Pakistan's tough text message, no ifs, no butts [telecom]

Pakistan's tough text message, no ifs, no butts By Saeed Shah - Karachi November 19, 2011

Guardians of linguistic purity have long warned of the pernicious impact that texting may have on the young, but Pakistani officials have taken such concerns to a new extreme by demanding that mobile phone operators block all text messages using offensive words.

With a dedication unusual for local officialdom, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has listed more than 1000 words and phrases to be banned, including more than 50 phrases using the F-word and 17 involving ''butt''.

The list also includes apparently innocuous words and phrases, including ''flatulence'', ''deposit'' and ''fondle''. Others are likely to make sense only to frustrated teenagers. Among the more printable terms are ''strap-on'', ''beat your meat'', ''crotch rot'', ''love pistol'', ''pocket pool'' and ''quickie''.

The officials' flair for the task was apparent, with prohibition embracing more figurative language, such as ''flogging the dolphin'', and 51 terms with the suffix ''ass''. There were 17 variants on ''tit'' and 33 on ''c*ck'', with officials producing eight obscenities involving the word ''foot''.

Mobile phone firms were ordered to stop messages using the offending words this week, although tests by the Guardian suggested the blocking technology was not 100 per cent effective.

While agreeing that Pakistan's constitution guaranteed free speech, the regulator told mobile phone companies that such freedom was ''not unrestricted'' under court rulings. Further, it said, they had obligations under their licences to prevent ''obnoxious communication''.

In the letter to phone firms, the watchdog's director, Muhammad Talib Doger, said they should implement the system within seven days and submit monthly reports on the number of SMSs blocked.

The list was attached to the letter, with 1109 words and phrases in English to be banned, along with 586 in the national language, Urdu, a tongue that also offers many rich possibilities for abuse. The watchdog has yet to tackle obscenity in Pakistan's four main regional languages, including the raucous Punjabi.

Mobile phones are used widely across Pakistani society, even in remote villages.

Mohammad Younis, a spokesman for the authority, said the ban was the result of numerous meetings and consultations after consumers complained of receiving offensive text messages. ''Nobody would like this happening to their young boy or girl,'' he said.

He said the list was not finished and the authority would continue to add to it.

Mobile operators expect the authority to fine them for banned words that get through, which means they will have to cut the connection of people who persistently try to send such messages.


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***** Moderator's Note *****

As anyone who has gone to the spam wars knows, there are a Billion ways to defeat word filters, and Pakistani children are, I suspect, just as adept as those in other countries when it comes to thumbing their nose at old censors and old notions of right and wrong.

Bill Horne Moderator

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David Clayton
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