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The ‘Block’ That Wasn’t

September 25, 2008 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

 

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It has got to be the shortest decree in the history of Kuwait and, if not, it’s sure gotta be close. This past Tuesday news broke that the Ministry of Communication issued a memo to all ISP servers in the State of Kuwait to block the world famous YouTube social networking and video-sharing website. The reason being that several videos were uncovered recently that were derogatory to the Prophet Muhammad (s) and which made a mockery of the Holy Qur`an. However, less than 24 hours after the decree was made, it was rescinded. Most likely, the Minister noticed that he could ‘flag’ a video deemed to be inappropriate and YouTube would remove it. As expected, the videos in question have already been removed.

YouTube is huge in Kuwait, with more than 59,000 videos from both citizens and expatriates in the tiny Gulf nation being available on the site. Immediately after the news about the block hit, not surprisingly it was leaked from a worker at one of the primary ISP’s in Kuwait to a local blogger, a frenzy of blog activity followed suit. One blogger had this to say, “If they block YouTube they might as well just go all the way and block the Internet completely.”

Kuwait boasts one of the most open freedom-of-speech stances for local media in the entire Gulf region. However, the latest political elections saw more religious-minded MP’s maintain a firm grip on parliament. Censorship in Kuwait is set to push the boundaries of what residents have seen in the past with the primary TV stations coming under scrutiny recently for not showing enough Islamic programming and favoring a bonanza of Western comedies and dramas instead.

28541-skype_blocked This is not the first time that the government has censored the Internet. The popular website Skype is no longer accessible for residents of Kuwait. However, the reason for the block was not religious but rather economics. Skype users in Kuwait were able to make cheap International phone calls, which took a huge piece of the ‘pie’ away from the Ministry of Communications. However, while the Skype website is blocked the service is still operational. Computing wizards in Kuwait discovered early on that the Skype installation program could be emailed to them and then downloaded right to their PC. Completely blocking Skype is impossible given that it runs on encrypted tunnels.

Other countries in the Gulf have exercised their right to block Internet content that is questionable or forbidden in Islam. All the Gulf States block pornography in every way, shape or form. Some have even gone as far as to block both dating and matrimonial websites. However, some countries have blocked internet content for the sake of their own reputations. In 2006, the Dubai government blocked YouTube because two Armenians filmed a documentary about the human trafficking of Armenian women and girls to Dubai. The duo used hidden cameras to shed light on an underground prostitution ring that thrives in Dubai. Like Kuwait, Dubai eventually rescinded the ban and YouTube was once again available.

The Internet is growing by leaps and bounds with unprecedented amounts of information, whether good or bad, at the tips of most everyone’s fingertips. The challenge for governments to filter that information grows increasingly hard, as the internet has given anyone who wants their voices to be heard a boundless audience.

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