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Text message ban for Pakistan questioned: The Church of England Newspaper, December 2, 2011, p 6. December 7, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has retreated from its proposal to ban obscene words and phrases offensive to Islam from text messages. A PTA spokesman told Agence France-Presse that it would review its proposed list of 1600 forbidden words that include “Jesus Christ” before issuing the ban.

Last week the PTA informed SMS providers in Pakistan that they would be required to block text messages that contained words or phrases that appeared on the forbidden list of 1100 English and 500 Urdu words.  While the overwhelming majority of words were obscene or scatological, the list also included religion related phrases such as “Jesus Christ” and “Satan” as well as words that do not appear to have an immediate offensive meaning such as “athlete’s foot.”

Church leaders in Pakistan cried foul upon hearing of the proposed ban.  The Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Lahore, the Rt. Rev. Alexander Malik released a statement on 23 Nov saying that “Jesus” was a sacred word and its inclusion in a ban on obscene words was “tantamount to blasphemy.”

The secretary of the Roman Catholic Commission for Social Communications, Fr. Nadeem John Shakir told the Fides News Agency the Catholic Church “will put pressure on the government to eliminate the name of Christ from the prohibited list.”

“We understand the desire to protect the minds of young people but why include the name of Christ? What is obscene? Banning it is a violation of our right to evangelize and hurts the feelings of Christians,” Fr Shakir said on 21 Nov.

“If the ban is confirmed, it would be a black page for the country, a further act of discrimination against Christians and an open violation of Pakistan’s constitution,” he said.

The PTA has the authority to restrict speech under Article 19 of the Pakistani constitution.  While the law permits free speech, it is also “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by the law, in the interest of the glory of Islam.”

Questions as to the feasibility of the ban are misplaced, internet consultant Kevin Kallsen told The Church of England Newspaper.  “For a cellular operator, even in a developing country, filtering SMS messages is not a problem.  It does not slow delivery or effect normal network performance.”

“ However, If the operator had to notify you the message you sent was filtered; or the receiver that an incoming message was blocked that would slow down the system,” said Mr. Kallsen, the founder of Anglican TV.

“The issue in Pakistan is with the amount of words to be filtered. As comedian George Carlin said, there are only 11 ‘dirty’ words banned from commercial broadcasting in the U.S.  Taking 1600 words out of any language is beyond reason,” he argued.