Turkey Censors Turkish Language Versions of International Media ‘Voice of America’ and ‘Deutsche Welle’ | International
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A Turkish court has ordered to block access to Turkish versions of the media Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche Welle (DW) in what the opposition and press freedom organizations consider a further step in the censorship will of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, especially ahead of the crucial elections in 2023. The Turkish version of these channels, along to others from other international broadcasters, had become a source of information for many Turks and a way to escape the pro-government discourse of most of the country’s media. Polls have shown for months that the bloc of opposition parties would achieve a parliamentary majority against those who support Erdogan and that, in the presidential election, an eventual opposition candidate would obtain more votes than the current Islamist president.
Last February, VOA, DW and euronews received a notification from the Higher Council of Turkish Public Broadcasting (RTÜK) giving them a period of 72 hours to apply for a license or face a blocking of their web pages, from where they broadcast. This Council, controlled by a majority of delegates appointed by Erdogan’s Islamist party and its far-right allies, received in 2019 the prerogative to control not only the country’s televisions and radios, but also the digital media that have live programming. Euronews, the French-based channel owned by a Portuguese investment company, managed to escape regulation by changing its website and broadcast format in Turkish. VOA and DW declined to follow the regulation, and a judicial process was opened that culminated this week with a decision by an Ankara criminal court of first instance.
VOA has only seen its Turkish version blocked as it maintains a separate web address from the other language editions. Not so in the case of DW, which has seen access to its entire platform closed.
“We have underlined in extensive messages and even in a private conversation with the chairman of the media watchdog why DW could not apply for such a license. For example, licensed media in Turkey are required to remove content that RTÜK deems inappropriate. This is something unacceptable for an independent media,” Peter Limbourg, general director of the German public channel, which broadcasts in numerous languages around the world, explained in a statement on Friday. In fact, RTÜK maintains a tight control over the broadcasts of the Turkish media and it is common for it to suspend the broadcast of a certain program or impose heavy fines on those who go out of line, which has caused several opposition media to be seen doomed to bankruptcy. DW has announced that it will appeal the court decision to reverse it.
The Twitter account of Voice of America in Turkish has published a video on how to use applications to circumvent censorship and access their content, something that many Turkish users are used to. Back in February, a VOA spokeswoman, Bridget Serchak, said that “any attempt by a government to silence a news service is a violation of press freedom.” It remains to be seen what the effect of the blockade will be on relations between the US and Turkey, as it comes just one day after the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Erdogan at the NATO summit. VOA is part of an independent state agency that is financed by government budgets and subject to approval by Congress, the same Congress that must give the green light to the sale of F-16 fighters to Turkey, as requested by Erdogan to Biden during their meeting in Madrid.
In its own statement, RTÜK has denied that the blocking decision has anything to do with press freedom and has attributed it to technical issues. The Association of Progressive Journalists (ÇGD), on the other hand, has called it “a clear indicator of the government’s intolerance towards objective journalism.” The representatives of the opposition in RTÜK have expressed themselves in a similar way.
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