Senate committee slams blanket ban on TikTok

Published October 13, 2020
In Pakistan, TikTok with around 20 million active users a month was the third highest downloaded app, followed by WhatsApp and Facebook. — AFP/File
In Pakistan, TikTok with around 20 million active users a month was the third highest downloaded app, followed by WhatsApp and Facebook. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Committee on Delegated Legislation on Monday criticised the telecom regulator for banning TikTok and noted that Pakistan has to pace up with global development and take corrective measures instead of adopting isolationist approach.

The Senate committee that met under the chairmanship of Senator Kauda Babar at the Parliament House discussed the ban on the short video-sharing platform by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

After receiving complaints from different segments of society over immoral and indecent content being shared on the app, the PTA gave several warnings to TikTok before finally slapping a ban on the Chinese app on Oct 10.

However, members of the Senate committee maintained that blocking of social media platforms and restricting IT companies was not the answer to check the spread of questionable material.

Asks govt to take corrective measures instead of adopting ‘isolationist’ approach

Such an approach by the regulator would push Pakistan off the development bandwagon, Senator Babar said. “It was essential to regulate content if that was violating the laws of the country instead of imposing a blanket ban on the whole application or platform,” he remarked.

The committee asked the PTA to provide detail of the rules under which TikTok had been blocked. The relevant officials, however, informed the committee that the ban was not a ‘permanent’ feature as it could be overturned once the app management assured the government that they would abide by the laws of Pakistan.

Earlier, when the Senate committee was informed that TikTok, owned by ByteDance company of China, had recently been in trouble in many countries, the senators maintained that TikTok’s trouble in countries such as the United States and India were mainly due to political reasons and the decisions were not based on any merit.

In Pakistan, TikTok with around 20 million active users a month was the third highest downloaded app, followed by WhatsApp and Facebook.

The senators also discussed in detail the status of competition rules mandated under Section 57 of the Telecom Act, 1996 and prescribed in Telecom Policy, 2015.

The committee was informed that as per the TeleCom Policy 2015, “to consolidate the robustness of the market structure, the sector will increasingly be managed through application of Competition Rules for the Telecommunication Sector”.

The competition rules will govern all completion matters of the telecommunication sector and will be developed by the Ministry of Information Technology as mandated under Section 57 of the Telecom Act and in conformance with the Competition Act, 2010.

The PTA officials told the committee that the draft competition rules had already been forwarded to the IT ministry in December 2017 for further necessary action.

After the briefing, the Senate committee chairman said measures must be taken to avoid monopoly in the sector and all players must be given equal opportunity.

The committee members also expressed concern a delay in formulation of rules by the IT ministry.

Senator Rubina Khalid pointed out that many rules and regulators were still not in place despite the fact that the Telecom Act had been passed more than two decades ago.

Directing the IT ministry and the PTA to present the ‘draft rules’, which have been formulated, at the next meeting, the Senate committee also gave a three-month deadline to them for finalising all other rules.

Senator Kulsoom Parveen, Senator Rubina Khalid, Senator Dr Asad Ashraf, Senator Mian Mohammad Ateeq Sheikh, Senator Mir Muhammad Yousaf Badini and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan attended the meeting.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2020

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