PTA’s offensive words ban ‘incredulous’

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Guardians of linguistic purity have long warned against the pernicious impact that text messaging may have on the young, but in Pakistan, officials have taken such concerns to a new extreme by demanding that mobile phone operators block all text messages using offensive words.
With a creativity and dedication to the task unusual for local officialdom, the country’s telecom regulator has issued a list of more than 1,000 words and phrases which will be banned, according to an article in the Guardian.
After serious deliberation and consultation, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) officials have come up with more than 50 phrases using the “F” word and 17 involving “butt”. The list includes several apparently innocuous words and phrases, including “flatulence”, “deposit” and “fondle”. Others would likely only make sense 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” – although only one variation of the word ‘arse’. Officials managed to produce eight obscenities involving the word “foot”, and also added two variants of the word “Jesus Christ” to the list.
Mobile phone firms were ordered to stop messages including the offending words this week, although tests by the Guardian suggested the blocking technology was not 100% effective.
While admitting that Pakistan’s constitution guaranteed free speech, the regulator told mobile phone companies that such freedom was “not unrestricted” under court rulings. Furthermore, said the telecom watchdog, they had obligations under their licences to prevent “obnoxious communication”.
In the letter to mobile phone firms, watchdog director Muhammad Talib Doger said “the system should be implemented within seven days … and a report submitted to PTA on monthly basis on the number of blocked SMSs”.
The list was attached to the letter, with 1,109 words and phrases in English to be banned and 586 in Urdu. The watchdog has yet to tackle obscenity in Pakistan’s four main regional languages, including the raucous Punjabi.
Mohammad Younis, a spokesman for the PTA, said the ban was “the result of numerous meetings and consultations with stakeholders” after consumers complained of receiving offensive text messages. He said the list was not finished and the authority would continue to add to it.
“Nobody would like this happening to their young boy or girl,” said Younis.
Mobile operators expect the PTA to fine them for any banned words that get through, which means that they will have to cut the connection of customers who persistently try to send such messages.

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