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Censorship Feared Under Turkey's New Rules for Online Broadcasts 

FILE - Supporters of Turkey's Republican People's Party protest outside a court in Istanbul, where CHP Istanbul provincial chairwoman Canan Kaftancioglu appeared, July 18, 2019. Kaftancioglu is standing trial for tweets she posted on social media.

Turkish media freedom advocates are raising alarms about newly announced government powers to license, inspect and possibly censor online broadcasts in the country.

The new regulations for the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), the government's media regulator, were published this week in Turkey's Official Gazette.

Among other things, the rules would impose licensing requirements and fees and allow the RTÜK to suspend programs and cancel licenses as sanctions for not complying with the rules.

The regulations were drafted a year ago, said Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University whose expertise is online censorship.

The move has potentially broad implications, he said, because anyone can transmit content on the internet these days. About 2 in 5 people in Turkey say they get most of their news online, a Reuters Institute report found.

'Censorship regime'

Considering the country's history of blocking or punishing journalists and dissidents online, the new rules are "not a licensing regime, it's a censorship regime," Akdeniz said.

"This is what happens in Turkey. We are talking about the country which blocks access to the Wikipedia platform for over two years," he said.

One uncertainty about the regulations is how they will affect Netflix, the BBC, the Voice of America and other news and entertainment organizations that broadcast internet and mobile content in Turkey.

A summary of the regulations published by the global law firm Baker McKenzie said the rules cover foreign service providers that "broadcast internet content in Turkish aimed at persons in Turkey."

Netflix released a statement saying the company was watching developments. "Netflix has a loyal and growing fan base in Turkey, which values the diversity of content on our service," the statement said.

FILE - People hold placards that read "stop censorship" during a rally against proposed government curbs on access to some websites in Ankara, Turkey, Jan. 18, 2014.
FILE - People hold placards that read "stop censorship" during a rally against proposed government curbs on access to some websites in Ankara, Turkey, Jan. 18, 2014.

The Media and Law Studies Association, a Turkish nonprofit group, said it would challenge the directive. The group said the new rules violate the rights to free expression and dissemination of news.

Veysel Ok, the nonprofit's co-director, said requiring licenses and fees could hurt journalists who have established their own online news platforms. Ok also flagged a lack of clarity in the regulations.

"There are also no standards as to what constitutes a news platform and what doesn't, as the language used in the text is too ambiguous," Ok said. "Many extremely qualified journalists have turned towards internet media. This new directive aims to attack and control these platforms."

Akdeniz, the law professor, said it's possible authorities could require Netflix to censor its content offerings.

"They can say there's too much nudity, there's too much obscenity, there's smoking or drinking," he said. "They might say this program promotes homosexuality or such possibility now."

Enforcement question

However, it remains to be seen how authorities enforce the regulations.

"We'll find out within the next months," Akdeniz said.

Turkey is the world's biggest jailer of journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, which ranks the country toward the bottom in its annual press freedom index. The Journalists Union of Turkey said there currently are 134 journalists and media workers imprisoned in the country.