Censorship in Turkey is regulated by domestic and international legislation, the latter (in theory) taking precedence over domestic law, according to Article 90 of the Constitution of Turkey (so amended in 2004).
Despite legal provisions, media freedom in Turkey has steadily deteriorated from 2010 onwards, with a precipitous decline following the attempted coup in July 2016. President Tayyip Erdoan has arrested hundreds of journalists, closed or taken over dozens of media outlets, and prevented journalists and their families from traveling. By some accounts, Turkey currently accounts for one-third of all journalists imprisoned around the world.
Since 2013, Freedom House ranks Turkey as "Not Free". Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey at the 149th place out of over 180 countries, between Mexico and DR Congo, with a score of 44.16. In the third quarter of 2015, the independent Turkish press agency Bianet recorded a strengthening of attacks on the opposition media during the AKP interim government. Bianet's final 2015 monitoring report confirmed this trend and underlined that once regained majority after the AKP interim government period, the Turkish government further intensified its pressure on the country's media.
According to Freedom House,
The government enacted new laws that expanded both the states power to block websites and the surveillance capability of the National Intelligence Organization (MT). Journalists faced unprecedented legal obstacles as the courts restricted reporting on corruption and national security issues. The authorities also continued to aggressively use the penal code, criminal defamation laws, and the antiterrorism law to crack down on journalists and media outlets. Verbal attacks on journalists by senior politiciansincluding Recep Tayyip Erdoan, the incumbent prime minister who was elected president in Augustwere often followed by harassment and even death threats against the targeted journalists on social media. Meanwhile, the government continued to use the financial and other leverage it holds over media owners to influence coverage of politically sensitive issues. Several dozen journalists, including prominent columnists, lost their jobs as a result of such pressure during the year, and those who remained had to operate in a climate of increasing self-censorship and media polarization.
In 2012 and 2013 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Turkey as the worst journalist jailer in the world (ahead of Iran and China), with 49 journalists sitting in jail in 2012 and 40 in 2013. Twitter's 2014 Transparency Report showed that Turkey filed over five times more content removal requests to Twitter than any other country in the second half of 2014, with requests rising another 150% in 2015.
During its 12-year rule, the ruling AKP party has gradually expanded its control over media. Today, numerous newspapers, TV channels and internet portals dubbed as Yanda Medya ("Partisan Media") or Havuz Medyas ("Pool Media") continue their heavy pro-government propaganda. Several media groups receive preferential treatment in exchange for AKP-friendly editorial policies. Some of these media organizations were acquired by AKP-friendly businesses through questionable funds and processes. Media not friendly to AKP, on the other hand, are threatened with intimidation, inspections and fines. These media group owners face similar threats to their other businesses. An increasing number of columnists have been fired for criticizing the AKP leadership.
Regional censorship predates the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. On 15 February 1857, the Ottoman Empire issued law governing printing houses ("Basmahane Nizamnamesi"); books first had to be shown to the governor, who forwarded them to commission for education ("Maarif Meclisi") and the police. If no objection was made, the Sultanate would then inspect them. Without censure from the Sultan books could not be legally issued. On 24 July 1908, at the beginning of the Second Constitutional Era, censorship was lifted; however, newspapers publishing stories that were deemed a danger to interior or exterior State security were closed. Between 1909 and 1913 four journalists were killedHasan Fehmi, Ahmet Samim, Zeki Bey, and Hasan Tahsin (Silah).
Following the Turkish War of Independence, the Sheikh Said rebellion was used as pretext for implementing martial law ("Takrir-i Skun Yasas") on March 4, 1925; newspapers, including Tevhid-i Efkar, Sebl Reat, Aydnlk, Resimli Ay, and Vatan, were closed and several journalists arrested and tried at the Independence Courts.
During World War II (19391945) many newspapers were ordered shut, including the dailies Cumhuriyet (5 times, for 5 months and 9 days), Tan (7 times, for 2 months and 13 days), and Vatan (9 times, for 7 months and 24 days).
When the Democratic Party under Adnan Menderes came to power in 1950, censorship entered a new phase. The Press Law changed, sentences and fines were increased. Several newspapers were ordered shut, including the dailies Ulus (unlimited ban), Hrriyet, Tercman, and Hergn (two weeks each). In April 1960, a so-called investigation commission ("Tahkikat Komisyonu") was established by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. It was given the power to confiscate publications, close papers and printing houses. Anyone not following the decisions of the commission were subject to imprisonment, between one and three years.
Freedom of speech was heavily restricted after the 1980 military coup headed by General Kenan Evren. During the 1980s and 1990s, broaching the topics of secularism, minority rights (in particular the Kurdish issue), and the role of the military in politics risked reprisal.
Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law (Law 3713), slightly amended in 1995 and later repealed, imposed three-year prison sentences for "separatist propaganda." Despite its name, the Anti-Terror Law punished many non-violent offences. Pacifists have been imprisoned under Article 8. For example, publisher Fatih Tas was prosecuted in 2002 under Article 8 at Istanbul State Security Court for translating and publishing writings by Noam Chomsky, summarizing the history of human rights violations in southeast Turkey; he was acquitted, however, in February 2002. Prominent female publisher Ayse Nur Zarakolu, who was described by The New York Times as "[o]ne of the most relentless challengers to Turkey's press laws", was imprisoned under Article 8 four times.
Since 2011, the AKP government has increased restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and internet use, and television content, as well as the right to free assembly. It has also developed links with media groups, and used administrative and legal measures (including, in one case, a $2.5 billion tax fine) against critical media groups and critical journalists: "over the last decade the AKP has built an informal, powerful, coalition of party-affiliated businessmen and media outlets whose livelihoods depend on the political order that Erdogan is constructing. Those who resist do so at their own risk." Since his time as prime minister through to his presidency Erdogan has sought to control the press, forbidding coverage, restricting internet use and stepping up repression on journalists and media outlets.
Foreign media noted that, particularly in the early days (31 May 2 June 2013) of the Gezi Park protests, the events attracted relatively little mainstream media coverage in Turkey, due to either government pressure on media groups' business interests or simply ideological sympathy by media outlets. The BBC noted that while some outlets are aligned with the AKP or are personally close to Erdoan, "most mainstream media outlets such as TV news channels HaberTurk and NTV, and the major centrist daily Milliyet are loath to irritate the government because their owners' business interests at times rely on government support. All of these have tended to steer clear of covering the demonstrations." Ulusal Kanal and Halk TV provided extensive live coverage from Gezi park.
Turkeys Journalists Union estimated that at least "72 journalists had been fired or forced to take leave or had resigned in the past six weeks since the start of the unrest" in late May 2013 due to pressure from the AKP government. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP) party, said 64 journalists have been imprisoned and We are now facing a new period where the media is controlled by the government and the police and where most media bosses take orders from political authorities. The government says most of the imprisoned journalists have been detained for serious crimes, like membership in an armed terrorist group, that are not related to journalism.
Bianet's periodical reports on freedom of the press in Turkey published in October 2015 recorded a strengthening of attacks on the opposition media during the AKP interim government in the third quarter of 2015. Bianet recorded the censorship of 101 websites, 40 Twitter accounts, 178 news; attacks against 21 journalists, three media organs, and one printing house; civil pursuits against 28 journalists; and the six-fold increase of arrests of media representatives, with 24 journalists and 9 distributors imprisoned. The increased criminalisation of the media follows the freezing of the Kurdish peace process and the failure of AKP to obtain an outright majority at the June 2015 election and to achieve the presidentialisation of the political system. Several journalists and editors are tried for being allegedly members of unlawful organisations, linked to either Kurds or the Glen movement, others for alleged insults to religion and to the President. In 2015 Cumhuriyet daily and Doan Holding were investigated for "terror", "espionage" and "insult". On the date of Bianet's publication, 61 people, of whom 37 journalists, were convict, defendant or suspect for having insulted or personally attacked the then-PM, now-President Recep Tayyip Erdoan. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey for violation of the freedom of expression in the Abdurrahman Dilipak case (Sledgehammer investigation), and the Turkish Constitutional Court upheld the violation of the freedom of expression of five persons, including a journalist. RTK could not yet choose its President; it still warned companies five times and fined them six times. The Supreme Electoral Council ordered 65 channels twice to stop broadcasting the results of the June 2015 election before the end of the publishing ban.
Attack to media freedom went far beyond the AKP interim government period. The January 2016 updated Bianet's report confirmed this alarming trend, underlining that the whole 2014 figure of arrested journalists increased in 2015, reaching the number of 31 journalists arrested (22 in 2014)  Once regained the majority on November 1, 2015 elections, the Turkish government intensified the pressure on the country's media, for example by banning some TV channels, in particular those linked to the Fethullah Glen movement, from digital platforms and by seizing control of their broadcasting. In November 2015, Can Dndar, Cumhuriyet's editor in chief and its Ankara representative Erdem Gl were arrested on charges of belonging to a terror organisation, espionage and for having allegedly disclosed confidential information. Investigation against the two journalists were launched after the newspaper documented the transfer of weapons from Turkey to Syria in trucks of the National Intelligence Organization previously involved in the MT trucks scandal. Dndar and Gl were released in February 2016 when the Supreme Court decided that their detention was undue. In July 2016, in the occasion of the launch of the campaign "I'm a journalist", Mehmet Koksal, project officer of the European Federation of Journalists declared that "Turkey has the largest number of journalists in jail out of all the countries in the Council of Europe.
