Turkey takes big step toward control of all online media content

Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu
Updated 06 August 2019

Turkey takes big step toward control of all online media content

  • The new regulations are currently open to comments, and the legal framework to implement them will be discussed by Parliament in the coming months

ANKARA: Media experts have warned that online news outlets in Turkey and streaming platforms that operate in the country, such as Netflix, might soon be subject to censorship by state-run radio and television watchdog the Radio Television Supreme Council (RTUK).

According to new regulations published in the Official Gazette on Thursday, such media outlets would need to apply for a license within a month and establish a corporate office in Turkey. The content that they provide will be monitored the same way that RTUK currently supervises traditional media outlets.

Digital media outlets based in other countries that broadcast in the Turkish language might also be affected by the legal amendment. Local streaming websites such as BluTV and PuhuTV, which have broadcast many popular series in recent years without censorship, would also be monitored by RTUK under the new regulations. Free online news outlets funded by advertising revenue are also covered by the legal amendment.

The new regulations are currently open to comments, and the legal framework to implement them will be discussed by Parliament in the coming months. 

Experts warned that the changes could clear the way for banning access to digital platforms that broadcast from other countries, and lead to censorship of content. Some see the new regulations as the latest attempt by the government to tighten its control over all sections of the media, especially alternative channels.

“Turkey is a country of people who prefer to watch or listen rather than reading,” said Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Lebanese American University. “This legal amendment seems to be targeting both Netflix-like global streaming corporations and independent media outlets in Turkey, such as Medyascope or some internationally backed multimedia projects.”

According to the regulations, if content providers fail to meet as-yet-unspecified standards, they will be given a month to improve or their licenses will be suspended for three months, and could ultimately be withdrawn.

Turkey is a country of people who prefer to watch or listen rather than reading.

Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, Assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Lebanese American University.

Uzunoglu believes that the new regulations could have a number of possible effects. It could be drastic and ban or force out of business some platforms that publish multimedia news content, depriving Turkish citizens of proper, unbiased, independent journalism. Alternatively, it might focus mostly on bigger international platforms such as Netflix, which has about 75,000 subscribers in Turkey.

“However, I think it would be naive to think that the Turkish government won’t use this new regulation for its political agenda,” Uzunoglu added.

He said that it is no coincidence that Netflix has been singled out for criticism by several conservative magazines and newspapers recently, or that a report by pro-government think tank SETA had targeted internationally backed media organizations operating in Turkey.

“It is scary to think about a digital environment that is totally regulated by licenses given by a governmental organization and under their supervision,” said Uzunoglu. “It is totally against the decentralized and democratic nature of the new media landscape.”

The BBC, German broadcaster DW, France24, and the US state-owned Voice of America recently launched a Turkish-language YouTube news channel called +90 to boost media freedom in Turkey. The new regulations will cover the channel, which will now require a license and could face strict monitoring or censorship of critical content.

Suncem Kocer, a professor of media and communication at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, said the new regulations represent a massive step by the state to limit and control the diversity of the media sector in Turkey, which has already faced clampdowns for reasons of “national security” and “public morality.”

“Morality and security are, of course, familiar arguments for justifying this backward and out-of-date regulation,” she said. “It is out of date because the internet is not like the traditional television medium, which can supposedly be regulated by a commission that is fed by officers watching broadcast TV content on a daily basis,” she told Arab News. 

Kocer also noted that given the wide scope of the regulations, setting consistent operational standards seems unlikely and so they will are likely to result in further restrictions on alternative media outlets in Turkey. 

“Alternative news media have already been pushed to the internet space a long time ago,” she said. “Now these news platforms will face a huge licensing issue and, even after being licensed, they will be subject to strict regulation.

“We already know that both ‘national security’ and ‘public morality’ can be stretched to cover any current political agenda.”

Australian papers censor front pages in press freedom campaign

Updated 21 October 2019

Australian papers censor front pages in press freedom campaign

SYDNEY: Newspapers across Australia ran heavily redacted front pages on Monday in protest against government secrecy and a crackdown on press freedom, a rare show of unity in a fractious media landscape.
National and regional mastheads including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review hit newsstands Monday with most of their front-page news stories blacked out.
Advertisements have also been rolled out across the country’s television networks, asking viewers to consider the question: “When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?“
The campaign by the Right to Know coalition was sparked by federal police raids on the national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp. journalist’s home earlier this year over two stories that had proved embarrassing for the government.
It centers on six demands, including exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws that have created a complex web of provisions critics say too easily ensnare reporters doing their jobs.
“The culture of secrecy that has descended through these legal provisions restricts every Australian’s right to know and goes well beyond the original intent of national security,” Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union head Paul Murphy said.
“The police raids on the home of News Corp. journalist Annika Smethurst and the headquarters of the ABC in Sydney were direct attacks on media freedom in Australia but they are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Three journalists are facing possible criminal charges in the wake of the raids — Smethurst for revealing the government was considering plans to spy on Australians — and two ABC reporters for exposing alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
The media groups are also calling for enhanced protections for public sector whistleblowers — who have also faced charges for leaking to the press — as well as an improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform.
Australia’s defamation laws are notoriously complex and among the strictest in the world.
And unlike most liberal democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or constitutionally enshrined protections for freedom of speech.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would “always believe in the freedom of the press,” but he also insisted that journalists were not above the law.
“The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don’t think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things,” he told reporters during an official visit to Jakarta.
A press freedom inquiry is due to report its findings to parliament next year.