03 July 1999

Dawn website blocked as VSNL plays big brother

3 July 1999
The Times of India

Dawn website blocked as VSNL plays Big Brother

By Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI: Evidently carried away by patriotic zeal, the
Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, India's sole gateway to the Internet, has
decided that Indian netizens should not read the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

For more than a week now, Internet users in India have been
unable to connect to the Dawn website, www.dawn.com. A VSNL official,
speaking on condition of anonymity, told this correspondent that the
company had blocked access to the Karachi-based newspaper's site. Only
those users on privately leased international circuits can still get
through. Other Pakistani newspapers like The News, The Nation, Business
Recorder and Frontier Post are, however, still available to VSNL

Dawn is Pakistan's oldest newspaper and also its most
respected one. Unlike some West Punjab-based dailies, it still believes
in the sanctity of the English language. Its coverage and analysis of the
Kargil events have been the least shrill and the most objective - in
relative terms, of course - and is required reading for all journalists
covering the crisis. It is baffling why VSNL would choose to single it out
for the chop. Perhaps the gentlemen who gave the order haven't heard of
its rivals.

Despite several phone calls to VSNL, no explanation has
been forthcoming. In fact, company officials are not even willing to admit
that the site has been blocked. VSNL Delhi acknowledges that the site is
unavailable but blames headquarters (Mumbai) for the problem. Senior
officials in VSNL Mumbai, on the other hand, feign ignorance and promise
to get back, which they never do. Amitav Kumar, the company's acting
managing director, was reportedly busy in a board meeting the whole day on
Friday and hence unable to come to the phone.

If, in fact, Dawn has been blocked, this would be the
second Pakistani media organisation that Indians - clearly an innocent and
highly gullible lot - are being protected from. Last month, in a move that
was widely criticised by most Indian newspapers, information and
broadcasting minister Pramod Mahajan banned cable operators from relaying
Pakistan TV. Presumably, any order blocking out Dawn from Indian
cyberspace would have originated in the PMO, which now controls
communications, the nodal ministry for VSNL.

It is understood that an external affairs ministry official
has also complained to VSNL Delhi about the blocking out of Dawn. ``Why
has VSNL done this when the MEA doesn't have a problem with the
newspaper?'' he asked VSNL. No answer was forthcoming. When contacted by
this correspondent, however, MEA officials denied having formally made any
representation to VSNL. In fact, Ms Vijay Deepak Singh, director
(Pakistan), claimed she had no problem accessing the Dawn website.

With VSNL denying that it has blocked Dawn, it would appear
that the company intends to continue with its own unique contribution to
the war effort. Until common sense dawns on the government, therefore,
Indian Internet subscribers will have to look elsewhere to find out what
the most literate section of the Pakistani media thinks.

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