The situation further deteriorated as consequence of the 2016 Turkish coup d'tat attempt of 15 July 2016 and the subsequent government reaction, leading to an increase of attacks targeting the media in Turkey. Mustafa Cambaz, a photojournalist working for the daily Yeni Safak was killed during the coup. Turkish soldiers attempting to overthrow the government took control of several newsrooms, including the Ankara-based headquarter of the state broadcaster TRT. They also forced a TV channel's anchor to read a statement at gunpoint while the member of the editorial board were held hostage and threatened. Also, soldiers seized the offices in Istanbul of Doan Media Center which hosted several media outles, including Hurriyet daily newspaper and the private TV station CNN Trk, holding journalists and other professionals hostage for many hours during the night. During the coup's night, in the streets of Istanbul, a photojournalist working for Hurriyet and the Associated Press was assaulted by civilians that were demonstrating against the coup. In the following days, after the government regained power, the state regulatory authority named Information Technologies and Communications Authority shut down 20 independent online news portals. On July 19, the Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council decided to revoke the licence of 24 TV channels and radio stations for being allegedly connected to the Glen community, without providing much details on this decision. Also, following the decision of declaring the state of emergency for three months taken on 21 July, a series of limitation to freedom of expression and freedom of the media have been imposed. The measures within the regime of emergency include the possibility to ban printing, copying, publishing and distributing newspapers, magazines, books and leaflets.
An editorial criticizing press censorship published May 22, 2015 and inclusion of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as one of a rising class of "soft" dictators in an op-ed published in May 2015 in The New York Times resulted in a strong reaction by Erdogan. In an interview Dndar gave in July 2016, before the coup attempt and the government reaction, the journalist stated that "Turkey is going through its darkest period, journalism-wise. In has never been an easy country for journalists, but I think today it has reached its lowest point and is experiencing unprecedented repression".
The Constitution of Turkey, at art. 28, states that the press is free and shall not be censored. Expressions of non-violent opinion are safeguarded by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ratified by Turkey in 1954, and various provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Turkey in 2000. Many Turkish citizens convicted under the laws mentioned below have applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and won their cases.
Yet, Constitutional and international guarantees are undermined by restrictive provisions in the Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, and anti-terrorism laws, effectively leaving prosecutors and judges with ample discretion to repress ordinary journalistic activities. The 2017 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights' report on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey reiterated that censorship problems stem mainly from the Turkish Criminal Code and the Turkish Anti- Terrorism Law No. 3713. Prosecutors continued to bring a number of cases for terrorism or membership of an armed organization mainly based on certain statements of the accused, as coinciding with the aims of such organization.
Beside the Article 301, amended in 2008, and Article 312, more than 300 provisions constrained freedom of expression, religion, and association, according to the Turkish Human Rights Association (2002). Article No. 299 of the Turkish Criminal Code provides for criminal defamation of the Head of the State. which is being increasingly enforced. 18 persons were in prison for this offence as of June 2016. Article No. 295 of the Criminal Code is increasingly being enforced as well, imposing a press silence (Yayn Yasa) on topics of relevant public interest such as terrorist attacks and bloody blasts. The silence can be imposed on TVs, print media, radios as well as to Internet content, hosting and service providers. Violating this norm can lead up to three years of detention.
Many of the repressive provisions found in the Press Law, the Political Parties Law, the Trade Union Law, the Law on Associations, and other legislation were imposed by the military junta after its coup in 1980. As to the Internet, the relevant Law is Law No. 5651 of 2007.
According to the Council of Europe Commissioner and to the Venice Commission for Democracy through Law, the decrees issued under the state of emergency since July 2016, conferred an almost limitless discretionay power to the Turkish executive to apply sweeping misure against NGOs, the media and the public sector. Specifically, many NGOs were closed, the media organizations seized or shut down and public sector employees as well as journalists and media workers arrested or intimidated.
Article 301 is a provision in the Turkish penal code that, since 2005 made it a punishable offense to insult Turkishness or various official Turkish institutions. Charges were brought in more than 60 cases, some of which were high-profile.
The article was amended in 2008, including changing "Turkishness" into "the Turkish nation", reducing maximum prison terms to 2 years, and making it obligatory to get the approval of the Minister of Justice before filing a case. Changes were deemed "largely cosmetic" by Freedom House, although the number of prosecutions dropped. Although only few persons were convicted, trials under Art. 301 are seen by human rights watchdogs as a punitive measure in themselves, as time-consuming and expensive, thus exerting a chilling effect on free speech.
