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New Turkish Law Targets Internet Broadcasters


    A new Turkish law will subject internet broadcasters to the same rules as television and radio broadcasters.

    Critics say the new law is likely to lead to the same kind of government censorship that has affected Turkish broadcasters and newspapers.

    Online broadcasters will now come under the control of the Radio and Television Supreme Council, or RTUK. The government agency sets rules about content for the country’s radio and television broadcasters. RTUK is controlled by allies of conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Groups that watch international media say Erdogan already has strong control over the country’s traditional news broadcasters. This has caused many well-known television or newspaper reporters, who were forced out of their media jobs, to join online operations.

    Yaman Akdeniz is a law professor at Istanbul's Bilgi University. He told VOA he thinks the new law is a government reaction to the increasing number of traditional broadcasters that have moved to the internet. Akdeniz said he fears the new rules will "become yet another censorship tool for the government."

    An official for RTUK, left, takes notes in the master control room of IMC TV in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 4, 2016.
    An official for RTUK, left, takes notes in the master control room of IMC TV in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 4, 2016.

    Media expert Atilla Yesilada works for the advisory group Global Source Partners. "Erdogan realizes the media he controls is no longer watched or read in Turkey," he told VOA. "Eighty-five percent of Turkish households are now connected to the internet, and 70 percent of (the) youth generation get their entire, entire information from social media and the internet," Yesilada said.

    The new rules require online broadcasters to request an RTUK license. Any violations of RTUK rules can result in online broadcasters being blocked. The Turkish government already blocks an estimated 200,000 internet websites. This high level of censorship puts the country alongside nations like Iran and China.

    RTUK president Ebubekir Sahin said on Twitter that American-based Netflix has sought an RTUK license. He added that about 600 other organizations including local online broadcasters had also done so. Turkey is one of Netflix's fastest-growing markets. In three years, the service has gained 1.5 million subscribers, or about 10 percent of households.

    A Netflix spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter its Turkish users value "both the diversity of titles on Netflix and local storytelling.” The spokesperson added, “While there have been concerns about some titles in the past, we have not been asked in Turkey to remove any content to date.”

    Some question whether the new measures can be effective. Atilla Yesilada said the new law is "technically impossible to enforce."

    The main problem, he said, is that it is very difficult for the government to silence critics and dissidents operating on the internet. If one website is blocked, he noted, they can simply open a new one and announce it on social media. "You have to shut down the entire social media, and that is totally unacceptable,” Yesilada said.

    It is not clear whether the new regulations will affect international news sites broadcasting online in Turkish. Agencies such as Britain's BBC, Germany's Deutsche Welle, France24 and the Voice of America have stepped up their broadcasting in response to growing local demand. In April, the four agencies launched a joint site on YouTube to provide independent news content.

    Yaman Akdeniz has brought many lawsuits challenging internet controls in international courts. He said it remains unclear how the government will choose to use the new rules. But he does think it is possible that foreign news organizations could also be affected.

    I’m Bryan Lynn.

    Dorian Jones reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    censorship n. the blocking or removal of material such as writings, film, videos which are not approved by the government

    content n. the information or ideas appearing in media or the internet

    online adj. happening on the internet

    license n. the official permission to do or have something

    diversity n. a situation in which many different types of things or people are included in something

    subscriber –n. a person who pays money to get a publication or service regularly

    title n. the name of a book, film, etc.

    challenge v. express disagreement with ideas, rules, or someone's authority