Free speech issues

PAKISTAN’S struggle with technology continued in 2021. And it was personified by nothing more than did TikTok, the popular video-sharing service that has been the keen – and unfortunate – target of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) getting slapped with a ban four times in 15 months.

The regulator has been at it for years now, saying it has received “widespread complaints” about allegedly “immoral, obscene and vulgar” content. Similar, and sometime the same, content continues to feature on other platforms apparently without anybody knocking on the PTA door!

But, of course, one must not lose sight of the larger issues involved; the attempts by various government entities to place curbs on free speech. In a bid to converge multiple media regulatory bodies in the country and expand the ambit of regulation for digital media, the government in June proposed the formation of the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA). In August, it faced criticism as it unveiled analytics to point fingers at ‘anti-state’ elements on social media, and in October, it brought into practice new, more stringent social media rules, giving PTA more regulatory power than ever. Nothing symbolised how bad or whimsical things can be than the equation between the PTA and TikTok even though things are not too bad right now.

But, with the tools in hand, it will not take much for the government to come down hard on whosoever it decides. Talking of tools, one would do well to remember the famous quote by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Such an approach in a world where Facebook Metaverse, which will allow people to socialise, work and play in a virtual world, is going to change the contours of human behaviour, if not existence, is misplaced, to say the least.

Strings unstrung

FOR many in Pakistan, it was the heartbreak of the year when Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood decided to call it quits and pull the shutters down on their Strings band. “The past 33 years have been incredible for both of us,” the parting message to the fans read on Instagram.

Originally a college band, the four students — Bilal, Faisal, Rafiq Wazir and Kareem Bashir Bhoy — found success in 1990 with ‘Strings I’ and ‘Strings II’ in the early 1990s before taking an eight-year hiatus. Bilal and Faisal returned with Duur in 2000, and had a string of hit melodies other than lending music to a couple of Bollywood flicks and managing four Coke Studio seasons. That was some ride, indeed.

75 and young

THAT distinct kick-start. That sound. That ride! The Italian Vespa, that wasp-shaped two-wheeler, celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2021, marking a truly amazing tale of survival. As Italy emerged from the post-WWII destruction, the need for an affordable means of transportation, along the destroyed roads of the country, tempted innovators to come up with a solution. One of them, Enrico Piaggio, got the Vespa patent registered, and the little scooter eventually became a stylish pop cultural icon that transcended generations.

Over 18 million of these scooters have buzzed their way into the world through the swinging ’50s and the golden ’60s. After a slow start, the two-wheeler gained fame and started to be featured in Hollywood, with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn seen using one in the iconic Roman Holiday. In Pakistan, we added a wheel to turn the two-wheel scooter into a three-wheel rickshaw!

ABBA at it again!

SWEDISH supergroup ABBA, one of the most successful music acts of all time, got together for one last hurrah in 2021 and released a top-selling album; 40 years after their breakup. Voyage, a 10-song album brought both the nostalgia and the fans back. A series of virtual concerts were organised with the ABBA folks looking the same as they did way back in 1979.

The ABBAtars were created using motion capture technology, similar to that used to create Gollum in The Lord of the Rings series. Voyage debuted atop the charts of Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, while in the US it became the group's highest-charting album ever. Globally, it sold more than a million units in its first week of release.

THE ‘REAL’ NEWS: The (in)famous real estate tycoon Malik Riaz had his 10-year multiple-entry visa to the UK cancelled. The real headlines came a day later when all but one media houses in Pakistan chose to ignore the news altogether. This had people wondering if potential advertising revenue was dictating editorial policy so blatantly and brazenly.

THE WORLD OF SPORTS: The legend of Muhammad Ali Sadpara was taken forward by wonderkid Shehroze Kashif, who became the youngest climber in the world to summit the world’s two tallest mountains — Everest and K2 — in the same year. Elsewhere, Haider Ali secured Pakistan’s first gold medal in the Tokyo Paralympics.

ARTS AND CONTROVERSY: Lahore remained in the news for a variety of reasons. First, it was declared the ‘city of literature’ by Unesco. The other extreme was brought about by the statue of Allama Iqbal which had to be removed from a public park after it came under criticism bordering on the ridiculous.

CRYPTOCURRENCIES: Cryptocurrencies remained in the news all year long, including the worth of such holdings by Pakistanis. The value of bitcoin fluctuated from as low as $21,000 to as high as $67,000. But that didn’t discourage people even though governments remained sceptical.

OF CELEBRITIES AND HATE: King Khan was left running around when his son Aryan Khan was arrested by India’s narcotics authorities. The episode yet again shed light on what ‘modern’ India has become. This and along the happenings during the Christmas season were stark reminders of what the minorities are facing in a ‘secular’ country.

WEDDING FOR PEACE: Despite her success and international standing, Malala has remained a divisive figure in Pakistan. Her decision to tie the knot was no different on this count.

CLIMATE CHANGE: The phenomenon was discussed at length at COP-26 in Edinburgh, but the call for change fell much short of activists’ expectations. The phenomenon itself continued to make its presence felt across the globe. Our children would surely find a different world to live in; not necessarily a better one.



Updated 28 May, 2022

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