Technology has certainly evolved to unimaginable heights. It is the era of media convergence where telephone, television, text, graphics and audio get under the single roof (i.e the World Wide Web). ‘Youtube’ is the audiovisual leader of this era. Moreover, the immediacy coupled with choice that internet provides to online viewers has also accelerated the expansion of digital television. As Tim Kring, creator of ‘Heroes‘ (famous NBC series), rightly puts it; “now you can watch Television ‘when’ you want, ‘where’ you want, ‘how’ you want to watch it, and almost all of the ways are superior to watching it ON AIR”
In line with global trends, Pakistan also improved the rate of internet use in Pakistan. This reinforced the country’s democratic commitment to ‘freedom of expression along with access to information’. A research about ‘Digital Media in Pakistan’ by Singapore Management University (May 2012, can be retrieved from http://www.wiki.smu.edu.sg) revealed that “Youtube is the ‘primary source’ of English videos in Pakistan although smaller video-sharing websites are also available for local searches”. This implies that the international news, videos and innumerable other visually supported material flows into Pakistan through Youtube. Not only this, but private television channels also upload their programs on the Youtube channels for the ease of online viewers.
Unluckily for the Youtube users residing in Pakistan, the website has been blocked by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) following the orders of the government. The website had been shut down on September 17, 2012, as a measure taken to demonstrate ‘online protest’ against the crudely produced blasphemous film (“Innocence of the Muslims”) that denigrated the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). After the blockage, PTA had denied access to more than ‘750 YouTube links’ that could possibly connect internet users to the anti-Islam video film, ‘Innocence of Muslims’. On December 29, 2012, Pakistanis believed that the new year (2013) will begin with an access to Youtube’s website. However, a short-lived access was granted to the users (for two hours approximately) and the site was again blocked on the orders of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. Currently, the PTA has been asked to create strong filters that deny access to all the blasphemous material available on Youtube.
The film, undoubtedly, had hurt the sentiments of Muslims, many of them were using Youtube and continued to do so through ‘proxy software or websites’. This wasn’t the first time that Pakistan chose to take such an action. Youtube had been blocked before as a protest against sacrilegious content. However, this time, the duration was much longer and the consequence is little different. If the purpose was to build filters then the government could have ordered PTA back in September 2012. Furthermore, about 48 hours of video is posted in every single minute on Youtube’s website (about 69,000 videos per day). The real challenge would be to monitor and look for blasphemous material that might be uploaded on the site any minute even if PTA creates filters for the already uploaded content. With the elections around the corner, Youtube as an online audiovisual portal needs to be accessible.
Originally written for Phone World Magazine 8th issue.