Media groups express concern over Turkey’s social media bill

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Regulation of social media is expected to be on the agenda of the Turkish National Assembly when it takes over in October.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party is preparing a bill covering fake news and disinformation online.

Details of the proposal were not shared publicly, but anonymous officials quoted by local media said the project proposes to make “disinformation” and “disinformation” a crime and includes jail terms of up to five years for spreading fake news on social media.

The project also proposes the creation of a body similar to the Supreme Council of Radio and Television for Media Regulation (RTÜK).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken out against the danger of fake news and disinformation online. His party’s vice president Mahir Unal said in mid-July that the party was studying legal measures, adding: “The fight against disinformation is as important as the fight against terrorism.”

FILE – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to media in Istanbul, Turkey, June 4, 2019.

Journalists and media groups have expressed concern over the proposal, calling on authorities to make the plans public and warning that broadly worded regulations could be used to persecute critical reporting. Others cited the large number of lawsuits already filed against social media users.

“The government has a strange habit,” said Turgay Olcayto, adding that anyone who criticizes it is considered “an enemy”.

The president of the Turkish Journalists Association was speaking at a press conference on Monday alongside four other media unions and rights groups to voice his opposition to the bill.

Online payment

The bill comes a year after Turkey introduced regulations on social media platforms, including requiring sites to have a Turkish representative to handle queries and response times to take down requests .

In the first month after its adoption, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were fined $ 1.18 million for non-compliance, Reuters reported.

Turkey already has a poor press freedom record, ranking “not free” on the Freedom on the Net Report, with a score of 34 out of 100. Freedom House’s annual report assesses countries on a range of digital rights factors.

Its most recent analysis, released in September, cited the blocking of hundreds of websites and new platform regulations as the reasons for the low score.

“I don’t need to say anything about the state of our journalism,” Olcayto said. “(The ruling party says) ‘We will prevent the manipulation of fake news.’ How are you going to prevent it? It is the government that manipulates and hides the information the most. ”

Olcayto said he does not believe Parliament will pass the bill, but if it passes, “we will continue to fight.”

Authorities want more control over social media, said Uğur Güç, Istanbul representative for the Association of Progressive Journalists.

“The media have been under pressure for a long time, and 90% of them are under government control,” Güç told VOA Turkish after the press conference.

Social media has offered more freedom, but thousands of lawsuits have been filed against social media users as more people have moved online, Güç added.

“Last year at least 30,000 people were investigated and 5,000 were sentenced. We are talking about a huge number,” Güç said, adding that he believed the goal was to silence the opposition.

Güç has also been the subject of legal threats for his work. He was accused of insulting state institutions in 2019 and acquitted the following year.

Erdogan dismissed criticism of Turkey’s media freedom record, saying “Turkey is incomparably free”, in an interview with US broadcaster CBS on Sunday.

Asked about data showing Turkey as one of the top jailers of journalists and comments from lawyers who say thousands of people are being prosecuted for insulting, the president said: “I know these credible international organizations. who have no credit for me “.

Media regulator

Journalists are wary of plans to create a social media regulator like RTÜK. The association Human Rights Watch warned in 2020 that the Turkish regulator “imposes punitive and disproportionate sanctions” on stations which criticize the government.

The regulator has imposed more than 40 sanctions against seven independent stations and ordered the suspension of seven programs in 2020, Human Rights Watch reported.

Güç said he believed the government would try to create a regulator like RTÜK that could impose sanctions or intimidate users by threatening them with sanctions.

“They want to put more pressure on people and silence people,” he said.

Turkish Writers Union President Adnan Özyalçıner also believes the bill is an attempt to target the critical press.

“Measures are taken against the critical press by arbitrary and administrative means, and not by legal means. (It is) an attempt to counter the critical press,” Özyalçıner told VOA Turkish after the press conference.

The union president raised concerns about who would decide what content is fake and asked what criteria would be used, saying: “I think all news against the government will be declared ‘fake news’.”

Journalists’ organizations issued a joint proposal recommending that the bill be shared with the public, that journalism not be criminalized, and that freedom of communication and information not be restricted.

This story has its origins in the Turkish service of VOA.


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