US urges Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression: VOA

The United States continues to urge Turkey to respect and ensure freedom of expression, a spokesperson from the US State Department told Voice of America’s (VOA) Turkish Service.

“We are aware of these reports. Our concerns regarding press freedoms in Turkey are well documented,” a department spokesperson said in response to a request for comment by VOA Turkish.

Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has given three international news agencies operating in the country a 72-hour deadline to apply for online broadcasting licenses, warning that access to those news websites that fail to obtain a license will be banned.

RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), tweeted on Wednesday that RTÜK has for the first time exercised its supervisory power over international news websites and approved with a majority vote a 72-hour deadline for the Turkish services of international news outlets amerikaninsesi.com (Voice of America), dw.com/tr (German broadcaster Deutsche Welle) and tr.euronews.com to apply for a license.

The Turkish editions of the three outlets are the only source of free and independent journalism for some people in Turkey, where a majority of the media is controlled by the government.

VOA, the US state-owned international multimedia broadcaster, vowed yesterday to do its best to ensure that its audience in Turkey has free and open access to the Internet if its Turkish service is blocked by the Turkish government.

“VOA believes any governmental efforts to silence news outlets is a violation of press freedom, a core value of all democratic societies,” VOA spokesperson Bridget Serchak said in a written statement.

Taşçı said although the law that granted RTÜK the authority to supervise online news websites came into force in 2019, RTÜK wants to use this authority now, three years later, for the three international news websites.

Since the new regulation went into effect, various streaming platforms including Netflix and Amazon Prime have applied for and received licenses.

RTÜK is a controversial agency that is accused of contributing to increasing censorship in the country by imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions on independent television and radio stations critical of the Turkish government.

In 2019, the Foundation for Political Economic and Social Research (SETA), a pro-government think tank in Turkey, published a 202-page report titled “The Offshoots of International Media Organizations in Turkey” and profiled journalists working for Turkish language services of international public broadcasters, including VOA, BBC, Deutsche Welle and Sputnik. The authors alleged that their coverage is one-sided and unfair to the Turkish government. Journalists associations and unions in Turkey condemned the report and accused SETA of profiling the journalists.

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