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Friday, December 28, 2012

Pakistan to Lift YouTube Ban, as a Viral Video Star Is Welcomed Home

Muhammad Shahid Nazir, a singing fishmonger who became a star thanks to a viral YouTube video, was given a hero's welcome on his return to Lahore on Thursday.Arif Ali/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images Muhammad Shahid Nazir, a singing fishmonger who became a star thanks to a viral YouTube video, was given a hero's welcome on his return to Lahore on Thursday.

Pakistan's interior minister announced on Friday that the country plans to lift a ban on YouTube that was imposed in September, following violent protests over a crude anti-Islam film uploaded to the site by an Egyptian-American. The governme nt acted to rescind the ban just hours after the star of one of the year's most popular YouTube videos, a singing Pakistani fishmonger, was given a hero's welcome on his return to Lahore from Britain.

The minister, Rehman Malik, revealed the news in a series of updates to his Twitter feed, in which he said that Pakistanis should be able to access the site within 24 hours and congratulated the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on finding ways to “block anti-Islamic material.”

As the Web desk of Pakistan's Express Tribune noted, though, “the news of the video-sharing site being unblocked comes with an ominous cloud over it.” Specifically, the interior minister's subsequent statement that the government is moving ahead with a plan to emulate China by constructing a national firewall to filter content.

Mr. Malik's comments were published one day after the Pakistani star of a viral video was given an elaborate welcome in the city of Lahore. According to a report in Friday's edition of the Pakistani newspaper The Nation:

Hundreds showed up at Lahore airport to honor Muhammad Shahid Nazir, who scaled the British music charts with “One Pound Fish,” which he originally composed to entice shoppers at the east London market where he worked. The song became a YouTube hit after someone filmed Nazir singing i t at the market and Warner Music signed him up for a record deal in the hope of getting the coveted Christmas number one spot in the charts.

Mr. Nazir owes his stardom to a freelance Web designer's YouTube clip of the fishmonger singing his “One Pound Fish” tune at a market in London's Upton Park in March. The video of that performance has been viewed more than 7 million times.

Video of a Pakistani fishmonger singing at a market in London in March has been viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube this year.

That viral hit spawned a professional music video for a dance remix of the song, released three weeks ago, that has racked up an additional 9 million views. Warne r Music is also selling six remixes of the song on iTunes.

The “o-fish-al” music video for “One Pound Fish,” the dance remix.

The Nation's report gave a sense of how famous Mr. Nazir managed to become, despite the ban on the video-sharing site in his home country: “Around 250 people, including local politicians met him at the airport, showering him with rose petals and chanting ‘Long Live One Pound Fish!' while TV networks interrupted coverage of the fifth anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination to show his return live.”

According to a note Mr. Nazir poste d on Twitter on Friday, the ban on YouTube apparently failed to prevent his song from becoming a hit in Pakistan.

Doubts about the effectiveness of easily-evaded block on the video-sharing site were described last month in a video report from Karachi's Express Tribune, whose Web editor noted that traffic to the newspaper's YouTube channel increased in the two weeks following the ban.

A video report on Pakistan's YouTube ban from Karachi's Express Tribune.

While the recent block on YouTube access in Pakistan was explained as a measure to deal with the threat posed to the nation's moral fiber by the crude biopic of the Prophet Muhammad uploaded by an Egyptian Christian living in California, the authorities have also been disturbed by the use of the video-sharing site by Islamist militants. Last year, the interior minister told reporters that Pakistan might need to block YouTube and other Web sites based in the United States to prevent the Taliban and other militant groups from using the Internet to communicate.

Video of Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, speaking to reporters on Sept. 17, 2011.