New media historically face suspicion and are liable to excessive regulation as they spark fears as to the potential detrimental effects they may have on society. Now, the Internet is receiving the same kind of treatment with various attempts to censor and control its content including in Turkey. However, as the European Court of Human Rights stated "... freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress," and censorship should be resisted at all costs by nation-states.
Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) Bill (No 4676 ) which regulates the establishment and broadcasting principles of private radio and television stations and amends the current Turkish Press Code passed through the Turkish Parliament on 14 May, 2002. This Bill was vetoed by the President of Turkey in June 2001 and includes provisions which would subject the Internet to restrictive press legislation in Turkey.
Although the Bill tries to apply only some aspects of the Press Code (such as to do with publishing "lies"), the unclear provisions are open to various interpretations. However, the rationale behind these provisions is the silencing of the criticism of the Members of the Turkish Parliament and to silence political speech and dissent.
However, as stated several times by the European Court of Human Rights, "freedom of the press affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of political leaders." Which is why in this context "the limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance".
Dark shadow over the
Towards an Information Society Congress
The Bill casts a dark shadow over the positive message that was given at the Towards an Information Society Congress in Ankara during last weekend (10-12 May, 2002). Attempting to regulate and censor content over the Internet will be seen as a major negative step in Turkey and certainly is unacceptable at a time in which Turkey is at the doorsteps of the European Union.
NO Public Support
In the absence of broad public support, negative regulation should have been the last thing to do in Turkey. This is an impetuous knee-jerk reaction which should have been avoided at all costs.
Transparency in the Policy Making Process
One need to also be critical of the policy process that led into the passage of this legislation in Turkey. The process was not open, transparent and therefore there was no accountability from the part of those ministers who supported the legislation. The members of the Turkish Parliament should also realise that the Internet is a global medium regardless of frontiers and unilateral legislation at the nation-state level will simply not work or be effective. There should have been a risk analysis and supranational developments at the European Union, and international developments within other forums should have been taken into account.
The Turkish government should co-operate to respect fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and privacy, and should encourage rather than limit the peoplesí usage of the Internet through excessive regulation at the national level. Responses to problems that are associated to the Internet need to be proportionate and effective. Otherwise, far from free and unregulated, the Internet may end up as the most regulated medium in history.
Turkey should also follow the Turkish National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis so far as the future membership to the European Union is concerned within which relaxation of speech related restrictions are included.
Written by Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, the director of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK), a pressure group (http:///www.cyber-rights.org) based in Leeds, UK.
Dr. Yaman Akdeniz,
Director, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)
Tel: +44 (0)7798 865116
An online copy of this statement is at http://www.cyber-rights.org/press/tr_rtuk.htm
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