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they will be given a month to improve or their licenses will be suspended for three months, and could ultimately be withdrawn.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.”


YouTube steers viewers to climate denial videos: nonprofit

Updated 16 January 2020

YouTube steers viewers to climate denial videos: nonprofit

  • Avaaz said it scrutinized results of YouTube searches using the terms “global warming,” “climate change,” and “climate manipulation” to see what was offered by an “up next” feature
  • 16 percent of the top 100 videos served up in relation to the term “global warming” contained misinformation, it said

SAN FRANCISCO: YouTube has driven millions of viewers to climate denial videos, a US activist group said Thursday as it called for stopping “free promotion of misinformation” at the platform.
New York-based Avaaz said it scrutinized results of Google-owned YouTube searches using the terms “global warming,” “climate change,” and “climate manipulation” to see what was offered by an “up next” feature and as suggestions.
In response to the report, YouTube said it downplays “borderline” video content while spotlighting authoritative sources and displaying information boxes on searches related to climate change and other topics.
The video sharing platform has remained firm that while it removes content violating its policies against hate, violence and scams, it does not censor ideas expressed in accordance with its rules.
“Our recommendations systems are not designed to filter or demote videos or channels based on specific perspectives,” YouTube said in response to an AFP inquiry.
The company added that it has “significantly invested in reducing recommendations of borderline content and harmful misinformation, and raising up authoritative voices.”
According to Avaaz, 16 percent of the top 100 videos served up in relation to the term “global warming” contained misinformation, with the top 10 of those averaging more than a million views each.
The portion of potentially misleading videos climbed to 21 percent for YouTube searches on the term “climate manipulation” but fell to eight percent for searches using the term “climate change,” according to Avaaz.
“This is not about free speech, this is about the free advertising,” Avaaz senior campaigner Julie Deruy said in a release.
“YouTube is giving factually inaccurate videos that risk confusing people about one of the biggest crises of our time.”
An AFP search at YouTube using the term “global warming” yielded a results page topped by a box containing a Wikipedia summary of the subject and a link to the page at the online encyclopedia.
A list of suggested videos on the topic was dominated by sources such as National Geographic, NASA, TED and major news organizations including CBS, PBS, Sky News, and AFP.
Last year, consumption on “channels” of authoritative news publishers at the platform grew by 60 percent, according to YouTube.
“We prioritize authoritative voices for millions of news and information queries, and surface information panels on topics prone to misinformation — including climate change — to provide users with context alongside their content,” YouTube said.
Avaaz called on YouTube to yank climate change misinformation videos from its recommendation formula completely, and make certain such content doesn’t make money from ads at the platform.
The nonprofit also wants YouTube to collaborate with fact-checkers and post correction notices on videos with false climate change information.
YouTube automatically placed ads on some of the videos containing misinformation regarding climate change, making money for the service and the content creators, according to Avaaz.
This could apply to news videos expressing rival sides of the climate change debate. YouTube works with advertisers and provides tools to opt-out of having their ads displayed with certain types of content, such as climate change discourse.
Avaaz said after seeing the YouTube response that the company’s rankings lacked transparency and “put a blackbox around their algorithm preventing researchers and investigators from seeing exactly what is happening inside.”
“The bottom line is that YouTube should not feature, suggest, promote, advertise or lead users to misinformation,” Deruy said.