When will YouTube reopen?

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Classical ballet has always been popular with our daughter. She will watch it for hours, imitating the dancers with a developing confidence and awareness of the storylines of the more popular ballets, with Swan Lake being the long-time favourite. For the umpteenth time, we watched the finale and compared different ballet companies’ versions of the choreography. All very innocent and culturally uplifting –– but possibly dangerous.

We watched Swan Lake on YouTube, an internet source currently blocked by the government. We watched via a proxy –– that I will not name here –– that masked the IP address of my computer and created a spoof address, thus fooling its way around the government ban and giving me and Miss N the chance to enjoy the thrill of seeing the Sorcerer vanquished once again. She is also quite partial to dinosaurs doing extremely unpleasant things to other dinosaurs, flatulent babies and cats up to all manner of tricks.

For my own part, I have used YouTube as a research tool in my daily work, accessing news clips globally, checked out some paint schemes on a model airplane I am building and caught up with the latest clips from the Berlin Philharmonic. Hardly the cutting edge of subversion, is it? Nor is it illegal.

So far as I can determine, I am not breaking any law by finding a workaround for the YouTube ban, and the only law I just might have broken was a presidential ordinance that expired in 2007. The government does not appear to have invoked any piece of legislation beyond some vague references to the blasphemy laws, and the ban is based upon the entirely subjective whim of the government of the day.

It was ordered in the wake of the rumpus about the YouTube posting of a blasphemous video clip. Whilst undoubtedly blasphemous and abhorrent, but no less abhorrent than the beheadings filmed by assorted militant groups and then posted to YouTube.

It must be noted that the beheadings videos predated the posting of the blasphemous clip, yet the government of the day saw no reason to block YouTube on the grounds that it was promoting hatred.
The internet is awash with blasphemy and hate speech, and after some extensive checking in the last few days, it seems that YouTube is one of many offenders in this respect.

The offensive clip has been removed from YouTube as the result of a case brought by an actress who appeared in it –– who maintained that her performance had been misused and dialogues –– that she did not say –– dubbed into her mouth. Google, the parent company of YouTube, says it will fight the ban on the grounds that it is an impediment to freedom of speech and there are going to be lawyers rubbing their hands together at the possibility of a long-running and complex case.

So where have we got to in Pakistan? The government is slowly picking off the proxy sites that enable the workaround, despite which many millions of people simply find a proxy that is working and carry on YouTube-ing as before. So far as I am aware, there has been no attempt to prosecute anybody doing this, and it would be on very shaky legal grounds if such an attempt were to be made. Government agencies are said to harass some of those who circumvent the ban (no… not me… not yet) and there are persistent rumours that sites such as Skype are to be interdicted. Skype connections are all encrypted and thus difficult for the government to monitor traffic or listen in on.

The YouTube ban has achieved nothing more than the appeasement of some particularly excitable extremists. That it persists now makes it sinister rather than pointless. Right… back to Swan Lake. Tootle-pip.

Express Tribune

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Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) is an independent media research, documentation and training centre working to promote and defend freedom of press.. Follow us on Twitter / Facebook.