IHC chief justice questions PTA's authority to ban TikTok

Published August 6, 2021
In July, the PTA had banned TikTok over its failure to take down "inappropriate content" from the platform. — Reuters/File
In July, the PTA had banned TikTok over its failure to take down "inappropriate content" from the platform. — Reuters/File

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday questioned the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority's (PTA) powers to impose a blanket ban on popular video-sharing application, TikTok, adding that by the same logic, the telecommunication authority should also ban other digital platforms like Google and YouTube.

The remarks were made by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah while hearing a citizen's petition against the ban on the social media platform.

The court directed the authority to consult with the government to formulate a mechanism to deal with such matters. The IHC also issued a notice to the Ministry of Information and Technology secretary and sought its response.

In July, the PTA had banned TikTok over its failure to take down "inappropriate content" from the platform. It was the fourth time in less than a year that the app was blocked in the country.

During today's hearing, Justice Minallah questioned why the telecom regulator had not banned other social media applications on the same grounds that it had banned TikTok.

“If banning TikTok is the only solution, then Google should also be banned. This is the 21st century and people’s livelihoods are attached to social media applications,” he remarked.

He observed that the telecommunication authority shouldn’t have banned the application without consulting with the federal government.

The PTA's counsel responded that the Peshawar High Court (PHC) and the Sindh High Court (SHC) had also directed to ban the app over its content.

The court asked whether the PHC had directed to impose a blanket ban on TikTok. In response, the PTA counsel read out the high court's complete verdict.

The IHC chief justice stated that neither of the two courts had ordered a complete ban on TikTok. “Such videos are also uploaded on YouTube. In that case, YouTube should also be shut down."

Addressing the PTA's counsel, Justice Minallah said that the authority should guide citizens on not watching "inappropriate" content. "Apps are a source of entertainment and livelihood," he said, adding that the PTA had "misused" the orders issued by the high courts.

He added that the PTA had been directed to form a mechanism to check such content and should focus its energies on this.

The hearing was adjourned till Aug 23.

Bans aplenty

The first time the Chinese-owned app was banned in Pakistan was in October 2020. According to the PTA, the decision was taken over complaints regarding indecent and immoral content. It was lifted 10 days later after the company assured the telecom regulator it would block accounts "spreading obscenity".

This year in March, the Peshawar High Court had also imposed a ban on the video-​sharing application that was later lifted in April.

In June, the Sindh High Court followed suit and ordered the PTA to suspend access to TikTok in the country for “spreading immorality and obscenity”. The court had lifted the suspension three days after issuing the order.

However, in July the PTA again blocked the app and its website due to the "continuous presence of inappropriate content on the platform and its failure to take such content down".

'6 million videos removed in first quarter of 2021'

In June, the app said that more than six million videos were removed from TikTok in Pakistan in three months.

“In the Pakistani market, TikTok removed 6,495,992 videos making it the second market to get the most videos removed after the USA, where 8,540,088 videos were removed,” TikTok Pakistan's latest transparency report said, covering January to March.

Around 15 per cent of the removed videos were “adult nudity and sexual activities”.

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