A new scale of censorship
Two weeks ago, the Turkish government proposed a bill to allow the Turkish media authority the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) to regulate all content posted online to prevent broadcasts that “jeopardize national security” and “destroy moral values.”
Meaning: The scale of censorship will broaden to include online platforms such as YouTube and Netflix in the very near future. The RTÜK already monitors Turkish media. Couples making love or kissing are considered obscene and “against moral values” so even Oscar-winning movies are “simplified” and scenes cut. All kinds of alcohol and smoking scenes are blurred. (I remember watching a documentary about Einstein a couple of years ago and even his pipe was blurred. Yes, his pipe.)
Interestingly, love scenes or kissing are considered obscene but guns and violence are considered safe. Or so the RTÜK must think, since nobody worries about featuring guns or violent scenes in productions but kissing causes us to stop and shake our heads. Lately, a couple kissed in a series called “Çukur,” which airs on Show TV, and the RTÜK punished this kiss with a 260,000 Turkish Lira fine (equivalent to $70,000).
Another senseless ban is on brands. If a Turkish television star happens to say “I’m wearing Versace today” in a ceremony broadcasted live on television, the broadcaster would receive a hefty fine. Travel and gourmet shows were most affected by the ban. How to talk about a famous Istanbul restaurant without mentioning its name? Shows about food, travel and culture began to resemble a student workbook, an extension of “fill the blanks.” All brands are blurred onscreen.
Many people after good content have turned online. This is why platforms such as Netflix, Turkish BluTV or Puhu represent a breath of fresh air not only for producers, but also for viewers. Then there is the rise of YouTube. Heretofore these outlets were the ultimate places of freedom for Turkish people but now they face censorship as conventional television.
That is just one part of the problem. The scale of the censorship is far worse when it comes to politics. Any news about a political trial or coverage of a journalist such as Deniz Yücel, who was imprisoned for more than a year without being charged, could easily be considered as “terrorist propaganda” by government authorities, so the mass media has begun to exercise serious caution in covering the trials of journalists and politicians. A journalist may write the truth, but in our kind of democracy, nobody can promise what happens afterwards.
Maybe you face jail time or are accused of being a traitor. Maybe a spy. Or a terrorist? Who knows?
This depends on how the politicians feel on a given day. Therefore, free media (or relatively free, since almost everyone who works for the media has their own built-in censorship mechanism) only exists online. Dissident journalists who were expelled from conventional media outlets can only raise their voices through online platforms. The RTÜK’s domination over online platforms means not only dulling down Netflix or our favorite YouTube channels but also silencing dissident voices.
The day the bill proposal was discussed, Turkey’s Transport, Maritime and Communication Minister said: “Is there censorship in Turkey? Any show can be aired!” His comments remind me of a statement from Hannah Arendt: “No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other.”
This is simply a matter of “rewriting contemporary history under the eyes of those who witnessed it.”