Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thought-crime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that,

says George Orwell in his well-known novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ published in 1949, which describes a vision of a dystopian future with the technology being used to monitor and control the masses. The story take place in Oceania which is war-torn and regulated by televisions, not by only constantly being watched and by recording people, but also by indoctrinating them with propaganda. Each home has a screen for monitoring others and any unwanted behavior that is reported has unfortunate implications by the Thought Police.

George Orwell reveals the dangers of a government gaining too much power over its people in one of the most important and relevant novels of contemporary times and demonstrates the abuses resulting from abundance of authority by controlling all the media accessible to them. In 1984, Orwell fears media control by the government because it helps them brainwash and regulate people with a incredible degree of impact in shaping thought, getting rid of critical thinking, and decreasing self-expression ability.  Adding to the fact that the media is by no means neutral; although it was published 70 years ago, the topics in the novel have never been more relevant.

The regulations giving the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) oversight over all online content, including streaming platforms (Netflix, BluTv etc.) and online news outlets, turned Turkey into a new state on the very first day of August. Although the law was adopted on March 2018 by the Turkish Parliament, the implementing regulation was released on August 1, 2019, raising concerns about possible censorship.  “The purpose of this regulation is to define procedures and guidelines for regulating the presentation and provision of radio, television and on-demand broadcasting services, the granting of broadcasting permits to media service providers, the granting of broadcasting authorities to platform administrators and the supervision of the broadcasting in question,” said the regulation. All online content providers are required to obtain broadcasting licenses from RTUK under the mentioned regulation. To obtain a license, both international and national streaming platforms and online news outlets need to set up local companies, open offices in Turkey, and pay license fees. The content providers that do not meet the regulations and guidelines of RTUK would be given a month to adjust their content to the required norms or face a three-month suspension and subsequent cancelation of their licenses, according to the issued regulation on August 1, 2019.

Why now?

Frankly, the media itself has always been part of Turkey’s political agenda. After 17 years of uninterrupted rule by the AKP (Justice and Development Party), however, Turkish society has experienced an enormous change and turning point in mass media ownership. Although the signals had been seen way before, the turning point for Turkish media was Gezi Park protests. We experienced mass firings of journalists and the process is still continuing today, and each and every day more journalists are being fired, if not imprisoned, for speaking out. Most of those journalists are experienced and senior members of the sector and are unemployed at the time.  In fact, due to the current ownership, you may well say that the mass media – both the press and broadcasting – in Turkey is completely monopolized. Their narrative is absolutely identical and one voice – of his own, obliquely the governments’. Thus, alternative / independent media (internet news sites, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube, etc.) has become crucial for the gathering of unbiased news and/or analysis in Turkey, in addition to harboring most of the unemployed journalists. However, the governing authority has tried several times to ban or censor the above-mentioned internet platforms, yet a Turkish court decided back in 2008 to block access to YouTube-a ban that lasted more than two years.

Alternative media has been progressively in demand for nearly 5 years. According to a survey conducted by KONDA Research and Consultancy, one of the most reputable in its field, over the question of “What has changed in youth in 10 years?”(KONDA Youth Report), following the news from newspapers has declined from 72% to 24%, and in the same period the use of social media has increased from 69% to 93%. As Sigma Turkey being a significant example in both Turkish and English; this demand leads to the emergence of online news sites, including experienced journalists and academics, feature columns, and daily news (e.g. T24, Duvar, Diken etc.) Furthermore, international media outlets – such as BBC Turkey, Deutsche Welle, Al-Monitor, and Sputnik – have become more and more popular with large follower groups. On the other side, there are unique examples such as Medyascope, which as its founder veteran journalist Ruşen Çakır said in an interview with IPI (International Press Institute, March 2016), “an independent op-ed platform that delivers original and uncensored audiovisual journalistic content.” Through Periscope, Medyascope broadcasts live analysis, op-eds and debate programs on multiple topics ranging from domestic and international politics to economics, sport and culture; and then publish them on their website. In YouTube, the platform has nearly 125 K subscribers and 55 M video views. Another significant example is the prominent and experienced journalist Ünsal Ünlü, who has been streaming live morning shows on weekdays through Periscope for four years, covering the Turkish political agenda through his analysis, views and perspectives, and hitting nearly 90 K viewers daily – including other platforms such as YouTube, iTunes, Sound Cloud, etc. These examples also include well-known veteran journalists Yavuz Oğhan and Zafer Arapkirli, both broadcasting until July 2019 in Sputnik Turkey. But, unfortunately, due to interview with former PM Ahmet Davutoğlu, Yavuz Oğhan’s show was cancelled and he was fired. And again, Zafer Arapkirli was fired due to his critic position to government.

