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VOA, Deutsche Welle to take legal action amid threats of a ban from Turkey

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Voice of America (VOA), the US state-owned international multimedia broadcaster, and Germany’s state-run broadcaster Deutsche Welle have announced that they will not apply for a broadcasting license as required by Turkey’s media watchdog and take legal action against the threat of an access ban to their Turkish editions.

A 72-hour deadline set by Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) for three international news agencies, including the Turkish edition of the Lyon-based Euronews media outlet, to apply for online broadcasting licenses began to run on Monday.

If these news websites do not apply for online broadcasting licenses within the deadline set by RTÜK, they will face an access ban.

The move has been described by the media outlets as an attempt at censorship.

Deutsche Welle Director General Peter Limbourg said RTÜK’s move was an attempt “to restrict the reporting of international media services.”

Licensing “gives the Turkish authorities the option to block the entire service based on individual, critical reports unless these reports are deleted,” Limbourg said, according to Deutsche Welle’s website. “This would open up the possibility of censorship. We will appeal against this decision and take legal action in the Turkish courts.”

VOA also said in a statement on Tuesday that it will not abide by RTÜK’s demand for an online license, explaining that requiring a license for online broadcasting is tantamount to censorship.

“Licensing is the norm for radio and TV broadcasting, because the broadcast spectrum is a finite public resource, and governments have a recognized responsibility to regulate the spectrum to ensure it is used in the broader public’s interest,” VOA said in its statement. “The internet, by contrast, is not a limited resource, and the only possible purpose of a licensing requirement for internet distribution is enabling censorship.”

The Turkish editions of the three outlets are the only source of free and independent journalism for some people in Turkey, where the majority of the media is controlled by the government.

In 2019 Turkey revised its media regulations to allow RTÜK to supervise online broadcasts. Since the new regulations went into effect, various streaming platforms including Netflix and Amazon Prime have applied for and received licenses.

RTÜK is a controversial agency that is accused of contributing to increasing censorship in the country by imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions on independent television and radio stations critical of the Turkish government.

In 2019 the Foundation for Political Economic and Social Research (SETA), a pro-government think tank in Turkey, published a 202-page report titled “The Offshoots of International Media Organizations in Turkey” and profiled journalists working for Turkish language services of international public broadcasters, including VOA, BBC, Deutsche Welle and Sputnik. The authors alleged that their coverage is one-sided and unfair to the Turkish government. Journalist associations and unions in Turkey condemned the report and accused SETA of profiling the journalists.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 85 percent of the national media in Turkey is owned by pro-government businessmen who toe the official line.

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