A passenger uses his smartphone as he waits for the train at a subway station in Istanbul, Turkey in June 2017. Turkey's parliament on February 21, 2018, approved an article of a bill that, if made into law, would give new censorship powers to state regulators. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)

In Turkey, draft bill would give new censorship powers to state regulator

February 22, 2018 2:55 PM ET

Istanbul, February 22, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Turkish authorities to scrap the article of a draft bill that would expand internet censorship in Turkey. The Parliamentary Planning and Budget Commission yesterday passed article 73 of the bill, which would require online broadcasters, including YouTube and Netflix Turkey, to be licensed and regulated by the federal TV and radio watchdog RTÜK, according to news reports.

According to experts cited in the news reports, article 73 would also extend RTÜK's regulation authority to personal social media accounts.

Parliament needs to approve the bill's remaining articles before it schedules a vote on the bill, according to the news website Haberturk. The bill has more than enough votes to pass and become law, according to the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah.

"We call on Turkish authorities to abandon this latest attempt to deprive citizens of their right to access independent, alternative news and commentary," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said from New York. "This government, which already has control over traditional media in Turkey, is now aiming to police the internet as well."

Transportation Minister Ahmet Arslan, who also oversees internet regulation, spoke about the bill on February 6 at an internet safety conference in Istanbul, and claimed that censorship does not exist in Turkey. According to the minister, whose remarks were republished on the news website Bianet, only broadcast material that goes "against national security [and the] moral order of the country" would be blocked if the bill becomes law.

Currently, RTÜK licensing and regulation is required only for conventional radio and television broadcasters in Turkey.

Turkish lawyer and digital rights activist Yaman Akdeniz told Bianet that if the new bill becomes law, it would give authorities broad scope to target any internet broadcasting content from critical news websites to entertainment platforms.

Article 73 would allow RTÜK to apply for a court order to block, remove, or otherwise censor content that authorities deem objectionable from a website in a 24-hour period. Websites can then contest the decision.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) introduced the draft bill to parliament in a package of unrelated laws on February 6, 2018.

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