Having mentioned the figures and trends in favor of alternative media outlets, you may well say that their impact became concrete during local elections in March 31 and re-run in Istanbul on June 23. The opposition alliance, parties, organizations, and people had media coverage only in alternative outlets, with very few exceptions of the other way around, because of stranglehold over mass media. One voice and groundless allegations decrease the credibility of mainstream outlets.

The regulation

The RTÜK regulations released in the Turkish Official Gazette on 1 August 2019 raised concerns about a potential censor for internet broadcasts. The legislation and regulations, however, are vague. All agree that streaming platforms such as Netflix, Blu Tv, Puhu Tv are included and that the system excludes internet news sites with just written content. Yet, it is uncertain whether the RTÜK audit will include live video broadcasts produced from social media accounts of domestic or international news sites or visual broadcasts made within a specified calendar.

İlhan Taşçı, one of the members of the RTÜK from CHP (Republican People’s party) quota, claims that this regulation will bring the internet and on-demand broadcasts under control after radio and television for the first time,  “RTUK has unlimited powers when it comes to the internet with this law. RTÜK is now monitoring the internet. The issue, however, is that RTÜK’s technical infrastructure and the adequacy of human resources is controversial. During execution, the limitations of this audit will be determined.” he added. 

Kerem Altiparmak, a human rights attorney, said that it would affect all outlets producing opposition news, and “The greatest step in the history of Turkish censorship. This regulation will impact anyone who produces alternative news and broadcasts,” Altiparmak tweeted.

“The regulation granting RTUK the authority to censor the internet came into effect today. Soon, access to the Netflix platform or to news outlets, like DW Turkce, broadcasting from abroad could be blocked. The first target, as stated in the SETA report, will be Turkish broadcasting media outlets such as BBC Turkce and DW Turkce.” Yaman Akdeniz tweeted, a law professor and cyber security expert at Istanbul Bilgi University.

RTÜK Chairman Ebubekir Sahin commented on regulatory criticism on August 4, 2019, and “we saw that the majority of heavy criticism is either due to lack of data or the habit of ill-minded opposition and is due to prejudice,” he said.

As can be seen, the regulation has many vague points and RTÜK will decide in the implementation stage by its nine members who are elected by the Turkish parliament based on the amount of seats held by political parties. AKP presently maintains a majority of five members of the board, so it is not difficult to forecast the outcome trends.

In the first days of July, a controversial report – International Media Outlets’ Extensions in Turkey – targeted many Turkish and foreign reporters working for international media outlets. The framework of the report is similar to an accusation and was demonizing reporters working for international media outlets like BBC, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Sputnik Turkish, Arab News, Euronews Turkish, and CRI Turkish. After SETA’s strongly criticized report, the aforementioned regulation of “Presentation of Radio, Television and Optional Broadcasts on the Internet” may be defined as the following step in the plan to tune and minimize the impact of alternative media. From this view, it is asserted that a number of free reporters generating low-cost news programs via various platforms (YouTube, Periscope, Twitter etc.) are at risk following the demonization of journalists working for international media by a blacklisting report. Currently, the governing party gets a multifunctional tool with the regulation to demonize and polarize a different group, but, are they going to use it? Yes, they’ll certainly. Can they ban everything? Their track record is quite evident from YouTube and Wikipedia examples. However, there’s one question left, “Can they tune the internet?” Well, the big brother can’t watch it all.

Other highlights from past week

  • Constitutional Court Decision on Academics for Peace

On July 26, the Constitutional Court ruled that legal proceedings against a group of purged academics – due to petition under the title of “Academics for Peace” – violated their freedom of speech, and “The Constitutional Court has been aware of the concerns on statements and actions that would seriously escalate the state of security in the region where terrorist incidents that have led to casualties that required the declaration of state of emergency in most of the country for the last four decades,” said the court. The court stated that they should benefit from the protection of freedom of expression protected by Article 26 of the Constitution; however, this does not imply that the Court shares or supports those views.

  • Syrian safe zone

Talks on the issue will continue with a U.S. military delegation due in Turkey next Monday, ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told a press conference on August 2, 2019. On the issue, Turkey expects the creation of a 32-kilometer (20-mile) safe zone in northern Syria, giving Turkey control of this region, which must be cleared of the terrorist groups PYD/YPG, Syrian branches of the PKK, he said.  All aspects of the safe zone and the Syrian conflict have been discussed during recent visits to Turkey by James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy for the anti-Daesh coalition, Aksoy added.  But Aksoy warned that Turkey’s patience is limited. “We won’t let this process be dragged out. If our expectations aren’t met, we are fully capable of taking whatever measures [are needed] to ensure our national security.” He stressed that Turkey wants to clear the area of all terror elements and establish a “peace corridor.” (AA reported)