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Turkey's New Internet Rules Raise Fears of More Press Restrictions

Yaman Akdeniz of the Freedom of Expression Society in Istanbul.
Turkey's New Internet Rules Raise Fears of More Press Restrictions
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Turkey’s new controls on internet use have taken effect.

The Turkish government says all broadcasters now have to follow the rules required for all radio and television stations on the internet.

Critics claim the new measures are an attempt to silence the last platform for independent reporting.

"This measure burns us," said Onur Oncu. He works as a reporter for Ozguruz, a news website. Every day, he sends reports to Berlin, where Ozguruz is based.

The website says it provides independent news outside the control of Turkey's government. But the new rules say even the internet falls under government control.

"There are so many internet portals in Turkey. News sites, web TV, even by phone, people can do citizen journalism via Periscope," said Oncu. "And the government saw this, and it became a troublesome issue for them because they couldn't prevent it. The new broadcasting law has become a way to prevent it."

Media watchdogs

Turkish media critics say as much as 90 percent of the country’s traditional media belongs to pro-government groups. State officials control the reporting. They decide what information the public is permitted to know.

Because of those controls, journalists who want to report freely now write and produce stories for the internet. In recent years, the number of television and radio internet news sources has jumped.

Many well-known Turkish journalists now work on the internet. They had been dismissed from earlier jobs for critical reporting.

To get important political information, “you have to go to social media," said Yaman Akdeniz. He is with the Istanbul-based Freedom of Expression Society.

"That's why the Turkish authorities are targeting the internet," he added.

The Freedom of Expression Society claims that Turkish officials have blocked over 245,000 websites. That would make Turkey one of the world's most restrictive countries for the internet.

The websites of Twitter and YouTube have been blocked, while the country has banned Wikipedia since 2017.

The government says the latest internet control measures are aimed at creating one system of rules that everyone follows.

Under the new law, broadcasters operating on the internet must ask the government for permission to show their news in Turkey. Without permission, they can be blocked or face large fines.

Court fight

Over the past few months, Turkish courts have ruled against the government in highly-publicized cases involving freedom of expression.

In September, Turkey's top appeals court ruled for the release of five journalists. They were jailed on terrorism charges along with 14 other former employees of the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

The case was widely seen as important to media freedom, with Cumhuriyet one of few remaining independent publications.

In July, Turkey's Constitutional court ruled in support of hundreds of university professors and other academics. They were also held on terrorism charges. They had signed a petition calling for an end to fighting between the Turkish government and Kurdish separatists. The court ruled their freedom of expression was violated.

Onur Oncu says he is counting on the power of the internet to resist the government’s control.

"They are attempting to block, but there is an alternative. When they shut down our website, we start broadcasting by phones," he said.

"Unless they cut the cord for the internet, there could always be alternatives: YouTube, for example. It could be VINE or Facebook. I mean, there are many alternatives available, so I don't think they can cope with this," he added.

VOA’s Dorian Jones reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words In This Story

platform n. something that allows someone to tell a large number of people about an idea, product

portal – n. a Web site that helps you find other sites

journalism – n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio

source – n. someone or something that provides what is wanted or needed

petition – n. a written document that people sign to show that they want a person or organization to do or change something

alternative – n. other options available