Article 312 of the criminal code imposes three-year prison sentences for incitement to commit an offence and incitement to religious or racial hatred. In 1999 the mayor of Istanbul and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment under Article 312 for reading a few lines from a poem that had been authorized by the Ministry of Education for use in schools, and consequently had to resign. In 2000 the chairman of the Human Rights Association, Akin Birdal, was imprisoned under Article 312 for a speech in which he called for "peace and understanding" between Kurds and Turks, and thereafter forced to resign, as the Law on Associations forbids persons who breach this and several other laws from serving as association officials. On February 6, 2002, a "mini-democracy package" was voted by Parliament, altering wording of Art. 312. Under the revised text, incitement can only be punished if it presents "a possible threat to public order." The package also reduced the prison sentences for Article 159 of the criminal code from a maximum of six years to three years. None of the other laws had been amended or repealed as of 2002.
Defamation and libel remain criminal charges in Turkey (Article 125 of the Penal Code). They often result in fines and jail terms. Bianet counted 10 journalists convicted of defamation, blasphemy or incitement to hatred in 2014.
Article 216 of the Penal Code, banning incitement of hatred and violence on grounds of ethnicity, class or religion (with penalties of up to 3 years), is also used against journalists and media workers.
Article 314 of the Penal Code is often invoked against journalists, particularly Kurds and leftists, due to its broad definition of terrorism and of membership in an armed organisation. It carries a minimum sentence of 7,5 years. According to the OSCE, most of 22 jailed journalsts as of June 2014 had been charged or condemned based on Art. 314.
Article 81 of the Political Parties Law (imposed by the military junta in 1982) forbids parties from using any language other than Turkish in their written material or at any formal or public meetings. This law is strictly enforced.[bettersourceneeded] Kurdish deputy Leyla Zana was jailed in 1994, ostensibly for membership to the PKK.
In 1991, laws outlawing communist (Articles 141 and 142 of the criminal code) and Islamic fundamentalist ideas (Article 163 of the criminal code) were repealed. This package of legal changes substantially freed up expression of leftist thought, but simultaneously created a new offence of "separatist propaganda" under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law. Prosecutors also began to use Article 312 of the criminal code (on religious or racial hatred) in place of Article 163.
The 1991 antiterrorism law (the Law on the Fight against Terrorism) has been invoked to charge and imprison journalists for activities that Human Rights Watch define as nonviolent political association and speech. The European Court of Human Rights has in multiple occasions found the law to amount to censorship and breach of freedom of expression.
Constitutional amendments adopted in October 2001 removed mention of "language forbidden by law" from legal provisions concerning free expression. Thereafter, university students began a campaign for optional courses in Kurdish to be put on the university curriculum, triggering more than 1,000 detentions throughout Turkey during December and January 2002. Actions have also been taken against the Laz minority. According to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey only recognizes the language rights of the Jewish, Greek and Armenian minorities. The government ignores Article 39(4) of the Treaty of Lausanne, which states that: "[n]o restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Turkish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, religion, in the press or in publications of any kind or at public meetings."[bettersourceneeded] Pressured by the EU, Turkey has promised to review the Broadcasting Law.
Other legal changes in August 2002 allowed for the teaching of languages, including Kurdish. However, limitations on Kurdish broadcasting continue to be strong: according to the EU Commission (2006), "time restrictions apply, with the exception of films and music programmes.[bettersourceneeded] All broadcasts, except songs, must be subtitled or translated in Turkish, which makes live broadcasts technically cumbersome. Educational programmes teaching the Kurdish language are not allowed. The Turkish Public Television (TRT) has continued broadcasting in five languages including Kurdish. However, the duration and scope of TRT's national broadcasts in five languages is very limited. No private broadcaster at national level has applied for broadcasting in languages other than Turkish since the enactment of the 2004 legislation."[bettersourceneeded] TRT broadcasts in Kurdish (as well as in Arab and Circassian dialect) are symbolic,[bettersourceneeded] compared to satellite broadcasts by channels such as controversial Roj TV, based in Denmark.
In 2003 Turkey adopted a freedom of information law. Yet, state secrets that may harm national security, economic interests, state investigations, or intelligence activity, or that violate the private life of the individual, are exempt from requests. This has made accessing official information particularly difficult.
Amendments in 2013 (the Fourth Judicial Reform package), spurred by the EU accession process and a renewed Kurdish peace process, amended several laws. Antiterrorism regulations were tweaked so that publication of statements of illegal groups would only be a crime if the statement included coercion, violence, or genuine threats. Yet, the reform was deemed as not reaching international human rights standards, since it did not touch upon problematic norms such as the Articles 125, 301 and 314 of the Penal Code. In 2014 a Fifth Judicial Reform package was passed, which among others reduced the maximum period pretrial detention from 10 to 5 years. Consequently, several journalists were released from jail, pending trial.
New laws in 2014 were nevertheless detrimental to freedom of speech.
