In a move reflecting the government’s desire to fill the few remaining gaps in its control of news and information, Turkey’s parliament has passed a law placing online video services under the control of the broadcast media regulator, the High Council for Broadcasting (RTÜK).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores this latest sign that, after bringing the traditional media under full control, the Turkish authorities are now completing their mechanisms for censoring the Internet.
When the law that was approved on 21 March takes effect, online video services will need to obtain a licence in order to continue operating and, before the licence is issued, an investigation that could involve the police and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) will be necessary.
The RTÜK will be in charge of monitoring content and imposing sanctions in the event of “irregularities.” It will also be able to go to a judge to get websites blocked within 24 hours if they continue to operate without a licence. The law still needs to be signed by President Erdoğan but that should be just a formality.
Aside from video-on-demand services such as Netflix, the new law will affect alternative news websites such MedyascopeTV (a recipient of the 2017 RSF Press Freedom Prize), Evrensel WebTV and ArtiTV, as well as platforms such as YouTube, Periscope and Facebook, which many censored media outlets use to circulate their content.
Resources based abroad or using a language other than Turkish are concerned by the new law as much as any other. Individuals posting videos online should not be affected but some of the law’s wording is vague. An implementation decree is supposed to fill the holes within six months.
“This anti-democratic legislation, rushed through parliament without consulting civil society, just reinforces the government’s grip on the Internet,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s Turkey representative. “The government is thereby closing one of the last gaps in its control of news and information in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.”
With its members appointed by parliament, the RTÜK has become increasingly politicized in recent years and is now dominated by the ruling AKP party and its nationalist ally, the MHP. Only the opposition CHP’s presence has maintained a vestige of pluralism since the pro-Kurdish HDP’s ouster in the summer of 2017.
The Internet is already highly censored in Turkey. Legislation passed in recent years has repeatedly extended the powers of the authorities to block websites without reference to a judge. Aside from the leading outspoken Turkish news websites, the authorities have repeatedly blocked Twitter and YouTube, while Wikipedia continues to be inaccessible.
Year after year, Turkey has continued to be the country that requests the removal of the most content on Twitter. Censorship circumvention tools (such as VPNs and the Tor Network) are also increasingly blocked. It is no longer possible to keep count of the Internet users who have been jailed because of their shares on social networks.
The already worrying media situation in Turkey has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after a coup attempt in July 2016. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained. It is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained. It is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.