It has been more than three months since the popular video sharing website YouTube has been banned in Pakistan. One fine evening in late December, it was restored for two hours and then banned again. This manifests a state of confusion prevailing among authorities on how to deal with such emerging problems.

The opinion in favor of the ban rests on various arguments. For some it is a means to answer the highhandedness of ‘western’ media which they perceive as a weapon to subjugate Muslims. For others it is evidence of their love for Prophet (PBUH) since YouTube is carrying blasphemous material. Some would take a more pragmatic stance, especially the authorities, calling it a necessary step to appease enraged Muslims because otherwise it would result in riots.

All these positions miss one very important aspect of the debate: what do we ultimately win and lose by banning YouTube, or any other media, for that matter? Before its banning, YouTube was the top most viewed website in Pakistan. Even after the ban, it is still among the top five, used mostly through proxies, which shows the level of public demand. But in the process of accessing through proxy, the amount of time and energy wasted translates into losses worth billions.

Media in today’s world is like the emissaries of older times. Whatever bad news they brought, it was an understood fact that the messenger should not be killed. Could Muhammad XII, the King of Granada, stop the fall of Alhamra by killing the messenger and setting the letters alight? No. In fact, mass media today is much more than that. In today’s knowledge-based economies, it constitutes the essential glue which binds together disparate interests and institutions to ensure negotiation and harmony. If something disruptive is spread through media, we can remedy it too only through media. Censorship, on the other hand, means letting the falsehood stay, hence increasing the misunderstanding.

In the past, before the advent of the internet, censorship, in one way or the other, ruled Pakistan most of the time. It was a far more convenient tool back then. Internet, by its very nature, is a mass generated and consent based medium. It cannot be banned easily. The attempts to do so have proven futile and counter-productive all over the world. Pakistan needs to learn from this. The ban on YouTube must be lifted immediately and the citizens of this country should regain access to information, as is their fundamental right.


—Written By Rab Nawaz

(Published in The Laaltain – Issue 6)

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