Turkey is one of the Council of Europe member states with the greatest number of ECHR-recognised violations of rights included in the European Convention on Human Rights. Of these, several concern Article 10 of the Convention, on freedom of expression.
The physical safety of journalists in Turkey is at risk.
Several journalists died in the 1990s at the height of the Turkey-PKK conflict. Soon after the pro-Kurdish press had started to publish the first daily newspaper by the name of "zgr Gndem" (Free Agenda) killings of Kurdish journalists started. Hardly any of them has been clarified or resulted in sanctions for the assailants. "Murder by unknown assailants" (tr: faili mehul) is the term used in Turkish to indicate that the perpetrators were not identified because of them being protected by the State and cases of disappearance. The list of names of distributors of zgr Gndem and its successors that were killed (while the perpetrators mostly remained unknown) includes 18 names. Among the 33 journalists that were killed between 1990 and 1995 most were working for the so-called Kurdish Free Press.
The killings of journalists in Turkey since 1995 are more or less individual cases. Most prominent among the victims is Hrant Dink, killed in 2007, but the death of Metin Gktepe also raised great concern, since police officers beat him to death. The death of Metin Alata in 2010 is also a source of disagreement - while the autopsy claimed it was suicide, his family and colleagues demanded an investigation. He had formerly received death threats and had been violently assaulted. Since 2014, several Syrian journalists who were working from Turkey and reporting on the rise of Daesh have been assassinated.
In 2014, journalists suffered obstruction, tear gas injuries, and physical assault by the police in several instances: while covering the February protests against internet censorship, the May Day demonstrations, as well as the Gezi Park protests anniversaries (when CNN correspondent Ivan Watson was shortly detained and roughed up). Turkish security forces fired tear gas at journalists reporting from the border close to the Syrian town of Kobane in October.
Despite the 2004 Press Law foresees only fines, other restrictive laws have led to several journalists and writers being put behind bars. According to a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least seven journalists remained in prison by the end of 2014. The independent Turkish press agency Bianet counted 22 journalists and 10 publishers in jail - most of them Kurds, charged with association with an illegal organisation.
In 2016, Turkey became the biggest jail for journalists. As to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) rank, Turkey was the first country ever to jail 81 journalists, editors and media practitioners in one year.
According to a CPJ report, Turkish authorities are engaging in widespread criminal prosecution and jailing of journalists, and are applying other forms of severe pressure to promote self-censorship in the press. The CPJ has found highly repressive laws, particularly in the penal code and anti-terror law; a criminal procedure code that greatly favors the state; and a harsh anti-press tone set at the highest levels of government. Turkeys press freedom situation has reached a crisis point. This reports mentions 3 types of journalists targeted:
Kemalist and / or nationalist journalists were arrested on charges referring to the Ergenekon case and several left-wing and Kurdish journalists were arrested on charges of engaging in propaganda for the PKK listed as a terrorist organization. In short, writing an article or making a speech can still lead to a court case and a long prison sentence for membership or leadership of a terrorist organisation. Together with possible pressure on the press by state officials and possible firing of critical journalists, this situation can lead to a widespread self-censorship.
In November 2013, three journalists were sentenced to life in prison as senior members of the illegal MarxistLeninist Communist Party - among them the founder of zgr Radio, Fsun Erdoan. They had been arrested in 2006 and held until 2014, when they were released following legal reforms on pre-trial detention terms. An appeal is still pending.
In February 2017, German-Turkish journalist Deniz Ycel was jailed in Istanbul.
On April 10, 2017, the Italian journalist Gabriele Del Grande was arrested in Hatay and jailed in Mugla. He was in Turkey in order to write a book on the war in Syria. He went on hunger strike on April 18, 2017.
Defamation and libel remain criminal charges in Turkey. They often result in fines and jail terms. Bianet counted 10 journalists convicted of defamation, blasphemy or incitement to hatred in 2014.
Courts' activities on media-related cases, particularly those concerning the corruption scandals surrounding Erdoan and his close circle, have cast doubts on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in Turkey. The Turkish Journalists' Association and the Turkish Journalists' Union counted 60 new journalists under prosecution for this single issue in 2013, for a total number of over 100 lawsuits.
Particularly since 2013, the President Erdoan and other governmental officials have resorted to hostile public rhetoric against independent journalists and media outlets, which is then echoed in the pro-governmental press and TV, accusing foreign media and interest groups of conspiring to bring down his government.
Tukish authorities have been reported as denying access to events and information to journalists for political reasons.
Since 2011, the AKP government has increased restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and internet use, and television content, as well as the right to free assembly. It has also developed links with media groups, and used administrative and legal measures (including, in one case, a billion tax fine) against critical media groups and critical journalists: "over the last decade the AKP has built an informal, powerful, coalition of party-affiliated businessmen and media outlets whose livelihoods depend on the political order that Erdogan is constructing. Those who resist do so at their own risk."
