Press freedom concerns as Ankara forces internet giants to bow to Turkish law
The recent decision by international internet companies to comply with Turkish government demands that the companies open offices in Turkey is stoking fears over the future of country’s last remaining platform for independent journalism.
“We are worried about this decision of the internet platforms to open offices here,” said Gokhan Bicici, editor in chief of Dokuz8Haber, “but if they did not open than the government might have shut them out of Turkey which would be worse for us.”
Dokuz8Haber is one of a growing number of news portals in Turkey. From its Istanbul office reports are compiled by both professional and citizen journalists. The site relies on social media, which has become the main platform for independent reporting explains Bicici
“Ninety percent of the media apparatus is in control of the state, of the government in Turkey. There is no mainstream in Turkey anymore. It is an apparatus of the government against the society. So, social media is the only free base we can use to reach the society.
"People can follow trustworthy news only through social media. This is the only field which is not under the full control of the government . . . it’s a kind of emergency place for us. That is why Dokuz8 is organised and based on social media.”
Grim global press freedom ranking
The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders in April ranked Turkey 153rd in the world in terms of media freedom. Yet Turkey’s government wants to extend its control of media to the Internet by pressuring social media platforms to open offices in Turkey.
This will put the companies’ operations in the country under Turkish jurisdiction – with controls that Ankara claims are similar to those of other European countries.
Yaman Akdeniz of the Istanbul based Freedom of Expression Society admits there are some similarities to legislation being considered in Europe, but questions how Turkey will apply restrictions given the country’s poor record on press freedom.
“The government, in addition to warnings and financial penalties, and advertisement bans, was going to impose a bandwidth restriction ban. The government was going to throttle the servers of these social media platform providers who did not comply with having legal representation in Turkey,” said Akdeniz.
“So as of today all the social media platform providers who have over one million users daily in Turkey say they will have legal representation in Turkey. So they are part of the Turkish law and they are expected to comply with the requests coming from the Turkish authorities,” he added.
Turkey leads Twitter's removal requests
Twitter, Google, Facebook, Tiktok and others have opened offices in Istanbul, meeting Ankara’s April deadline. Twitter says Turkey submits the most requests to remove postings and users, but up to this point, the company has complied with only a few.
However, Gokhan Ozturan executive manager of Dokuz8Haber says news portals like his, fear these social media platforms will become more compliant with Turkish authorities.
“Twitter for example would only send us a notification that they have received a court order from the Turkish authorities to remove a certain tweet, but they did not comply with it because it does not violate the community standards.
"So when the government is trying to force social media platforms to be present in Turkey their aim is to remove articles they don’t like and this poses a great threat. If these social media companies become a tool to increase this oppression in Turkey, then it will become an even bigger challenge for us, and this is the biggest concern we have at the moment.”
Several social media platforms have issued statements saying they remain committed to freedom of expression.
Turkey heads towards crucial elections
Meantime, the offices of Dokuz8 are full of workers with a new studio under construction, part of the site’s efforts to expand its operations ahead of expected early elections in Turkey.
Bicici is closely supervising the work, while he worries about the government efforts to tighten the grip on social media, he says he is focusing on expanding Dokuz8 operations, to provide Turkey with independent nationwide news
"Dokuz8 will be specialised and centralised more on local media in the future. And the main target is to be able in the next election in Turkey is to cover the whole election from every district in Turkey and we are close to this mission,
"Because I think the next election will be the most important in Turkish history. That’s why it's very important to coordinate the news flow from every district in Turkey. And Dokuz8 is I think the only platform to have such a capacity."
Dokuz8 and others are banking on social media platforms remaining free and open to enable their efforts to provide independent news as Turkey heads into one of its most critical times.
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