Fourth time's the charm?: PTA lifts ban on TikTok after company assures it will 'control indecent content'

Published November 19, 2021
The TikTok app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13. — Reuters/File
The TikTok app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13. — Reuters/File

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) announced on Friday the restoration of popular video-sharing platform TikTok's service in the country following assurances by the Chinese social media giant that it would "control" the uploading and dissemination of "immoral and indecent content" on the app.

This is the fourth time that the telecom regulator has lifted its ban on the platform after blocking it for various reasons.

According to a statement issued by the PTA, the authority had last blocked access to the application on July 20, 2021, and since then, it had been communicating with the TikTok management regarding the matter.

"As a result of continuous engagement, senior management of the platform assured [the] PTA of its commitment to take necessary measures to control unlawful content in accordance with local laws and societal norms," the statement said.

It added that the social media company had also given the assurance of blocking the users for their continuous involvement in uploading "unlawful content" on TikTok.

"Keeping in view the[se] assurances, the authority has decided to lift the ban on TikTok forthwith," the statement read, adding that the PTA would continue to monitor the video-sharing platform to ensure that "unlawful content, contrary to Pakistan’s law and societal values, is not disseminated".

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 had assured the telecom regulator that it would block accounts "spreading obscenity".

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

In June, the Sindh High Court had 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.

Meanwhile, the app had 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 had said, covering January to March.

However, the PTA had blocked access to the platform again in July for its failure to take down "inappropriate content".

But the very next month, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had questioned the PTA's powers to impose a blanket ban on TikTok, stating 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 had directed the PTA to consult the government and formulate a mechanism to deal with such matters. The IHC had also issued a notice to the Ministry of Information and Technology secretary and sought its response on the matter.

Separately, the PTA had submitted a report to the PHC in September, informing the court that it would not lift the ban on TikTok until unlawful content was removed from the app and a mechanism for "proactive content moderation" was introduced in the country by its operator.

Earlier this month, the PTA had agreed to establish a mechanism with TikTok to ensure that all content uploaded on the platform was lawful and safe for society.

To discuss the matter, TikTok Head of Public Policy Helena Lersch had met PTA chairperson retired Maj Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa at the PTA headquarters on November 4.

In the meeting, TikTok had sought long-term meaningful engagement with the regulator in relation to content moderation in line with local laws and societal norms and highlighted initiatives taken by TikTok for ensuring the provision of safe, productive, informative and legitimate content to Pakistani users.

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