New Internet censorship legislation passed in Turkish Parliament

A piece of legislation criticised for constituting a censorship law was approved on Wednesday in the Turkish Parliament to “regulate” video and audio broadcasts online.

As a result of an omnibus bill adopted by Parliament late on Wednesday, service providers planning to publish broadcasts on the Internet must obtain a broadcast license and transmission authorization from the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).

According to a report by the Hürriyet Daily News, in the absence of a license, a magistrate can rule to prohibit access to specific content within 24 hours following a complaint from RTÜK. If the judge decides that the content is illegal, then only access to the specific content will be blocked, rather than access to the entire broadcasting website.

The broadcaster will be able to object to the decision in line with criminal law.

The legislation gives RTÜK a mandate to supervise series, movies and documentaries broadcast by domestic and international platforms such as Netflix, BluTV and Puhu TV, which have been airing movies, series and documentaries on the Internet. They will now be supervised by RTÜK in the same manner as TV channels. RTÜK will have the right to impose a broadcast ban on content of broadcasters that don’t have licenses or permits to operate. RTÜK can also impose a ban on content that it finds inappropriate.

A minor adjustment to the bill, initiated by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers, tasked the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) with issuing an official guide regarding the new law within six months.

The personal exchange of information and posts on social media are excluded from the provisions of the new law, according to the changes.

The new legislation has been widely criticized as it is expected to further the suppression of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, while the government backs the new regulations, saying the aim is to ensure conformity of Internet broadcasts with the values of the country and its moral codes.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir also expressed concern on Thursday about the provision that was adopted by the Turkish Parliament on Wednesday, saying that further restricting access to the Internet will critically weaken access to information and online expression.

On Feb. 28 Désir issued a legal analysis of the then draft provision, bringing to the attention of Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül to the draft’s potentially harmful effects on media freedom and freedom of expression.

“I regret that my recommendations were not reflected in the adopted law, and that a public discussion involving all stakeholders did not take place. I continue to offer the expertise of my Office to help Turkey reform its Internet legislation in line with international standards,” Désir said in a statement released on Thursday.

The new legislation was first brought up following criticism voiced by the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate against Adnan Oktar, the leader of a controversial religious cult who owns the A9 channel, notorious for its sexual content.

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