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No request to censor Mideast YouTube - Google

Search engine giant says it would prefer to 'err on side of free speech'.

Google could censor its video sharing site YouTube in Middle Eastern markets if asked by one of the region’s governments, but has not received any formal request to do so, a spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday.

The search giant could block users in the region from accessing some content if pressured by governments, but takes any such decision on a case by case basis and prefers “to err on the side of free speech”, she said.

“User generated content is uncharted territory for a lot of people, and we are learning as much as anybody else,” said Joanne Kubba, communications manager for Google in the MENA region.

To date, the company has received no request from an Arab government to block content. Censorship in the region is mainly carried out through the internet service providers (ISPs), Kubba said.

Representatives from the Dubai police have met with Google to discuss material that they find objectionable, Dubai police chief Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim told state news agency WAM on Tuesday.

At the meeting, the company was asked to ban 500 pornographic and “anti-religious” search terms, the statement said.

However, Kubba denied that Google had received such a list.

YouTube is available in 22 different local editions but most countries, including all of the Middle East, still use the site’s international edition.

When the site is “localised”, Google tailors the content to each market and follows local laws on freedom of speech.

Content on a Saudi edition of YouTube is therefore likely to differ from what is available on the US site, Kubba said.

Still, Google has also censored YouTube in markets that do not have a local edition. In Turkey, it has banned content that insults “Turkishness” or Kamal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey.

“Will we block or not block, it’s not as simple as that, it really depends. We always err on the side of creating awareness and education in democratization of information,” Kubba said.

Google came under international fire in 2006 for succumbing to China’s censorship demands, in order to obtain a license in what is one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing advertising markets.

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