On 12th of March, we held a panel moderated by the Istanbul Branch President of Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) Banu Tuna with the participations of MLSA Co-Director Barış Altıntaş, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Turkey Representative Özgür Öğret and lawyer of the journalists’ Union of Turkey Ülku Şahin as speakers
Celebrating the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, March 12 has entered the international calendar with an initiative by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), observing the issue preparing reports since 2009. Regarding the latest changes and the developments on censorship in our country and in the world, what activists and journalists are doing and what they can do were discussed.
Starting by mentioning Turkey’s location in world censorship reports, the Turkish Journalists’ Union Istanbul Branch President (TGS) Banu Tuna has touched on the law issued after Ukraine’s occupation. In the panel, the following topics were discussed in turns: how difficult journalism has been in the concept of fighting false news, the new social media law which is expected to come into force soon, Turkey’s comparison to the other countries in regards to censorship regulations, the effects of the No. 5651 Law in Turkey, the right to be forgotten and the protection of personality rights and finally the measures journalists and activists can take against censorship.
Altıntaş: “Increasing awareness is the most important factor”
Starting her words by talking about how there are regulations on censorship or fake news in many countries around the world, MLSA Co-Director Barış Altıntaş brought attention to the similarity between Russia and Turkey in terms of these regulations. Mentioning that the law which entered into force on Russian news about the invasion of Ukraine made it impossible for independent journalists to do their jobs, Altıntaş said many of the journalists have fled to the neighboring countries. She continued, “There are as many journalists who stayed in the country along with the ones who left. But due to the new law, many institutions, journalists, had to leave. There is no way they can continue their jobs in Russia, as they are in serious prison danger. But regardless, many of them still want to continue journalism. This is a very important motivation for journalists.”
Altınbaş thinks the right to be forgotten is a right that people should have and said, “Of course, if you’re in a situation you don’t want, you may have the right to be forgotten, but it is not hard to predict how it would be used in a country like Turkey. By looking at the causes and content of the obstruction, it can be said that it is more about protecting perpetrators than victims, using it to protect a certain segment.”
Pointing out that journalists should develop awareness on censorship. Saying that people and especially journalists should consider going back to offline methods and areas, understand how these platforms work and how the news reach to the readers, Altıntaş added it is essential to organize such panels like this, read about censorship and related subjects and raise awareness this way. Addressing the censorship practices by social media companies as well as governments, she said that serious censorship practices have been experienced through algorithms. Therefore, it is an important factor for people, especially journalists to increase awareness.
Öğret: “We need to understand our relationship with the social media companies”
Turkey Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists Özgür Öğret said social media platforms are one of the last areas for journalists to hold on to continue their journalism practices. Sharing his opinions on the new social media law which is expected to come into force soon, Öğret said “As there are many disadvantages of the internet, there are also many advantages. The Internet is a very useful means of communication which theoretically democratizes, facilitates information distribution and helps to make people’s voices heard. Therefore social media platforms can be seen as a problem by governmental institutions because it is hard to control. This is why we expect the next social media regulations in Turkey will be to increase pressures and to more effectively silence the opposition voices that may arise.”
Stating that censorship is an unending struggle, Öğret noted that it is also not something to easily pass by. “We need to understand our relationship with social media companies, companies are built to profit. In this case, when any censorship requests come to the social media companies, they will prefer to take action according to how it would affect their profits and brand values. They’re watching everything users say or think about on social media, we need to raise awareness about this. Either if we are going towards freedom or restraints, users are the determining factor of it on social media platforms. There is a disadvantage to the voice of the shouter is heard, but I think if we increase awareness, we can use it in our favor.”
Şahin: “We cannot talk about a real solution without solidarity and organizing among journalists”
Stating that the pressure on journalists and press organizations was made in many and different directions, lawyer of TGS Ülkü Şahin stated that the pressure has increased, not only by means of access barriers but also by means of attacks of troll accounts, fake news or censorship regulations. Noting that the ambiguous regulations in such laws like the No. 5651 law are the most restricting method for journalists, Şahin said, “Internet is an evolving platform and law is evolving along with it. But regulations in Turkey have started to be applied against freedoms. For example, regulations are being made, and years later, it’s decided that these are not applicable. However, many journalists have been crushed under this pressure because of years of application, and the press organizations are being blockaded.”
Noting that the right to be forgotten is being used more by perpetrators rather than victims, Şahin said, “The right to be forgotten started by the fact that every individual has the right to start living again and erase their past. The constitutional court (AYM) and the supreme court have criterias for this, the AYM says it will evaluate each concrete event separately, and the supreme court is looking for a superior public benefit. But in Turkey, this unfortunately becomes a threat to journalists, rather than protecting the rights of individuals, and decisions are made as if they are not in the public interest.”
Pointing out the importance of following the processes to the end, to be persistent, to present the obligations of the state by pressing charges against censorship or threats from direct individuals, Şahin said that the offline environment is very important. Talking about the importance of organizing both in the street and on the internet, she ended her speech stating that there could not be a real solution without solidarity and organizing among journalists.