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Turkish Regulator Criticized Over Public Service Video

FILE - A woman waves a rainbow flag as she shouts slogans during the LGBTQ Pride March in Istanbul, Turkey, June 26, 2022.
FILE - A woman waves a rainbow flag as she shouts slogans during the LGBTQ Pride March in Istanbul, Turkey, June 26, 2022.

Turkish media and LGBTQ groups are questioning a decision by the country’s regulator to classify a video from a coalition of conservative groups as a public service announcement.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) voted to list a video promoting an event scheduled for Istanbul on Sunday as a public service announcement.

The video shows pictures of Pride parades in Turkey, as a narrator calls for people who are “against the LGBT impositions and propaganda” and want to see an end to “global and imperialist lobbies who want to abolish gender, reduce the human generation, and destroy the family unit,” to join the rally.

The video was produced by the Unity in Ideas and Struggle Platform, a group of about 150 conservative nongovernmental organizations.

Critics, including some members of the RTUK board, say the video contains hostile language and could result in attacks on the LGBTQ community.

RTUK did not respond to VOA's request for comment.

The Unity in Ideas and Struggle Platform has denied promoting hate speech. In a tweet, its head, Kursat Mican, blamed misinformation for the criticism over the video.

“This meeting is not against LGBTI+ individuals,” Mican said in response to an open letter from a parent whose child is gay. "We want to put an end to this trend that threatens the existence of humanity by raising awareness against LGBTI+ propaganda and imposition. We have no other intention than this, beyond that it is a needless assumption."

Ilhan Tasci, an opposition member of RTUK’s board who voted against the decision, told VOA he believes the video could lead to hate crimes and so should not be broadcast as a public service announcement.

“If something bad happens to some people from the LGBTQ community tomorrow after this public service announcement, which makes them a target, will the RTUK’s president take responsibility?” Tasci said.

Under law, RTUK has the power to list informative or educational content from public institutions and nongovernmental organizations as public service announcements if it deems them to be in the public interest.

The regulator advises radio and TV channels to broadcast the announcements, but media outlets have editorial discretion over what they use.

RTUK shared the video on its website but did not upload it to YouTube, where it often shares public service announcements.

FILE - A woman holds up a rainbow flag as she marches with others during the LGBTQ Pride March in Istanbul, Turkey, June 26, 2022.
FILE - A woman holds up a rainbow flag as she marches with others during the LGBTQ Pride March in Istanbul, Turkey, June 26, 2022.

Tasci says the RTUK president has discretion over what is posted to the regulator’s social media accounts.

YouTube guidelines define hate speech as content that “incites hatred or violence against groups based on protected attributes such as age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status.” In the case of violation, the platform removes the content.

At a panel Thursday, RTUK President Ebubekir Sahin said the media can play a role “in the escalation of hate crimes.” He did not reference the regulator’s decision at the event.

“It is not possible for us to accept the normalization of hate speech and its imposition on society through the media. Hate speech in traditional media is on the rise. At the same time, we unfortunately see that the new media and social media are having the same discourse,” Sahin said.

Several journalism organizations criticized RTUK’s decision.

“Supporting a protest that marginalizes a certain group and supports hostility towards them is definitely not an acceptable attitude. It is an outright contradiction that RTUK paves the way for an anti-LGBTQ public service announcement to be broadcast on TV channels,” Gokhan Durmus, chair of the Journalists Union of Turkey, told VOA.

Yildiz Tar, a journalist and coordinator for KAOS GL — a LGBTQ rights organization and news portal — said the decision appears to reflect a wider policy in Turkey.

"For a long time, there have been lynching calls and campaigns on social media targeting LGBTQ+ people,” Tar told VOA. “With this public service advertisement, the government has said that ‘these lynching calls and hate speeches are our policy.’”

“LGBTQ+ people are portrayed as a community that needs to be fought and destroyed in this country,” Tar said.

Kerem Dikmen, a legal coordinator for KAOS GL, said the RTUK decision contradicts its regulatory role.

“RTUK, as a regulatory body, needs to take measures to prevent hate speech. But it took and executed a decision that would spread hate speech, contrary to its full responsibility, and this is completely illegal,” Dikmen told VOA.

“It is forbidden for LGBTQ+ people to organize Pride Parades in Turkey, and they are prevented from having picnics by the police. But this group can have a protest that spreads hate speech, and this is a political disposition,” Dikmen said.

Pride events have been banned in Turkey since 2015. When a parade took place in Istanbul in 2021, police arrested hundreds of people, including several journalists.

In its 2021 report on human rights in Turkey, the U.S. State Department found “LGBTQI+ individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation and violent crimes.”

This story originated in VOA’s Turkish Service.