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IHC orders PTA to submit reply on blocking TikTok for "1% objectionable material"

10 Nov, 2021
It was a wrongful use of authority and the PTA should respond to the court on the next hearing, Justice Minallah said. File photo
It was a wrongful use of authority and the PTA should respond to the court on the next hearing, Justice Minallah said. File photo

The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to submit a reply on the assessment of offensive material on a website or social media platform by the regulator and why it blocked a complete application on the basis of one per cent objectionable material on the platform.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard two cases jointly -- the aforementioned ban on TikTok and the other against social media rules.

TikTok has been banned several times in Pakistan for objectionable material on its app. It was last banned in September this year and PTA has so far refused to lift the ban.

The tussle between Pakistan’s regulatory body and the Chinese app continues despite the makers saying they are ready to take steps to moderate the content.

In Wednesday's session, Justice Minallah asked how the regulator could assess the objectionability of the material on its own and block 99 per cent of content on the basis of 1 per cent objections on the material.

It was a wrongful use of authority and the PTA should respond to the court in the next hearing, Justice Minallah said.

Social media rules

During the hearing of the case Justice Minallah remarked the court could consider new rules of social media in the petitions the apex court was currently hearing. He also said the court would be informed what was going on in the other parts of the world related to the social media rules.

Justice Minallah said the PTA should satisfy the SC by telling it which act of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) authorises the regulator to block a social media platform or a website. He also asked the attorney general whether the meaningful consultation with the stake holders related to amendments in social media rules had taken palce.

Senior journalist Hamid Mir, who was also present during the hearing in the IHC, told the court that a meeting of the stake holders was conducted in Human Rights Ministry wherein it was told that social media rules were a draconian law.

Some suggestions were presented in the meeting which was accepted by the federal minister for human rights, said Mir, adding the government and attorney general held a meeting with the experts but the officials did not pay attention to their suggestions.

Justice Minallah said the court would listen to the experts by making them court assistants. On which Mir suggested Sadaf Baig's name as a social media expert.

Referring to a trend on social media against the judiciary which was being published in the newspapers, the IHC chief justice asked what difference did it make. Would the government block the social media platform, if it was running a trend against the judiciary, he added.

Justice Minallah also asked about the objections on the social media rules and how they were being removed.

The platform should not have material on child pornography or hate speech, but the social media users could criticize public office holders and institutions, he remarked.

He added the PTA could block objectionable material but how it could block an application or a website which was a source of entertainment for the poor.

The court adjourned the hearing of the case till Nov 22.