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VOA Turkish given 72-hour deadline to avoid access ban

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Turkey’s media watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has given a 72-hour deadline to the Turkish edition of US broadcaster Voice of America to obtain a broadcasting license or to face an access ban, the Kısa Dalga news website reported.

In a controversial move in February 2022, RTÜK asked the foreign providers of Turkish audio and video content to secure broadcasting licenses.

RTÜK said in a statement on Monday that if VOA Turkish does not submit a petition which includes its application for a broadcasting license within 72 hours and pay the broadcasting license costs for three months at once or halt its broadcasts, access to the website will be blocked.

When VOA Turkish edition as well as the Turkish edition of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle refused comply with RTÜK’s demand, which they said would amount to censorship, the watchdog blocked access to the both websites in July 2022.

The two news websites became inaccessible in Turkey without the use of VPN. Both shared instructions on their social media accounts about using VPN to access their content.

VOA Turkish, which was operating under the amerikaninsesi.com website at the time, also switched to voaturkce.com to circumvent the access ban.

If VOA Turkish does not get a broadcasting license, access to voaturkce.com will also be blocked.

The US State Department had expressed regret about the access ban on the outlets, describing the move as yet another step toward tightening media control in the country.

“We regret the Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council’s @rtukkurumsal decision to block access to the websites of @VOATurkce& @dwnews further expanding government control over freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey. Free press is essential to a robust democracy,” then-US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The move by RTÜK 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 at the time and announced that they would appeal its decision and take legal action.

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.

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