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ISTANBUL: Turkey’s media watchdog has banned access to the Turkish services of US public service broadcaster Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, prompting censorship complaints.
The Supreme Council of Radio and Television in February issued a warning to the two companies that broadcast TV content in Turkish online to apply for a broadcast license or be blocked. A court in Ankara decided to restrict access to their websites on Thursday evening.
Neither site was available in Turkey on Friday. Deutsche Welle is funded by German taxpayers and Voice of America is funded by the US government through the US Agency for Global Media.
In a statement, Deutsche Welle said it was not complying with the licensing requirement as it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content”.
Chief executive Peter Limbourg said this was explained in detail to the board of Turkish Radio and Television, abbreviated to RTUK.
“For example, licensed media in Turkey are required to remove online content that RTUK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster. DW will take legal action against the blocking that has now taken place,” Limbourg said.
The German government said it took note of the information “with regret”.
“Our concern about the state of freedom of opinion and of the press in Turkey persists,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said, adding that Germany was in a “regular and critical exchange” with Turkey. On the question.
When asked if the German government could intervene in the case, Hebestreit noted that Deutsche Welle had said it planned to take legal action “and we have to wait for that”.
RTUK dismissed any criticism in a statement on its website on Friday, saying ‘no one needs to be uncertain about freedom of speech or of the press, needlessly worry or incriminate our Supreme Council who performs his duties on the basis of legal grounds”.
RTUK’s statement added that if the media had “acted in accordance with the regulations”, there would not have been a ban on access. He also promised to ask the court for the restrictions to be revoked if the websites launch companies in Turkey and obtain a license.
But Ilhan Tasci, an RTUK member of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said he opposed the decision to block the two foreign broadcasters. “Here comes freedom of the press and advanced democracy,” he tweeted sarcastically.
RTUK’s board is dominated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, and regularly fines critical broadcasters.
Thursday’s decision is based on an August 2019 settlement which says RTUK would give unlicensed online media 72 hours’ notice of when they should apply and pay three months’ license fees. Failure to do so could result in legal action against media executives and access restrictions.
In February, RTUK said it had identified three websites without a broadcasting license, which also included Euronews’ Turkish services. But Euronews said it argued it did not broadcast live in Turkish visual or aerial bulletins and was therefore exempt from licensing requirements.
The Union of Journalists of Turkey called the decision censorship. “Give up trying to ban anything you don’t like, this society wants freedom,” he tweeted.
Voice of America noted in February that while licensing television and radio broadcasts is a norm because broadcast airwaves are finite resources, the internet does not have limited bandwidth. “The only possible purpose of a licensing requirement for Internet distribution is to enable censorship,” VOA said in a statement at the time.
State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted when the licensing settlement emerged in February that the United States was concerned about RTUK’s “decision to extend government control over news outlets free”.
In response, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic noted that the United States requires Turkish English-language state broadcaster TRT World to register as a foreign agent under of a law aimed at lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT said it is news gathering and reporting like any other international media, but must register as a foreign agent in 2020.
“TRT complies with the regulations applicable to its activities in the United States. Is it censorship? We expect the same from @VoATurkish and others,” Bilgic tweeted.
Turkey was rated “Not Free” for 2021 on Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net Index. Hundreds of thousands of domains and web addresses have been blocked.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries in its world press freedom index, saying “all possible means are used to undermine criticism”, including the removal of journalists’ press cards, the online censorship, prosecutions and arrests.


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