Pakistan prepares to end its year-long ban on YouTube

Pakistan prepares to end its year-long ban on YouTube

It’s been almost one year since Pakistan began blocking YouTube in response to a video that it deemed to insult the prophet Muhammad, but officials have said that the Google-owned site will soon be unblocked in the country — perhaps as early as September.

Pakistan isn’t planning to grant full access to YouTube, however, and the Wall Street Journal reports that it will use a URL blocker to censor locally sensitive videos without knocking out the site in its entirety. The blocking technology has already been used to limit access to videos on Vimeo and “thousands” of websites, including pornographic and politically-sensitive content.

The block came about because Google refused to censor the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video locally in Pakistan. The company did not deem the video to have breached its terms and conditions, but, beyond that, it was said to be reluctant to make censorship decisions in a country where it has no local version of YouTube, no local staff and no conditions that protect it from being directly (and legally) responsible for any YouTube content that is deemed unlawful.

The ban has been criticized by many in the country’s entertainment industry. A group began lobbying the government to overturn the ban in January, and was granted a court hearing with an IT minister earlier this month.

CNN highlighted one of the artists affected, musician Adil Omar, who has worked with a host of internationally-renowned rappers. He says his latest songs on YouTube have drawn one-tenth of the interest of his past work, a situation that the ban seems responsible for.

The ban was actually lifted back in December 2012 but was reinstated within five minutes after a TV show journalist demonstrated that the video was still available on YouTube, via copies uploaded to other users’ accounts.

This time around, it is serious about relaxing the ban. Government spokesman Kamran Ali, who is leading the YouTube ban review committee, told the Journal that the government is talking to experts and will lift the ban “as soon as we get a technical solution to block that video.”

The IT ministry is said to have contacted the Prime Minister’s office with an official request to unblock YouTube. Some media claim the ban could be ended next month, though officials have declined to provide a timeframe.

We’ve contacted Google for comment and will update this article with any additional information that we’re given.

Further reading: The New Yorker has an excellent primer on the ban.

Headline image via korosirego/Flickr

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