be something online to take offence at. The PTA needs to find a way to target its efforts so that it can stop depriving Pakistanis of a fundamental right they are becoming increasingly accustomed to.