Turkey’s Online Censorship Just Leveled Up

(This is the first piece I wrote for Patreon after the reboot. This piece is locked to “First to Read” tier and above for the first 24 hours and then it’ll become public. Hope you’ll enjoy it. —Ahmet)

You all probably know that one of the things I’ve been writing about a lot is the censorship in Turkey, especially the online censorship. I’ve been writing about it since early 2010s and one of my piece’s even went viral in 2014

Since then, we turned into a country which sends the most take down requests to Twitter. We can’t access Wikipedia without VPN or a similar method for more than 2 years. There is a strong online surveillance in place but no one knows any technical details of it. And at the end of 2018, the number of blocked websites was 245,825.

But the recently published regulation made things much more interesting. 

In short, the government recently published a new regulation that puts every online broadcasting platform (such as Netflix and BluTV) under the authority of Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), which is formed in 1994 to regulate television and radio, when first private platforms started broadcasting. But with AKP, they started to act more like a censorship council.

Let me explain how they generally operate: You have to blur any cigarette and alcohol on TV and can’t even mention their names. This caused a fictional TV world where even bad guys don’t smoke or drink and live a healthy life. But the same bad guys can show their guns, kill people and organize raids to other mobs’ places, as long as the blood is not directly shown. Nationalism, racism, homophobia is free but don’t you even dare talking about LGBTQ people on TV, unless you’re mocking them without naming them.

If the regulation affects platforms like Netflix in a similar fashion, many shows and movies can either disappear or turn into something intelligible. Just glancing at the my Netflix homepage and first possible casualties I can see are; RuPaul’s Drag Race, She’s Gotta Have It, Suits, La Casa Del Papel, Orange is the New Black, sense8, Sabrina, BoJack Horseman, Archer… You got the point. 

All these possibilities are my guesses and actually no one knows how it’s going to be forced. Because law doesn’t specify any details. We don’t even know what counts as a broadcasting platform. This is important because every platform has to pay somewhere around $18.000 (100.000₺) to the government if they want to continue broadcasting online. This practically means the end of small or alternative groups online.

There’s also the fact that people are looking at online platforms instead of TV when it comes to unbiased news. That’s why there are many new platforms, especially the ones which are a part of Western media like BBC Türkçe, DW Türkçe, euronews are gaining more followers in here. And not long before, government supported think tank decided to publish a so-called research on journalists from Turkey who work at these places and turned them into a target.

This can be a part of the government’s need for a regulation like this. Although we don’t know if they count as a broadcasting platform Kerem Altıparmak says they might be:

“The first platforms that come to mind to be affected are platforms that broadcast continuously such as Netflix or BluTV but there are many vague areas in the regulation. The situation of channels that do not broadcast continuously but regularly such as Deutsche Welle Turkish, BBC Turkish or other websites is very uncertain.”

My guess is they’re going to use this new regulation as a control mechanism. Not applied all the time but when someone or something pisses them off. So you can form a small podcast network and they won’t care about you until you put out something they don’t like. Then they’ll ask you to pay the licensing fee to force you out of publishing.

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Funny thing is, this regulation was first mentioned on the media in early 2019. There was a small opposition but then people forgot. A week before the law published in the Official Gazette, we started to have a national argument about Netflix and its “homosexual propaganda.” Yes, I know what you’re thinking but it worked. People started talking about how Netflix wants to turn young people and old columnists gay and this is a conspiracy against Turkish/Muslim culture. While people were arguing about it and whether you can turn someone gay with TV series (spoiler alert: you can’t) everyone forgot about the regulation. And on August 1st, boom, it’s official.

And now we’re having even more idiotic arguments online. Instead of opposing the censorship in total, people are talking about protecting kids, how much censorship is too much and so on. Even some liberals uses this as an excuse to spread their communism fear by claiming this council is a “communist leftover”[1]. And rest of the opposition is exhausted because it’s just a small group of people who tries to fight against every rights violation.

But according to head of the RTÜK (link in Turkish), all the criticism is because we have a “habit of opposing things”. And according to him, “this is not censorship because they’re not intervening before it published.”Makes sense, right? It’s not like AKP wants to control every media possible in Turkey, it can’t be. 

So, that’s pretty much the next level of online censorship in Turkey. Even Saudis only censored Netflix because Hasan Minhaj really pissed them off and they only left it with one episode. I’m not sure what pissed Turkish government on Netflix? Maybe they didn’t like one of RuPaul’s elimination decisions? Or maybe Queer Eye was seen as a threat to the masculinity of the Turkish men? Who knows?

But one thing I know is that Turkish people will get used to it quick and start silencing people who oppose this after a while. Like they did with Wikipedia censorship. It’s been two years and when you talk about it, only thing you can hear is “Use a VPN idiot!” 

Times like this makes me wish there was a way to VPN myself out of from here.

[1] During 1990s, when RTÜK founded, Turkish governments were full on neoliberals.

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