These behaviours became particularly prominent in 2013 in the context of the Turkish media coverage of the 2013 protests in Turkey. The BBC noted that while some outlets are aligned with the AKP or are personally close to Erdogan, "most mainstream media outlets - such as TV news channels HaberTurk and NTV, and the major centrist daily Milliyet - are loth to irritate the government because their owners' business interests at times rely on government support. All of these have tended to steer clear of covering the demonstrations." Few channels provided live coverage one that did was Halk TV. Several private media outlets were reported as engaging in self-censorship due to political pressures. The 2014 local and presidential elections exposed the extent of biased coverage by progovernment media.
The state-run Anadolu Agency and the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) have also been criticized by media outlets and opposition parties, for acting more and more like a mouthpiece for the ruling AKP, a stance in stark violation of their requirement as public institutions to report and serve the public in an objective way.
In 2014 the TRT, the state broadcaster, as well as the state-owned Anadolu Agency, were subject to stricter controls. Even RTK warned TRT for disproportionate coverage of the AKP; the Supreme Board of Elections fined the public broadcaster for not reporting at all on presidential candidates other than Erdoan, between August 6 and 8. The Council of Europe observers reported concern about the unfair media advantage for the incumbent ruling party.
During its 12-year rule, the ruling AKP has gradually expanded its control over media. Today, numerous newspapers, TV channels and internet portals also dubbed as Yanda Medya ("Partisan Media") or Havuz Medyas ("Pool Media") continue their heavy pro-government propaganda. Several media groups receive preferential treatment in exchange for AKP-friendly editorial policies. Some of these media organizations were acquired by AKP-friendly businesses through questionable funds and processes.
Leaked telephone calls between high ranking AKP officials and businessmen indicate that government officials collected money from businessmen in order to create a "pool media" that will support AKP government at any cost. Arbitrary tax penalties are assessed to force newspapers into bankruptcyafter which they emerge, owned by friends of the president. According to a recent investigation by Bloomberg, Erdogan forced a sale of the once independent daily Sabah to a consortium of businessmen led by his son-in-law.
Leading pro-AKP newspapers are Yeni afak, Akit, Sabah, Star, Takvim, Akam, Trkiye, Milli Gazete, Gne, and Milat, among others. Leading pro-AKP TV channels are Kanal 7, 24, lke TV, TRT, ATV, TGRT, Sky Turk 360, TV Net, NTV, TV8, Beyaz TV, Kanaltrk, and Kanal A. Leading pro-government internet portals are Haber 7, Habervaktim and En Son Haber. Leading pro-AKP news agencies are state owned Anadolu Agency and hlas News Agency.
Major media outlets in Turkey belong to certain group of influential businessman or holdings. In nearly all cases, these holding companies earn only a small fraction of their revenue from their media outlets, with the bulk of profits coming from other interests, such as construction, mining, finance, or energy. Therefore, media groups usually practice self-censorship to protect their wider business interests.
Media not friendly to the AKP are threatened with intimidation, inspections and fines. These media group owners face similar threats to their other businesses. An increasing number of columnists have been fired for criticizing the AKP leadership.
In addition to the censorship practiced by pro-government media such as Sabah, Yeni afak, and Star, the majority of other newspapers, such as Szc, Zaman, Milliyet, and Radikal have been reported as practicing self-censorship to protect their business interests and using the market share (65% of the total newspapers sold daily in Turkey as opposed to pro-government media) to avoid retaliatory action by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Recep Tayyip Erdoan.
During the period before the Turkish local elections of 2014, a number of phone calls between prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan and media executives were leaked to the internet. Most of the recordings were between Edoan and Habertrk newspaper & TV channel executive Fatih Sara. In those recordings, it can be heard that Erdoan was calling Fatih Sara when he was unhappy about a news item published in the newspaper or broadcast on TV. He was demanding Fatih Sara to be careful next time or censor any particular topics he is not happy about. At another leaked call, Erdoan gets very upset and angry over a news published at Milliyet newspaper and reacts harshly to Erdoan Demirren, owner of the newspaper. Later, it can be heard that Demirren is reduced to tears. During a call between Erdoan and editor-in-chief of Star daily Mustafa Karaaliolu, Erdoan lashes out at Karaaliolu for allowing Mehmet Altan to continue writing such critical opinions about a speech the prime minister had delivered recently. In the second conversation, Erdoan is heard grilling Karaaliolu over his insistence on keeping Hidayet efkatli Tuksal, a female columnist in the paper despite her critical expressions about him. Later, both Altan and Tuksal got fired from Star newspaper. Erdoan acknowledged that he called media executives.
