Turkish court blocks access to DW, VOA

A Turkish court has blocked access to the Turkish-language websites of Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche Welle (DW) upon the request of Turkey's media watchdog RTÜK, after they failed to apply for a broadcast license.

Reuters - Duvar English

A Turkish court on June 30 blocked access to the Turkish-language websites of Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche Welle (DW) for not applying for licenses upon Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council’s (RTÜK) request.

In February, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America said they would not apply for licences in Turkey as requested by RTÜK under the country's media regulation law, which critics say aims to increase censorship.

İlhan Taşçı, a RTÜK board member from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said on Twitter that access to Deutsche Welle's Turkish-language service, DW Türkçe, and VOA had been blocked by a court decision.

"Access to DW Türkçe and Voice of America, which did not apply for licenses, has been blocked by the Ankara Criminal Court of Peace, upon the request of the RTÜK board," Taşçı said.

"Here is your freedom of press and advanced democracy!" he added.

"With the decision taken by the independent judiciary, RTÜK protects the rights of legal broadcasters against illegal broadcasters in our country. In line with these criteria, we will continue to take the necessary steps as the Supreme Council," RTÜK head Ebubekir Şahin on July 1 said on Twitter, sharing the statement of RTÜK.

RTÜK's statement claimed that the council is in favor of pluralism and free press, but that the news sites in question have not applied for a broadcast license.

"If these sites establish their companies in our country and start the licensing processes in accordance with our laws, our Supreme Council will request from the judicial authorities to terminate the block," the statement said.

DW did not apply for the process, citing that "licensing would enable the Turkish government to censor editorial content."

"Media licensed in Turkey are required to delete online content that RTÜK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster. DW will take legal action against the blocking," DW Director General Peter Limbourg said.

The vast majority of Turkey's mainstream media outlets are seen as close to the government, with coverage favoring President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies. Turks have increasingly resorted to alternative outlets, some foreign-owned, and social media for news.

RTÜK, whose policymaking board is dominated by Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies, frequently fines broadcasters that are critical of the government.

Digital platforms are under the authority of RTÜK as part of a regulation that passed on Aug. 1, 2019. Broadcasting corporations can't operate without getting licenses from RTÜK as part of the amendment.

In line with Law 6112, RTÜK licenses television channels, radio stations, and video-on-demand content in addition to monitoring their content.

As part of the regulations, companies are forced to remove the content deemed inappropriate by RTÜK.

The debate on a draft bill on media laws that was dubbed "censorship bill" by critics was postponed until parliament reopens in autumn, an AKP deputy, Mahir Ünal, said this week.

Turkey is also among the top jailers of journalists globally and has frequently been criticised by Western allies and rights groups over its human rights record. They have also accused Erdoğan’s government of using a failed military coup in 2016 as a pretext to muzzle dissent.

The government denies this and says the measures it takes are necessary due to the gravity of the threats Turkey faces.