Turkish radio and television regulator targets Turkish-language sites of international media
An Ankara judge has blocked access to the Turkish-language website of the US public broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) at the request of Türkiye’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK). Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Turkish authorities to restore access to VOA and to guarantee RTÜK’s independence as a media regulator.
Access to the VOA site has been blocked on the grounds that it lacks a Turkish broadcasting licence. The judge issued the order on 28 August, one week after RTÜK, whose responsibilities include monitoring news sites, issued a warning to VOA and demanded that it pay for a broadcasting licence within 72 hours.
The case has been referred to Türkiye’s constitutional court by two law professors and free speech defenders, Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak, who argue that their right to information as site users has been violated. The court, which has yet to issue a decision, could rule that the constitution was violated and call the licence procedure into question.
“After hamstringing critical national TV channels by imposing arbitrary fines on them, RTÜK is now imposing arbitrary decisions on international news sites. As long as this media regulator is not given an independent status, it will continue to serve as an instrument of government censorship.”
RSF’s Türkiye representative
RTÜK issued an initial warning to the Turkish-language sites of VOA, the European news channel Euronews and the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) on 21 February, ordering them to begin the procedure for applying for a licence to broadcast in Türkiye.
In a statement posted on the DW website, DW director general Peter Limbourg responded that DW would not comply because the demand targeted “journalistic content itself” and would give the Turkish authorities “the option to block the entire service based on critical reports unless these reports are deleted,” which would “open up the possibility of censorship.”
International media in RTÜK’s sights
International media concern about RTÜK censorship is not unfounded. Local media have already been subjected to abusive use of the regulatory and coercive powers that RTÜK has been given. In 2022, it stopped the broadcasting of 217 programmes and imposed no fewer than 603 fines on radio and TV outlets, according to Bianet, a news site that is RSF’s partner in Türkiye. The heaviest sanctions were imposed on TV channels critical of the government, such as Halk TV, Tele1, KRT TV and Fox TV.
Created in 1994 to regulate privately-owned broadcasting, RTÜK has nine members who include journalists and state officials. They are proposed by political parties in proportion to the number of seats that have in the National Assembly, which is nowadays dominated by the ruling AKP–MHP coalition.
During the past four years, RTÜK’s role vis-à-vis international online platforms and media has been reinforced. Since the adoption of regulations governing “Radio, TV and On-demand media services via Internet environment” in September 2019, international media are legally subject to RTÜK supervision and required to apply for a licence to be able to broadcast from within Türkiye.
The regulations were tightened in 2020. Under an amendment, digital platforms with more than a million users in Türkiye are required to designate a legal representative within the country. Failure to comply is punishable by fines, a ban on carrying advertising and, as a last resort, a reduction in the Internet bandwidth available to them.