Cell phone carriers in Pakistan are scrambling to implement a ban on obscene text messages handed down by the government. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) sent the country’s three largest mobile carriers a list of more than 1,500 words that it deems offensive – and wants banned.
The list includes many crude and sexual terms that the government is attempting to root out as part of a 1996 ban on transmitting information through telephone systems that is “indecent or obscene.” Many of the standard curse words you’d expect have come under the hammer. And the BBC reports that even misspellings were accounted for. But also banned are rather tame terms like fart and idiot.
Though understandable, those are hardly the strangest words getting the ax. Flatulence and fondle, flogging the dolphin and headlights: all text messages containing such words will be stopped at the source. Sure, their vaguely sexual connotations might be evident after a bit of pondering, but on the face, none is truly capable of causing offense. What if the texter simply has a verbose vocabulary? And don’t think you can get around the ban by switching to another tongue. The ban applies to both Urdu and English, the two official languages of Pakistan.
Of course, censorship is no secret in Islamist-friendly Pakistan. The nation banned pornography last year and routinely censors any blasphemous or overly critical content online. Pakistan has made headlines in the past for banning YouTube and Facebook to prevent depictions of the prophet Muhammad. While the PTA notes that censorship can be enacted “in the interest of the glory of Islam,” it’s curious that they’ve decided to ban words from outside religions, such as Jesus and Satan.
The deadline to scrub out all obscenity is Monday, Nov. 21. And the mobile carriers are working to respond to the governmental authority, as the Guardian notes that the companies would face fines for the obscene language, not the dirty-mouthed texters. Though we suspect those with the most lewd fingers will just turn to Twitter instead.