PTA asks YouTube to block vulgar, hate speech content

Updated 29 Aug 2020

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The platform has been directed to put in place an effective content monitoring and moderation mechanism so that unlawful material is detected/deleted and is not accessible within Pakistan. — AFP/File
The platform has been directed to put in place an effective content monitoring and moderation mechanism so that unlawful material is detected/deleted and is not accessible within Pakistan. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecommu­nication Authority (PTA) has asked video-sharing platform YouTube to immediately block vulgar, indecent, immoral, nude and hate speech content for viewing in Pakistan.

The PTA says it has taken the step keeping in view the negative effect of indecent/immoral/nude content available on YouTube and to prevent repugnant discord that may be caused by the presence of hate speech and sectarian material.

The PTA said in a statement that it had approached YouTube to ensure blocking of objectionable content and to prevent the use of its platform for disseminating such content.

In addition, the platform has been directed to put in place an effective content monitoring and moderation mechanism so that unlawful material is detected/deleted and is not accessible within Pakistan.

AFP adds: The PTA’s demand to YouTube has been criticised by rights campaigners.

Free speech campaigners slam move

There are already fears about creeping censorship and muzzling of the press and activists in Pakistan, with existing or proposed restrictions limiting free speech, usually in the name of Islam or national security.

YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday, and a PTA spokesman declined to speak about the authority’s next step if the Google-owned platform does not comply.

In July, the PTA issued a final warning to Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, ordering it to filter any obscene content.

It also blocked the video-streaming app Bigo Live, though the ban was lifted after a few days once the platform agreed to moderate “immoral and indecent content”.

This is not the first time Pakistani authorities have targeted YouTube.

It was blocked in the country in 2012 after a US-made film that negatively depicted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and triggered violent protests across the Muslim world.

Access was restored in 2016 after YouTube launched a country-specific version ensuring the filtering of content deemed blasphemous.

Free speech campaigners were quick to criticise the latest PTA demand.

“The PTA does not make any effort to narrowly tailor its request or define what it means by terms such as ‘vulgar’ and ‘immoral’,” digital rights advocate Nighat Dad told AFP.

“While countries can ask social media platforms to take down specific content in accordance with local law, YouTube does not always comply if the requests go against international norms and principles,” she added.

“Social media companies such as YouTube have various human rights commitments and... have to uphold principles relating to the right to privacy, freedom of expression and right to access to information.” In a recent attempt to tighten control, lawmakers in Punjab, passed a bill last month that seeks to put publishers in prison if they print or import material with “objectionable” content.

The Punjab governor has not yet signed it into law.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2020