Islamabad: The news that the country’s top court is considering a ban on YouTube has shocked Pakistanis particularly the community of creators on the global video-sharing platform.
The move comes after Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) placed a temporary ban on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) in early July after a spate of suicides linked to the game and several complaints that the mobile game was “addictive” and “a waste of time”. After PUBG, Pakistan also blocked the Singapore-based Bigo live streaming app over “immoral, obscene, and vulgar content” and issued a “final warning” to TikTok, a video-sharing app owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.
PTA in a public notice also asked the citizens to avoid uploading and sharing content on social media, Internet and messaging apps which is immoral and indecent, glorification of an offense, sacrilegious, hate speech, fake news/defamation, child pornography, and any other offense under Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 as it “is an offense and punishable act under the law”.
Possible ban sparks online debate
The YouTube ban news sparked a heated debate on social media as hundreds of Pakistanis are associated with the video platform that offers direct and indirect jobs to thousands. Citizens termed the possible ban a threat to Pakistan’s digital economy, as YouTube is the platform where they “learn and earn.”
Bilal Munir who has been shared over 1,300 technology review videos and tutorials on his YouTube channel called ‘VideoWaliSarkar’ during the last four years “posting every single day” said his initial reaction was of “fear and frustration.” Bilal who now has nearly 1.2 million subscribers said that he is worried about his crew of six people as the ban would leave them jobless. “We have invested four years of our time and money and now that we have a presence on YouTube, this news is just shocking” he said.
A lot of Pakistani content creators “will find their dreams shattered with the ban”, remarked Raza Samo, content creator at the channel ‘KhujLee Family’ that mainly posts comedy videos. The creator who has over 1.3 million subscribers said “Banning YouTube for a few objectionable videos is akin to closing an entire university because a few students take drugs. You do not destroy the whole institution because of a few bad guys or bad videos.” He urged the authorities to fix the issue instead of shutting down the platform.
Pakistan’s digital space has often come under restrictions in the last two decades. The three-year ban on YouTube, removed in 2016, over objectionable content is termed by digital experts as a “catastrophic period” that hampered the country’s digital growth.
“The fear of previous bans is the reason that Netflix, Amazon, PayPal and Tesla will not come to Pakistan anytime soon” cautioned Irfan Junejo, a popular vlogger with 968K subscribers on YouTube. “After PUBG, it was Bigo, then TikTok and YouTube too. Where does this moral policing and banning end?” he asked. “On one hand, the government is promoting the face of Digital Pakistan and introducing digital payment but how will it work with the threat of bans?”
Hundreds of Pakistani news, entertainment, music, food, and travel channels are earning money from the platform while millions of citizens use it for educational and entertainment purposes.
Arslan ‘Ash’ Siddiqui, Pakistan’s rising esports star who was crowned the world’s best ‘Tekken 7’ player last year also voiced his concerns. “Banning PUBG is only crushing the talent of Pakistani gamers who have an enormous potential to win and make the country proud especially during the pandemic when outdoor games have been restricted and tournaments cancelled” he said, asking the government to equally invest in esports.
Pakistani officials also not in favour of ban
Sharing her concerns on Twitter, Tania Aidrus, Head of Prime Minister’s Digital Pakistan initiative said such a move would hold Pakistan back from achieving its digital vision. “Banning a platform like YouTube is not a solution. The three years when YouTube was banned in Pakistan it held back our content creator ecosystem which has just started to flourish now, creating employment opportunities for thousands,” she tweeted Aidrus. “Our focus should be on ensuring better curation of content through policy and dialogue. Brute force measures like banning will not serve any purpose and will hold us back from achieving the vision of Digital Pakistan.”
Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry is also against banning YouTube in Pakistan. “Courts and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority should stay away from moral policing, he said, adding that such bans will “destroy Pakistan’s tech industry and development of technology will be permanently hampered.”