politics

Turkey Gives Its Aggressive TV Censor Control Over the Web

  • Bill will allow government to censor programs on Netflix
  • Implications for YouTube, other video services remain unclear

Turkey’s parliament approved a new law on Wednesday that allows its radio and TV watchdog to vet Internet broadcasts, granting the government the ability to intervene against content by producers including Netflix Inc.

The regulation will require online video streaming companies and pay-TV services to apply for a license from the watchdog, known by its Turkish initials RTUK. Courts can block access for Turkish users if the necessary permits aren’t secured. RTUK has become notorious for aggressively handing out penalties or banning broadcasts that it judges to be immoral, inconsistent with Turkish family values, or that stray from the government line on politics.

The move is Turkey’s latest expansion into control over the media, with 80 million Turks increasingly limited in what they’re permitted to see on their computer screens and televisions. Courts and government agencies have repeatedly blocked access to Twitter and YouTube on complaints of content offensive to the nation’s leadership. Online encyclopedia Wikipedia has been blocked since last year. Twitter says that Turkey submits about half of all global requests made to remove tweets, by far the most of any country.

YouTube Videos

It’s unclear whether the latest legislation authorizes RTUK to block YouTube and other video services, according to Taha Yucel, a member of the agency’s governing board who was appointed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party.

“The Internet should be taken as a single entity. Trying to take a piece of it and regulating it on its own would amount to misunderstanding what the Internet is,” he said. There’s little difference between what YouTube does and some of the video streaming services that will be subject to the new law, he said.

In theory, any individual who posts a video on the Internet is supposed to be exempt from RTUK oversight, but vague wording in the text of the law makes it hardly a foregone conclusion, according to Ilhan Tasci, another governing council member of the agency appointed by the main opposition party, the CHP.

“If someone’s video is seen by 100,000 people, will RTUK consider this as an individual activity or consider it as a real broadcast?” Tasci asked by phone. “In no developed democracy can governments decide on what adults can watch.”

Five of the nine members on RTUK’s governing council are appointed by the ruling party.

— With assistance by Onur Ant

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE