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Thursday, October 6, 2022
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EditorialYouTube disruption

YouTube disruption

A brief suspension of the video sharing website YouTube ahead of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s address in Peshawar has put a question mark on the government’s dealing with the individual right of free speech as well as media freedom. Arguably, such tactics are only applied by authoritarian regimes, who want to silence critics by suppressing their voice through any mean. Such actions have never brought any positive result, rather it would only help Mr. Khan in securing more fan following. The rule is simple as the more one tries to suppress a voice, the more people will get attracted towards it. It seems that the government has been in a panic mode. How long they can block YouTube? Eventually people will revert to the message, which they want to hear. The development has not only been criticised by the PTI and party leaders, but coalition partners and digital right activists have also criticised the move. Not only Pakistan, there are states where freedom of information is shrinking and its violations are on the rise. This is not good news for those who resist all moves to muzzle freedom of speech and are struggling to keep media freedom intact.

After technological advances, new tools of mass media are being widely used and playing a vibrant role in building public opinion. One good example was the role of social media during the Arab spring in 2012 when various states in the Middle East put a ban on TV channels and people turned to the social media for securing their rights. However, with an increase in the potential and role of media, the pressure is also increasing on the fourth pillar of the state.

Currently, the situation in Pakistan is becoming worse, where dissenting discourse is increasingly not tolerated, as most clearly reflected in the fact that space for dissident opinion in the mainstream media has shrunk. The brief ban on YouTube serves to highlight the specific attitude of the government. If government acknowledges the issues and constructively adapt, this will create a much healthier and invigorating public space rather than the current regressive attitude where the government continues to clamp down on electronic and social media and people continue to find ways to bypass such controls. Such an attitude is reminiscent of past despotisms which, threatened by rebellion, shut off all dissent. However, one fact that is strikingly clear is that suppression is not an option anymore. The government needs to allow and engage with opposing opinion and present its own case rather than finding different ways to stifle dissent, an approach which is not only wrong, but quite simply useless in today’s world.

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