- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pakistan has ended its 3-year ban on YouTube after the video-sharing site agreed to create a country-specific portal that allows government regulators to easily flag offensive content for removal.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom said in a statement on Monday that the government restored access to YouTube within its borders after the the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) signed-off on a localized version of the site designed by Google.

“We have reached an understanding with YouTube so that material considered offensive will not be shown in Pakistan,” a senior Pakistani official told the Financial Times.

“We’re glad that YouTube is now accessible in Pakistan so viewers can watch and share videos, as well as take advantage of the vibrant and growing global online video community,” a YouTube representative said in a statement.

Islamabad began blocking access to YouTube in September 2012 after the site started hosting “Innocence of Muslims,” a 14-minute video clip produced by a U.S. citizen in which the Prophet Muhammad was depicted as a womanizing, homosexual child abuser.

The film’s anti-Islamic message quickly prompted protests across the Arab world, including demonstrations within Pakistan that in some instances turned deadly and subsequently spawned a nationwide ban on YouTube.

The new portal launched on Monday, YouTube.pk, “does not contain any known copies of the blasphemous movie,” the PTA said in a statement. “Moreover, in case any copy of the offending material appears on YouTube website in future, Google has provided an online web process through which requests for blocking access of the offending material can be made by PTA to Google directly and Google/YouTube will accordingly restrict access to the said offending material for users within Pakistan.”

Google said it won’t immediately restrict access to videos upon the government’s requests, however, but will instead vet the content after they’re brought to its attention for further review. 

“We have clear community guidelines, and when videos violate those rules, we remove them,” the company said in a statement. “Where we have launched YouTube locally and we are notified that a video is illegal in that country, we may restrict access to it after a thorough review.”

YouTube received more than 12,000 take-down requests from various governments during the second half of 2014 and complied with roughly half of them, its most recent transparency report said. The video-sharing site currently operates more than 85 country-specific portals.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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