ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR: In compliance with an order issued by the Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Thursday, the Pakistan Telecommu­nica­tion Authority (PTA) asked service providers to unblock access to social media platform TikTok that allows users to share short video clips.

In line with the PHC judgement and provisions of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, PTA also directed the TikTok’s management to ensure that vulgar and objectionable content is not made available to users in Pakistan.

For its part, the social media platform expressed happiness at being given another chance to continue providing entertainment to Pakistani users and said the court’s order was a “testament to TikTok’s continued commitment to enforcing our Community Guidelines to promote a safe and positive community online”.

In a statement, the company’s spokesperson said: “The creativity and passion of this community has brought joy to households across Pakistan and provided a home for incredibly talented creators. TikTok is excited to be able to continue enabling Pakistani voices and creativity as we work to support the success story of Pakistan.”

The statement added: “We want to acknowledge Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s support and ongoing productive dialogue, and recognise their care for the digital experience of Pakistani users, which goes a long way to assuring a stable, enabling environment to allow us to explore further investment in Pakistan, and to keep open vital economic opportunities for Pakistani creators through TikTok.”

The platform was last made inaccessible to Pakistani users on March 11 following a stay order issued by the PHC. It was banned in October of last year as well over similar concerns.

The Chinese-owned app has been banned in several other countries as well, mainly due to its liberal policies. However, its popularity continues to grow at a fast pace, say analysts.

It is estimated that it has been installed 43 million times in Pakistan, with 14.7m of those coming in the year 2020 alone.

PHC judgement

A PHC bench comprising Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan and Justice Ijaz Anwar lifted the 21-day ban on the app with the directive to PTA to ensure that no immoral or obscene content was uploaded on it.

The bench also instructed the PTA’s director general for web analysis, Kamran Khan, to take stringent steps against objectionable content on the TikTok App and submit a detailed progress report in this regard before May 25.

The bench was hearing a petition jointly filed by 40 residents of Peshawar, who had requested the court to direct the respondents, including PTA and the Federal Investigation Agency, to ban the app to the extent of violation of constitutional provisions that did not allow acts contrary to Islamic code of life.

In its earlier order the court had asked PTA to stop the uploading of objectionable material onto the platform. On Thursday when the court asked Mr Khan to describe the steps taken in pursuance of this order, the official said his organisation had taken up the matter again with the media giant.

He told the court that the TikTok management had now hired a focalperson for Pakistan, who would be looking into all issues of concern. The media company had promised to look for all contents that were illegal and objectionable in the country.

The PHC chief justice observed that PTA should develop such a mechanism that could distinguish between good and bad content on social media.

The bench decided to lift the ban on TikTok, but with the directive to PTA to take further steps for checking inappropriate content on it.

In an earlier hearing, the PTA’s director general had told the high court that the matter had been taken up time and again with the company’s headquarters in Singapore, but the desired results could not be achieved.

While there was no comment on the matter from the information technology ministry, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry issued a statement that praised the PHC judgement.

In a tweet, the minister added: “My submission is, let us be very careful while taking decisions that may affect the economic future of Pakistan; we need a framework to encourage international companies so to make Pakistan their investment hub.”

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2021

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