Netflix could be censored under Turkey’s new internet broadcasting rules

A new regulation extending the powers of Turkish state television and radio watchdog to cover internet broadcasting could be used to censor online streaming platforms such as YouTube and Netflix, rights activists and experts say. 

According to the new regulation that entered into force on Thursday, all broadcasters that want to provide radio, television, and other types of broadcasting services on the internet, including on-demand services in Turkey, will have to first obtain a licence from the state agency for monitoring, regulating, and sanctioning radio and television broadcasts (RTÜK). 

The measures will likely affect social media and online broadcasters such as Netflix, Turkey’s BluTV and Puhutv, and YouTube and Facebook.

"I can describe the RTÜK regulations regarding television broadcasting over the internet that were released today in one sentence: The biggest step in Turkey's history of censorship,” said academic and rights activist Kerem Altıparmak on Twitter. 

Altıparmak said that if he were in charge of Netflix, he would pull the company out of the Turkish market.

With the new powers, RTÜK will be able to file a legal complaint to demand blocking access to broadcasters that do not have a licence or authorisation, or whose licence or authorisation have been cancelled. 

Former RTÜK board member İsmet Demirdöğen said the new regulation was against the law since RTÜK had no legal authority to provide licenses to companies to which it does not assign a broadcasting frequency. 

Demirdöğen said recent reports of pro-government media outlets accusing Netflix of encouraging homosexuality had paved the way for steps to extend censorship. The Islamist daily Yeni Akit in particular has targeted Netflix in recent months and accused it of promoting perversion. 

The regulation will also require a 100,000-lira ($17,850) licence from those using the live streaming app Periscope to make personal broadcasts, T24 journalist Candan Yıldız quoted RTÜK board member İlhan Taşcı as saying.

This could pile the pressure on independent media outlets like Medyascope, which make frequent use of Periscope in their reporting.

Academic and cyber-rights activist Yaman Akdeniz said on Twitter the new measures would also affect BBC Turkish and Deutsche Welle which have jointly established an online broadcasting platform on YouTube to provide news in Turkish. 

Akdeniz said the new regulation was in line with a report published by pro-government think tank SETA last month which analysed the coverage of foreign networks providing news in Turkish and investigated the social media accounts of Turkish journalists working for foreign media companies to determine their political views.

Under the leadership of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), RTÜK has taken a strict line with television stations, slapping channels with large fines for what it says is “offending societal values”. As a result, many Turkish television producers have opted to share their work online, but that too has now come under the watchdog’s mandate. 

Turkish authorities have in the past blocked access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, citing national security concerns. Wikipedia has been banned in Turkey for more than a year, due to what officials call a “coordinated smear campaign” against the country.