In 2014, direct pressures from the executive and the Presidency have led to the dismissal of media workers for their critical articles. Bianet records over 339 journalists and media workers being laid off or forced to quit in the year - several of them due to political pressures.
Trksat is the sole communications satellite operator in Turkey. There have been allegations that TV channels critical of the AKP party and President Erdoan have been removed from Trksat's infrastructure, and that Trksat's executive board is dominated by pro-Erdoan figures.
In October 2015 a video recording emerged of a 2 February 2015 conversation between Mustafa Varank, advisor to President Erdoan and board member of Trksat, and some journalists in which Varank states that he had urged Trksat to drop certain TV channels because "they are airing reports that harm the government's prestige". Later that year the TV channels Irmak TV, Bugn TV, and Kanaltrk, known for their critical stance against the government, were notified by Trksat that their contracts would not be renewed as of November 2015, and were told to remove their platforms from Trksat's infrastructure.
Trksat dropped TV channels critical of the government from its platform in November 2015. The broadcasting of TV stationsincluding Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV, S Haber and Radio Cihanthat are critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government were halted by Trksat because of a legal obligation to the order of a prosecutor's office, based on the suspicion that the channels support a terrorist organization. Among the TV and radio stations removed were Samanyolu Europe, Ebru TV, Mehtap TV, Samanyolu Haber, Irmak TV, Yumurcak TV, Dnya TV, MC TV, Samanyolu Africa, Tuna Shopping TV, Bur FM, Samanyolu Haber Radio, Mehtap Radio and Radio Cihan.
The critical Bugn and Kanaltrk TV channels, which were seized by a government-initiated move in October 2015, were also dropped from Trksat in November 2015. Later on 1 March 2016 these two seized channels closed due to financial reasons by government trustees.
In March 2016 the two TV channels from other wings of the politics were also removed from Trksat, namely, Turkish Nationalist Benguturk and Kurdish Nationalist IMC TV.
On September 25, 2017, Turkey decided to remove broadcaster Rudaw Media Network (Rudaw), which is affiliated to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, from its satellite broadcasting on the same day voting took place on an independence referendum in the KRG.
Censorship of sensitive topics in Turkey happens both online and offline. Kurdish issues, the Armenian genocide, as well as subjects controversial for Islam or the Turkish state are often censored. Enforcement remains arbitrary and unpredictable. Also, defamation of the Head of the State is a crime provision increasingly used for censoring critical voices in Turkey.
In the 2016 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Turkey is ranked in the 151st place out of 178 countries. The situation for free expression has always been troubled in Turkey. The situation dramatically deteriorated after the 2013 Gezi protests, reaching its peak after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. From that moment on, a state of emergency is in force, tens of thousand of journalists, academics, public officials and intellectuals have been arrested or charged, mainly with terrorist charges, sometimes following some statement or writing of them.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights' report on freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey, after his 2016 visits to Turkey, noted that the violations to freedom of expression in Turkey have created a distinct chilling effect, manifesting in self- censorship both among the remaining media and among ordinary citizens. In addition, the Commissioner wrote that the main obstacle to an improvement of the situation of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey is the lack of political will both to acknowledge and to address such problems.
In 2017, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights noted that with regard to judicial harassment restricting freedom of expression the main issues consist in:
As to January 18, 2017, more than 150 media outlets were closed and their assets liquidated by governmental decrees. Under emergency decree No. 687 of February 9, 2017, Turkeys Saving Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) will be authorized to sell companies seized by the state through the appointment of trustees. Also, through the use of emergency decrees- such as Nos. 668 (July 27, 2016), 675 (October 29, 2016) and 677 (November 22, 2016), 178 media organizations were closed down being charged of having terrorist affiliations. As to November 2016, Twenty-four of these shut-down media organizations were radio stations, twenty- eight televisions, eighty newspapers.
In 2014, Turkish regulators issued several reporting bans on public interest issues.
In 2012, as part of the Third Reform Package, all previous bans on publications were cancelled unless renewed by court - which happened for most leftist and Kurdish publications.
Academics are also affected by governments censorship. In this regard, the case of the Academics for Peace is particularly relevant: on January 14, 2016, 27 academics were detained for interrogations after having signed a petition with more than other 1.000 people asking for Peace in the South- East of the country, where there are ongoing violent clashes between the Turkish Army and the PKK. The academics accused the government of breaching international law. An investigation started upon those academics under charges of terrorism propaganda, incitement to hatred and enmity and for insulting the State under Article No. 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code.
In television broadcasts, scenes displaying nudity, consumption of alcohol, smoking, drug usage and violence are commonly censored by blurring out respective areas. TV channels also practice self-censorship of subtitles in order to avoid heavy fines from the Radio and Television Supreme Council (Radyo ve Televizyon st Kurulu,RTK). For example, CNBC-e channel usually translates the word gay as marginal.
