Turks protest new media regulations, internet censorship

19/11/2011

By Anna Wood for SETimes in Istanbul – 19/11/11

Turks express concern and frustration over legislation aimed to regulate online news portals, as well as mandatory government filters.

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Thousands protested the regulations in May. [Reuters]

Internet censorship has been a hotly debated and largely decried topic in Turkey since May, when thousands of Turkish youths flooded the streets to protest newly proposed government-mandated internet filters.

Recent weeks have proved no exception to this trend, as objections to government measures, which many deem acts of censorship, have been widely visible on Turkish blogs and social media.

When CNN Türk reported that the internet giant Google listed Turkey as one of the top ten most censored countries, websites like Yeni Medya and Sosyal Medya Pazarlama were quick to recirculate the news to their readers.

The ranking was apparently based only on countries' censoring of the video sharing website YouTube. Placement on this particular top ten list was not a point of national pride.

The mandatory filters that caused such outrage in May were initially to be rolled out on August 22nd, but have been postponed several times. The currently anticipated start date is Tuesday (November 22nd). Anxiety and anger about their impending implementation are still present, as a recent post on Inci Sozluk underscores. "

They said August 22nd, nothing was closed. They said September 22nd, again nothing was closed. I can't figure it out. Even if they close it there are proxy servers; we'll enter every website, don't worry."

More seriously, the Alternative Information Technologies Association (AITA) just announced on Yeni Medya that it has applied to have the internet filtering system repealed. The organisation argues that the measure lacks a legal basis, and further argues that the government's presentation of the filters as "voluntary" is disingenuous at best.

"According to the Turkish Constitution Article 13, the fundamental rights and freedoms can be restricted only by law. For this reason, this resolution is devoid of legal basis," AITA argues.

"'Principle and Procedures for Safe Internet Service' is a regulatory administrative process which is going to be implemented throughout the country and affect millions of people. ICTA has regulated a field with an administrative process which is not regulated by laws," AITA continues.

Internet filters aside, peoples' attention has also turned to the Turkish government's new proposal to subject independent online news sources to the same laws that apply to major media outlets.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç announced the plan on November 1st, adding that the change should be ready for implementation in January. The proposed measures would affect a wide range of small, independent online news portals, and, some fear, would serve to silence less mainstream voices.

Reactions to this announcement came quickly. The Internet Publishers Organisation, a group that sees itself as the mouthpiece of online news sites, posted a statement declaring that "the new law should talk about rights, not methods of censorship."

The AITA also immediately addressed the issue in an article that was republished on multiple platforms, including Medya Tava.

"Because of the vagueness in its definition, this regulation targets a very wide area of communication, and it in fact interests all current and future internet users," the article reads.

"We request that the government immediately share the relevant preparations for these regulations with the entire public in a transparent fashion," it continues.

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Outside of these two planned regulations -- on the one hand, filters for all internet users, and on the other, mainstream media rules being applied to online publications -- censorship remains a general concern both for everyday Turkish citizens generally and for the media, specifically.

Websites like Zen Station recently shared a video of Professor Ahmet Ercan speaking on TRT, the national television channel. He is silenced as soon as he begins to criticise the government for not using money from a 1999 temporary earthquake tax -- which has become permanent -- to respond to the Van earthquake.

"The temporary earthquake tax has become permanent during the AK Party government and when he [Ercan] says citizens' destroyed buildings should be rebuilt using the money from this tax…" the poster writes.

While Turkey may be on the list of top ten most censored countries by some measures, the Turkish people don't seem inclined to stop protesting censorship any time soon.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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