In the latest development, authorities in Pakistan have announced the lifting of a ban on TikTok, saying they received assurances from the video-sharing app that it would “moderate” content in accordance with local laws.
“TikTok is being unlocked after assurance from management that they will block all accounts repeatedly involved in spreading obscenity and immorality,” the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in a statement yesterday.
ٹک ٹاک کی بحالی سختی سے اس بات سے مشروط ہے کہ پلیٹ فارم کو نا شائستہ، غیر اخلاقی / نا مناسب مواد پھیلانے کے لئے استعمال نہیں کیا جائے گا اور معاشرتی اقدار کو مجرو ح نہیں کیا جائے گا۔ اگر مذکورہ شرائط پر عمل در آمد نہ ہوا تو پی ٹی اے ایپلیکیشن پر مکمل طور پر پابندی عائد کر سکتا ہے
— PTA (@PTAofficialpk) October 19, 2020
The ban on Tik Tok caught many by surprise. While some celebrated the ban, others felt it was a massive interference with the freedom of expression. Regardless, this is not the first time the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has sought to ban different forms of the media.
Read More: Why is Pakistan rescinding TikTok ban?
TikTok has received its share of criticism in Pakistan from various groups and individuals on account of its content allegedly promoting immodesty and indecency in the country. The content creators on the application have also been the target of repeated harassment on the internet and offline.
Advocates of free and artistic expression, however, argue that TikTok allows people from all walks of life to contribute content on its platform, essentially diminishing the class divide that is evident on other social media apps. Shmyla Khan, Director Research and Policy at the Digital Rights Foundation, says, “TikTok has been able to attract users from across the spectrum of class, age and sensibilities. Given its content and demographics, TikTok is dismissed as frivolous at best and a threat to cultural norms at its worst.”
After being called out for not moderating content on its platform, TikTok, in its second transparency report, revealed that it had removed over 14 million videos of content creators on its platform, for violating its community guidelines. Out of these 14 million videos, over 3 million videos were from Pakistan.
Similar attempts to ban online platforms within easy reach of the masses have been made in the past. Recently, in response to a petition filed in LHC, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) ordered a ban of the popular mobile phone game PUBG in Pakistan on the basis of it being a waste of time, for promoting violence and for affecting mental health of its players. However, in a hearing on this case in Islamabad High Court (IHC) on July 14, Justice Amir Farooq commented that the PTA should have taken advice from a mental health expert before banning the game. PTA’s lawyer said that the game was banned due to religious and ethical sensitivities. IHC reserved the decision on the hearing, citing that it has become a practice to ‘put everything in that category’ (to justify the ban).
Pakistan bans TikTok over ‘unlawful’ content
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) suspended the operation of Chinese video sharing application TikTok in the country citing its failure “to develop a comprehensive mechanism to control unlawful content”.
“The decision to this effect was taken after receiving complaints from different segments of the society against immoral and indecent content on the video sharing-application,” said a press statement.
The PTA said after issuing final notice to the application, a “considerable time” was given to respond and ensure compliance with the authority’s instructions to develop an effective mechanism to proactively moderate unlawful online content.
However, the application failed to fully comply with the instruction, therefore, directions were issued to block TikTok in the country. The PTA said TikTok had been informed that the authority was open for engagement and would review its decision “subject to a satisfactory mechanism” by TikTok to moderate unlawful content.
Ban on Biscuit Ad
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) issued an advisory for broadcasters and advertisers urging them to refrain from using themes and content which do not correspond with the nature of the product being marketed. In accordance with this advisory, PEMRA just recently banned the ‘Gala’ Biscuit ad from airing on television on account of indecency.
Bans on Facebook and YouTube
On 19 and 20 May 2010, Pakistan’s Telecommunication Authority PTA imposed a ban on Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook in response to a competition entitled Everybody Draw Mohammed Day on Facebook, in a bid to contain “blasphemous” material. The ban imposed on Facebook was the result of a ruling by the Lahore High Court, while the ban on the other websites was imposed arbitrarily by the PTA on the grounds of “objectionable content”, a different response from earlier requests, such as pages created to promote peaceful demonstrations in Pakistani cities being removed because they were “inciting violence”. The ban was lifted on 27 May 2010, after the website removed the objectionable content from its servers at the Demand of the government.
Ban as a result of Anti – Islam film
Pakistan banned access to YouTube in September 2012 after an anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims”, was uploaded to the site, sparking violent protests across major cities in the Muslim-majority country of 190 million people.
Under the new version of YouTube, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) can ask for access to offending material to be blocked, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom said in a statement.
“On the recommendation of PTA, the government of Pakistan has allowed access to the recently launched country version of YouTube for internet users in Pakistan,” the ministry said.
The government could ask Google to block access to offending material for users within Pakistan and the ministry said Google and YouTube would “accordingly restrict access” for Pakistani users.
Google, however, said that it would not automatically remove material without conducting a review, and that the vetting process was the same as in other jurisdictions with local YouTube versions. Government requests to remove content would be publicly reported, it added.
“We have clear community guidelines, and when videos violate those rules, we remove them,” it said in a statement.