State agency RTK continues to impose a large number of closure orders on TV and radio stations on the grounds that they have made separatist broadcasts.
Turkey's Internet censorship regime shifted from "moderate" to "severe" in late 2016 following a series of social media shutdowns, regional Internet blackouts and restrictions on VPN and Tor circumvention tools documented by independent digital rights watchdog Turkey Blocks. Months earlier, human rights research group Freedom House had already downgraded its outlook of internet freedom in the country to "Not Free," noting in its report that the assessment was made before further restrictions following the abortive military coup in July.
With regard to Internet censorship, in the 2017 Report on media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe found out:
In earlier years, the Turkish government implemented legal and institutional reforms driven by the countrys ambitions to become a European Union member state. At the same time Turkey demonstrated its high sensitivity to defamation and other "inappropriate" online content, resulting in the closure of a number of local and international Web sites. All Internet traffic passes through Turk Telecoms infrastructure, allowing centralized control over online content and facilitating the implementation of shutdown decisions.
In December 2010 the OpenNet Initiative, a non-partisan organization based in Canada and the United States that investigates, analyzes, and exposes Internet filtering and surveillance practices, classified Internet censorship in Turkey as selective (third lowest of four classifications) in the political, social, and Internet tools areas and found no evidence of censorship in the conflict/security area. However, also in 2010, Reporters Without Borders added Turkey to its list of 16 countries "under surveillance" (the less serious of two Internet censorship lists that it maintains), saying:
The year 2010 was marked by the widely covered deblocking of the video-sharing website YouTube which, unfortunately, did not equate to a lifting of online censorship in Turkey. In a country where taboo topics abound, several thousand websites are still inaccessible and legal proceedings against online journalists persist.
In July 2010 the Alternative Informatics Association organized one of the first and largest street protests against Internet censorship in Istanbul. A second protest took place in May 2011 with demonstrations in 30 cities in Turkey.
In its Freedom on the Net 2016 report, Freedom House gave Turkey a "freedom on the net status" of "not free" saying that:
The Freedom on the Net 2015 report, tracked that over 60,000 websites remain blocked in Turkey, and that TIB blocked 22,645 websites without prior court order only in 2014. Twitter was blocked for two weeks and YouTube for two months in 2014. On March 21, 2014, Twitter access for Turkish users was blocked for two weeks in the run-up to local elections to prevent a stream of leaked wiretapped recordings of senior officials that had appeared on the site, prompting Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to declare he would "root out" the network.
In the 11th biannual transparency report published on September 19, 2017, Twitter said that Turkey was the first among countries where about 90 percent of removal requests came from. Also, Turkey has submitted the highest volume of removal requests to Twitter on 2014, 2015 and 2016.
During the 201617 purges, the secure instant messaging app ByLock was accused by the Turkish government of being used primarily by members of the Glen movement, which it classifies as a terrorist organization, during the failed coup. The government launched investigations of over 23,000 citizens for connections to Glen, based solely on evidence that they had downloaded or used ByLock. Some of these investigations resulted in arrests and detainment. However, in December 2017, the government announced that it would investigate 11,480 phone numbers had been falsely accused of ties to ByLock and Glen, after finding that the accusations were induced by unrelated apps embedding a web beacon pointing to the ByLock website from within. An arrest warrant was also issued against the developer of one of these apps.
Internet Law No. 5651 was enacted in 2007 Turkey with the declared objective of protecting families and minors. The way for its enactment was paved after the ban imposed on Youtube.com in 2007, because of a video insulting the Turkish Republics funder Kemal Atatrk. Since then, such law was enforced in a restrictive manner, often causing episodes of censorship against common citizens, journalists and media outlets. For this reason, experts consider Law No. 5651 particularly controversial.
On 5 February 2014 the Turkish Parliament adopted a controversial bill amending the Internet regulation in Turkey. It allows the telecommunications authority (TIB) to block any website within 4 hours without first seeking a court ruling, and requires Internet providers to store all data on web users' activities for two years and make it available to the authorities upon request. After the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, TIBS power were transferred to the Technology and Communications Authority (Bilgi Teknolojileri ve Iletisim Kurumu BTK), which previously oversaw the TIBs operations.
Internet Law No. 5651 prohibits:
Web sites are also blocked for the following reasons:
Since the 2015 amendments, national security is also a basis for broad access bans.
Decisions to block a website can be appealed, but usually only after a site has been blocked. Nevertheless, due to the public profile of the major websites banned and the lack of juridical, technical, or ethical arguments to justify the censorship, the blocked sites are often available using proxies or by changing DNS servers.
On September 2017, Turkeys Supreme Court has ruled that having ByLock, mobile messaging application, installed on phone is enough evidence to convict a suspect as a member of FET.
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