November 26, 2011

PAKISTAN: The Dirty Picture??

LONDON, England / The Economist / Blogs / Politics / November 25, 2011


In this blog, our Asia correspondents and our Banyan columnist provide comment and analysis on Asia's political and cultural landscape. The blog takes its name from the Banyan tree, under which Buddha attained enlightenment and Gujarati merchants used to conduct business

Censorship in Pakistan

Sense of humour failure

By L.M.

Last week, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) memo and accompanying list of the words sent to mobile-phone service providers were leaked on the internet. Pakistanis were aghast and amused in equal measure. Previous bans have targeted Facebook, Rolling Stone magazine’s website and the use of encrypted networks. These met with limited opposition. But the directive to block text messages containing certain words was seen as an attack on free speech.

The official reason for the ban was “to control the menace of spam in the society”. Far more likely, the authorities finally grew tired of rude anti-government jokes that circulate widely via text message.

Many feature the president, Asif Ali Zardari, in a starring role. (A tame example: “The post office issued new stamps with Zardari’s face on them but they had to be withdrawn because the public found them too confusing: it was impossible to tell which side to spit on.”)

The government’s inability to take a joke isn’t restricted to text messages.

“It’s anti-government stuff, impersonations of Zardari and company—they don’t leave anyone alone. They make all kinds of jokes, some of them quite lewd,” said Murtaza Razvi, a senior editor at Dawn, a leading English-language newspaper.

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