International News

Turkey blocks access to US, German public broadcasters

#Turkey #blocks #access #German #public #broadcasters

Turkey has blocked access to public broadcasters from Germany and the United States and threatened to stoke new diplomatic tensions during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A court in Ankara barred access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America on Thursday night after both failed to apply for local broadcasting licenses required under regulations introduced this year.

The two argued that a local license issued by Turkey’s media regulator RTUK would violate their independence and allow Ankara to censor their content.

Lawyers said Turkey’s decision underscores the erosion of freedom of expression ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, the toughest of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two-decade rule.

It also threatens to spark new tensions in Turkey’s relations with two of its key Western allies and trading partners.

The channels went dark hours after a NATO summit at which Erdogan received praise from US President Joe Biden for lifting his objections to Sweden and Finland joining the western defense alliance.

The US State Department criticized the new rules when they first went into effect in February, stressing that “free media are essential to a robust democracy”.

The new media regulation applies to foreign providers of Turkish audio and video content.

As of Friday, both news portals in Turkey were inaccessible without the use of VPN technology that hides users’ location.

Both shared instructions on using VPN to access their content on their social media accounts.

Deutsche Welle director general Peter Limbourg said his agency refuses to apply for a Turkish license because it would harm independent broadcasting.

“In our extensive correspondence, as well as in personal discussions with the head of the media observatory, we have explained why DW cannot apply for such a license,” Limbourg said in a statement.

“For example, in Turkey, licensed media are required to remove online content that RTUK deems inappropriate. This is unacceptable for an independent media organization,” he added.

“DW will take legal action against the access ban that has now been imposed.”

– ‘criminal cases’ –

Press freedom advocates and the opposition are increasingly concerned about the perceived erosion of media freedom in Turkey, where most news media is in the hands of pro-government businessmen or controlled by the state.

Reporters Without Borders’ Erol Onderoglu called the blocking of access a “problematic decision” to help Erdogan’s ruling party ahead of the election.

Ilhan Tasci, a member of Turkey’s media regulator who represents the main opposition party CHP, said the decision questions whether Turkey is still an “advanced democracy”.

Turkey, which has jailed scores of journalists since a failed coup in 2016, ranks 149th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index.

At a press conference on Thursday after the NATO summit, Erdogan was visibly annoyed at the suggestion that he would silence the press.

“In my country there are currently no journalists in prison for their opinions. There are only criminal proceedings,” said Erdogan.

Erdogan’s ruling AKP party is also set to pass another law that could jail people for three years for spreading “disinformation,” a bill that journalist organizations protested.

The government said it would debate the bill in October, abandoning an earlier attempt to get it through parliament.

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