In a move that cast a further shadow on freedom of the press in Turkey, a court on Thursday evening banned access to the Turkish editions of two international news websites operating in the country based on a demand from the country’s media watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).
When readers went to access these news websites on Thursday evening, they saw a notice saying that access to the website had been blocked by the decision of an Ankara court.
In February RTÜK set a 72-hour deadline for three international news agencies — the Turkish edition of VOA, the US state-owned international multimedia broadcaster; Germany’s state-run broadcaster Deutsche Welle; and the Lyon-based Euronews — to apply for online broadcasting licenses.
The move has been described by media outlets as an attempt at censorship and at expansion of the Turkish government’s control over domestic media to foreign outlets, which 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.
Deutsche Welle and VOA challenged RTÜK’s move and announced that they would appeal its decision and take legal action in court. As for Euronews, the news outlet removed the content that necessitated the license, hence was no longer required to get a broadcasting license, according to an announcement from a RTÜK member in April.
Following the beginning of the access ban to the two news websites on Thursday, RTÜK member İlhan Taşçı voiced his outrage over the decision, tweeting, “Here is freedom of the press and advanced democracy.” Taşçı is from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and is known for voting against RTÜK decisions in violation of freedom of the press.
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.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 90 percent of the national media in Turkey, which was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.