Turkish journalist body demands withdrawal of new bill tightening control on internet media

The Journalists' Union of Turkey (TGS) has sent petitions to all political parties in the parliament, demanding that the government withdraw its bill seeking up to three years in jail for those spreading so-called "disinformation" on the internet.

Ferhat Yaşar / DUVAR

The Journalists' Union of Turkey (TGS) has sent petitions to five political parties in the parliament, demanding that the government withdraw its draft law aiming to increase control over the internet and social media.

Members of the union on Oct. 3 held a press conference in Istanbul before sending the petitions.

TGS Istanbul Branch chair Banu Tuna said: "The bill, which seems to have been prepared to increase censorship, not to fight against disinformation, came to the agenda of the parliament as soon as the legislative year started (on Oct. 1), despite all objections made throughout 2022."

Tuna said they want this proposal to be withdrawn, which was “insistently brought to the agenda under the name of 'fighting disinformation'” while Turkey is scheduled to hold elections in 2023. Tuna said that the draft law has “no purpose other than to pressure journalism and punish the media."

“If this proposal, prepared unilaterally by the government without asking professional media organizations, is accepted, a journalist may be sentenced to three years in prison for an allegedly false report. Citizens who post dissident comments on social media may be accused of disinformation,” she said.

“We journalists have thoroughly studied every article of the bill. Once again, we warn both the lawmakers and the public as a part of our responsibility towards society. If this law passes as it is, there will be no freedom of press, expression and communication in our country. Today, we are calling on for the last time the group deputy chairs of the parties that are in the parliament to withdraw the bill. We need more democracy, not censorship,” she added.

Afterwards, TGS members mailed the petitions to 14 group deputy chairs of the five political parties in the parliament.

The ruling coalition of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on May 26 submitted to parliament the long-awaited bill that criminalizes so-called “disinformation” spread online. One of the most controversial articles of the bill is Article 29 which talks about the “struggle against disinformation."

“If a person spreads false information with regards to the country's domestic and external security, public order and general health in a way that that is suitable to disrupt the public peace, with the purpose of creating concern, fear or panic among the people, they will be sentenced to between one and three years,” the relevant article reads.

If the draft law passes the parliament, online news outlets will be required to remove “false” content, and the government may block access to their websites more easily.

(English version by Alperen Şen)