Erdoğan’s censorship now targeting media outlets in Europe

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Cevheri Güven

Bold Medya, a YouTube channel run by the German-based International Journalists Association eV (IJA), was shut down due to efforts exerted by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Social media expert Yasin Kesen says Erdoğan is now resorting to fraudulent methods in an attempt to extend his crackdown on freedom of expression beyond Turkey’s borders and into the European Union, a dangerous trend.

The IJA was set up by exiled Turkish journalists who had to flee Turkey to avoid persecution and incarceration. Nearly all its members are political refugees in Germany. Bold Medya, one of the most significant initiatives of the association, was a platform allowing independent journalists to pursue their professional activities. Within two years, the channel had attracted 250,000 subscribers. All its employees and voluntary supporters are based in Germany.

The channel, already under an access ban in Turkey since 2019, was shut down in mid-December and is now inaccessible on YouTube. The Erdoğan government had it shut down using YouTube’s copyright policy. Fatih Akalan, one of the channel’s chief editors, says they were performing a public service and that the Erdoğan regime is abusing YouTube’s regulations in a devious attempt at censorship.

Kesen points to the executives of YouTube’s Turkey office for the abuse of the platform’s rules and policies, claiming that they are either working together with the Turkish government or at the very least turning a blind eye to what is being done.

Erdoğan cracking down on free speech in Germany

IJA Secretary-General Mustafa Kılıç says while censorship is almost taken for granted in Turkey, the situation is now getting more serious.

“For the first time ever, Erdoğan has shut down a YouTube channel broadcasting from Europe. It is already well-known that under his long arm, various operations were ongoing in Europe, especially in Germany,” Kılıç said, in apparent reference to a series of espionage scandals in which the Turkish government was found to be spying on its critics living in Europe.

“But now, we have seen that Erdoğan has succeeded in silencing a YouTube news channel operating from Germany. This is no different than shutting down Deutsche Welle’s Turkish channel. Our members are journalists who had already suffered a crackdown on their freedom of expression in Turkey. It is very scary to see that now it is being targeted here in Germany.”

Kesen: YouTube Turkey office cooperating with Erdoğan

Kesen claims that the spillover of Turkey’s online censorship to Europe has to do with the stance of YouTube’s Turkey office.

“YouTube grants what is called the Content Management System [CMS] to large production companies, TV channels and content providers. Nearly 20 organizations in Turkey enjoy this system, and one of them is the state-run broadcaster TRT.

“YouTube allows those with CMS to directly take down a video in the event of copyright infringement and have the channel closed entirely after three violations. This is a privilege that YouTube grants to large companies based on trust. TRT, under Erdoğan’s direct control, is abusing this right and removing videos that he does not like by claiming copyright. And then it has the channel shut down after three consecutive copyright removals.

“In reality, the deleted videos do not belong to TRT, and there is no copyright infringement. TRT has been engaged in this abuse for the past four-and-a-half years. When the right to CMS is misused three times, it should be revoked. YouTube’s Turkey office, however, has not barred TRT from the CMS panel despite the fact that the state-run channel has done it hundreds of times. YouTube allowing its system to be employed in favor of Erdoğan’s censorship and now this have gone beyond Turkey’s borders as Erdoğan has become able to use TRT to intervene against the exercise of free speech in other parts of the world.

“This situation has repeatedly been communicated to YouTube’s Turkey office, which does not respond, either by e-mail or by phone,” Kesen said. “Due to this obedience to TRT, the work and channels of exiled journalists, artists and actors are being taken down.”

‘YouTube Turkey representatives might have unethical relations with Erdoğan’

Kesen says the practice undercuts YouTube’s global stance in favor of free speech and its brand value and that it might be caused by unethical engagement of local employees.

“There might be interest-based relations between YouTube’s Turkey representatives and the Erdoğan regime. The censorship in Turkey is at an unbelievable level and completely against YouTube’s own policies,” Kesen says.

Deleted videos do not match those of TRT

Kesen says the videos taken down over TRT’s copyright claims do not match the state-run broadcaster’s content and that it is impossible for YouTube’s local representatives to not have noticed this.

“When we examine the cases, we see videos that in no way match up,” Kesen says. “It is inconceivable that YouTube’s Turkey office hasn’t noticed this. But there is a certain cooperation with the regime that leads to the silencing of individual YouTubers, journalists, artists, critics and relatively smaller channels.”

Turkish-based company encroaching on copyright revenue

Kesen says there are other substantial examples of malpractice by YouTube’s Turkey office.

“Normally, CMS is only granted to production companies and TV channels. But YouTube’s representation in Turkey extended this right to a company named Network Software [Network Yazılım], which has nothing to do with the field. The company monitors the videos trending in Turkey, and if these are from individual content providers and not from verified institutional accounts, it claims copyright and funnels all the ad revenue attached to the videos to itself. This is causing trouble for independent YouTubers in particular,” Kesen says.

“The office has not taken into account any complaints with regard to Network Software’s copyright fraud, which leads to suspicions that local YouTube employees are in a secret arrangement with the company.

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