SHC asks PTA to filter and remove ‘objectionable’ content on social media

Published July 9, 2021
A single-judge SHC bench headed by Justice Irfan Saadat Khan said that persons involved in uploading objectionable videos and content should be taken to task under the relevant laws and rules. — Wikimedia Commons/File
A single-judge SHC bench headed by Justice Irfan Saadat Khan said that persons involved in uploading objectionable videos and content should be taken to task under the relevant laws and rules. — Wikimedia Commons/File

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on Thursday to ensure that all content uploaded on TikTok and other social media platforms was properly filtered and objectionable material removed immediately.

While disposing of a suit filed against the video-sharing application TikTok, a single-judge SHC bench headed by Justice Irfan Saadat Khan said that persons involved in uploading objectionable videos and content be taken to task under the relevant laws and rules.

In its order, the bench clarified that it was the PTA’s responsibility to ensure that all videos containing harassment, abusive, sexual, indecent, anti-Pakistan and other objectionable content were not uploaded.

The bench observed that if such contents were uploaded, they should be removed immediately by using techniques and people uploading such type of videos be apprehended and punished according to the law.

At the outset of the hearing on Thursday, the lawyer for plaintiff Asad Ashfaq argued the matter at some length and contended that the PTA had disposed of a complaint of the plaintiff as nobody was present to represent TikTok.

Wants violators punished under the relevant law

However, the counsel did not press the suit and said that he would avail the remedy as provided under the law against the PTA order.

The PTA in a statement placed before the bench contended that in compliance with the July 2 order of the bench, after hearing the lawyer for complainants, the PTA disposed of the complaint to their satisfaction through a short order on July 5 and the detailed order was issued on July 7.

The PTA in its order asserted that it was not inclined to entirely blocking access to TikTok in Pakistan, but would continue to pursue its administration for monitoring to ensure that objectionable contents were removed/blocked.

The PTA will once again approach the platform with the instruction to sensitise its moderation teams and ensure that unlawful content was instantly removed and repeated violators were permanently blocked from the platform, the PTA maintained.

On June 28, the bench through an interim order had directed the PTA to suspend access to TikTok till July 8 and issued notices to the PTA and management of the application after a plaintiff contended that it was “spreading immorality and obscenity” in the country.

However, on July 2, the bench had lifted the suspension of the social media platform and directed the PTA to address a complaint of the plaintiff after the regulatory authority requested the court to discharge its interim suspension order on the ground that the complaint of the plaintiff was fixed for hearing on July 5 and the PTA lawyer as well as the additional attorney general assured the bench that the complaint would be decided on July 5.

Plaintiff Kamran Mujeeb had submitted that on account of excessive and continuous spread of immorality and obscenity, the Peshawar High Court had imposed a ban on the operations of TikTok in March, but lifted the same on the next hearing after a representative of the PTA argued that the TikTok management had assured the regulatory body that they would regulate the content posted on TikTok in Pakistan in line with local laws.

However, he contended that the app was paying no heed to the undertakings and assurances as it had recently started a social media campaign “LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Pride Month” and after being aggrieved by this, he filed a complaint on June 14 under rule 5 of the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Contents Rules 2020 before the PTA asking it to impose an immediate ban on TikTok, but the same was not even fixed for hearing.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2021

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