ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s media watchdog has banned access to the Turkish services of U.S. public service broadcaster Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, prompting criticism of censorship.
The Supreme Board of Radio and Television enforced a February decision requiring international media that air television content in Turkish online to apply for a broadcast license. An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to the websites of the state-owned Deutsche Welle and Voice of America late Thursday.
Neither website was available in Turkey on Friday. In a statement, Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content.”
Director general Peter Limbourg said this was explained in detail to the Turkish radio and TV board, abbreviated as RTUK.
“For example, media licensed in Turkey are required to delete 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.
Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK member from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said he opposed the move to block the two foreign broadcasters. The board applied to the court for the access restriction, he said.
“Here is press freedom and advanced democracy,” he tweeted sarcastically.
The board is dominated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, and regularly fines critical broadcasters.
The Journalists Union of Turkey called the decision censorship. “Give up on trying to ban everything you don’t like, this society wants freedom,” it tweeted.
In February, RTUK said it identified three websites without broadcast licenses, which also included the Turkish services of Euronews. But Euronews said it argued that it did not broadcast live in Turkish or air visual bulletins and was therefore exempt from the licensing requirements.
Voice of America noted in February that while licensing for TV 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 enabling censorship,” VOA said in a statement. For broadcast airwaves, “Governments have a recognized responsibility to regulate the spectrum to ensure it is used in the broader public’s interest,” it said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted when the licensing regulation emerged in February that the U.S. was concerned with RTUK’s “decision to expand government control over free press outlets.”
In response, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic noted that the U.S. required Turkey’s state English-language broadcaster, TRT World, to register as a foreign agent under a law intended for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT said it was newsgathering and reporting like any other international media.
“TRT abides by relevant regulations for its activities in the U.S. Is that censorship? We expect the same from @VoATurkish and others,” Bilgic tweeted.
Turkey was rated “Not Free” for 2021 on the Freedom of the Net index by Freedom House. Hundreds of thousands of domains and web addresses have been blocked.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey at 149 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, saying “all possible means are used to undermine critics,” including stripping journalists of press cards, online censorship, lawsuits and arrests.
Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.
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