Turkish social media bill presages ‘new dark era’ of censorship, say critics

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Updated 28 July 2020

Turkish social media bill presages ‘new dark era’ of censorship, say critics

  • UN: new law would "undermine the right of people in Turkey to freedom of expression"
  • President Erdogan has been criticised for his progressively draconian approach to freedom of speech and social media

ISTANBUL: A proposed law that Turkey says will make social media companies more accountable to local regulations will rather increase censorship and accelerate a trend of authorities silencing dissent, critics including a UN body said this week.

The Turkish parliament was to begin debate on Tuesday on the bill that is backed by President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which has a majority with an allied nationalist party. It is expected to pass this week.

As an overwhelming majority of the country’s mainstream media has come under government control over the last decade, Turks have taken to social media and smaller online news outlets for critical voices and independent news.

Turks are already heavily policed on social media and many have been charged with insulting Erdogan or his ministers, or criticism related to foreign military incursions and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The law would require foreign social media sites to appoint Turkish-based representatives to address authorities’ concerns over content and includes deadlines for its removal.

Companies could face fines, blocked advertisements or have bandwidth slashed by up to 90%, essentially blocking access.

“Social media is a lifeline... to access news, so this law signals a new dark era of online censorship,” said Tom Porteous, Human Rights Watch deputy program director. It would damage free speech in Turkey “where an autocracy is being constructed by silencing media and all critical voices,” he added.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the bill would not lead to censorship but would establish commercial and legal ties with platforms.

“What is a crime in the real world is also crime in the digital world,” he said on CNN Turk, adding that these included terrorism propaganda, insults and violation of personal rights.

Turkey was second globally in Twitter-related court orders in the first six months of 2019, according to the company, and it had the highest number of other legal demands from Twitter.

Erdogan has repeatedly criticized social media and said a rise of “immoral acts” online in recent years was due to lack of regulations.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the draft law “would give the state powerful tools for asserting even more control over the media landscape.”

It “would further undermine the right of people in Turkey to freedom of expression, to obtain information and to participate in public and political life,” said spokeswoman Liz Throsell.

Amnesty International’s Turkey Researcher, Andrew Gardner, said: “Today’s vote is the latest, and perhaps most brazen attack on free expression in Turkey. Journalists already spend years behind bars for their critical reporting and social media users have to police themselves in fear of offending the authorities.

“If passed, these amendments would significantly increase the government’s powers to censor online content and prosecute social media users. This is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression online and contravenes international human rights law and standards.”


Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

Palestinian firefighters try to extinguish a fire after an Israeli airstrike, on a floor in a building that also houses international media offices in Gaza City. (Reuters/File)
Updated 08 August 2020

Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

  • Jewish comedians’ conversation on Israel spark an uproar

TEL AVIV: It began as a lighthearted conversation between two Jewish comedians, riffing on a podcast about the idiosyncrasies of their shared heritage. But after talk turned to Israel, it didn’t take long for Marc Maron and Seth Rogen to spark an uproar.

Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country “doesn’t make sense” — infuriated many Israel supporters and highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.
Israel has long benefited from financial and political support from American Jews. But in recent years the country has faced a groundswell of opposition from young progressives, disillusioned by Israel’s aggressive West Bank settlement building, its perceived exclusion of liberal streams of Judaism and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cosy relationship with President Donald Trump.
“What Seth Rogen said is par for the course among our generation and the Israeli government has to wake up and see that their actions have consequences,” said Yonah Lieberman, spokesman for If Not Now, an American Jewish organization opposed to Israel’s entrenched occupation of the West Bank.
Rogen’s remarks follow a dramatic shift by an influential Jewish American commentator who recently endorsed the idea of a democratic entity of Jews and Palestinians living with equal rights on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Peter Beinart’s argument that a two-state solution — Israel and Palestine — is no longer possible sent shock waves through the Jewish establishment and Washington policymaking circles.
For many Jews, Israel is an integral part of their identity, on religious grounds or as an insurance policy in the wake of the Holocaust and in a modern age of resurgent anti-Semitism. But polls have shown that while most American Jews identify with Israel and feel a connection to the country, that support has waned over recent years, especially among millennials.
Some have even embraced the Palestinian-led movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to protest what it says is Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Israel accuses the movement of waging a campaign to delegitimize its very existence.

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Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country ‘doesn’t make sense’ — highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.

In the podcast, Rogen, who appeared in such smash comedies as “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” talked about attending Jewish schools and Jewish summer camp while growing up in Vancouver. He said his parents met on an Israeli kibbutz.
As they continued to chat, Rogen appeared to question why Israel was established.
“You don’t keep all your Jews in one basket. I don’t understand why they did that. It makes no sense whatsoever,” Rogen said. “You don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place especially when that place has proven to be pretty volatile. I’m trying to keep all these things safe. I’m going to put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place to, that’ll do it.”
Rogen then said he was “fed a huge amount of lies” about Israel during his youth. “They never tell you that ‘oh, by the way, there were people there.’ They make it seem like, ‘the (expletive) door’s open.’”
Maron and Rogen both joked about how frightened they were about the responses they would receive from Israel’s defenders. Their concerns were justified.
Rogen’s comments immediately lit up “Jewish Twitter.” They unleashed a flurry of critical op-eds in Jewish and Israeli media. And they prompted Rogen to call Isaac Herzog, the head of the Jewish Agency, a major nonprofit that works to foster relations between Israel and the Jewish world.
In a Facebook post, Herzog said he and Rogen had a frank and open conversation. He said Rogen “was misunderstood and apologized” for his comments.
“I told him that many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist,” Herzog wrote.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Rogen said he called Herzog at the urging of his mother and he denied apologizing. He said the comments were made in jest and misconstrued.
“I don’t want Jews to think that I don’t think Israel should exist. And I understand how they could have been led to think that,” he said.
Rogen also said he is a “proud Jew.” He said his criticism was aimed at the education he received, and he believed he could have been given a deeper picture of a “complex” situation.
Ironically, Rogen was on the podcast to promote his new movie, “An American Pickle,” about a Jewish immigrant to the US at the start of the 20th century who falls into a vat of pickle brine and emerges 100 years later. He called the project a “very Jewish film.”
Lieberman, from If Not Now, said the uproar shows “how much the conversation has changed” about Israel among American Jews.
Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said Israel should not be expected to change its “security and foreign policies” based on growing estrangement from Jews overseas.
But he said it can take realistic steps to close the gap, such as establishing a pluralistic prayer site at the Western Wall, long a sticking point between Israel’s Orthodox establishment and more liberal Jews in the US
“It’s a challenge for Israel. It’s inconvenient. We want everyone to love us, especially other Jews,” he said. “Israel can do certain things to make it somewhat better.”