Protesters demonstrated in Istanbul on Tuesday against a media bill that Turkey’s government says will fight “disinformation,” but which media rights groups argue will double down on a years-long crackdown on critical reporting.
The legislation is one of a series of steps during President Tayyip Erdogan’s two decades in power that have driven concerns among rights groups about a muzzling of the minority of media outlets where dissent and critical views are still aired.
His ruling AK Party and its nationalist allies, the MHP, last month sent the draft law to parliament, where they have a majority. The general assembly is expected to begin debate of the bill on Wednesday.
“The free press cannot be silenced,” chanted a group some 100 people who attended the protest in central Istanbul. They called the bill a “censorship law”.
Seven journalism associations separately called during a news conference on Tuesday for the draft law to be withdrawn.
“It is very clear that the government does not want to create a society with many voices. They are afraid of people’s contrarian thoughts,” said Tuncay Olcayto, head of the Journalists’ Association of Turkey (TGC).
A key concern among critics of the bill is an article saying those who spread false information about Turkey’s security and public order to create fear and disturb the public peace will face a prison sentence of one to three years.
Presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun told a media symposium this month that “only those who spread disinformation and attack personal rights will be uncomfortable with these regulations.”
“Truth is pushed into the background, obscured and overshadowed by fake news and information, fictional texts, montage videos and photographs produced behind a desk,” he said.
The bill would also subject digital media to the same regulations as traditional media and critics have said it could lead to them facing growing pressure ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2023, with polls showing dwindling support for Erdogan and his AK Party.
The bill backstops a law adopted two years ago that gave authorities closer oversight of social media companies and the ability to remove content from websites.
After a series of corporate acquisitions and dozens of closures, the vast majority of Turkey’s mainstream media is staunchly pro-government. [Reuters]