Journalists fear broad new law will stifle online news media in Turkey

The operating space for critical journalism in Turkey continues to steadily shrink. As pro-state entities took over most mainstream outlets and government decrees shuttered dozens of opposition media organizations, Turkish journalists have increasingly moved toward online platforms to continue their work.

Now state regulators are seeking to restrict online broadcasting with a new law that free speech advocates claim may be used to silence what’s left of alternative news sources in Turkey, both domestic and foreign-based. On Aug. 1, Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) authorized an amendment to require streaming services and online broadcasters to obtain licenses — costing up to $18,000 (100,000 liras) — to continue reaching Turkish audiences.

The law not only applies to platforms like Netflix, YouTube and PuhuTV, but also to the many web-based Turkish-language news services provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA) and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. Media entities have been given 30 days to acquire licenses and risk being blocked from Turkish markets if they fail to do so or their applications are not approved.

Critics of the law claim its broad language regarding the definition of news broadcasters and what constitutes socially appropriate content gives regulators free rein to target independent voices and may further curtail free speech in the country. Turkey is already home to one of the most restrictive media landscapes in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders.

“When we look at this law, its sole goal is to control internet broadcasting,” Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK council member who voted against the amendment, told Al-Monitor.

“Many people focus on what will happen with Netflix or PuhuTV or other online streaming services,” Tasci continued. “But the big picture is we have a new internet broadcasting sphere that is challenging traditional media outlets, and this alternative media is making the state uncomfortable.”

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