Thou shalt not watch what you want on TV
Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has taken a strong stance against efforts of censors when a major Middle Eastern satellite network decided to stop airing Turkish soap operas.
“A couple of politicians cannot just sit at a desk and decide who will watch which film,” Kurtulmuş said. “Those days are over.”
Kurtulmuş’s remarks are a rightful criticism against the Dubai-based MBC Group, and I would have applauded him, if he weren’t a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The party rules a country where not the politicians, but a handful of bureaucrats appointed by the political parties in parliament decide what we should watch and what we can never see on television.
Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has the absolute authority over television broadcast in the country, fining television channels or banning programs for scenes it sees unfit.
The nine-member RTÜK is constitutionally an independent regulator, however, its members are elected in parliament among candidates nominated by the parties represented in parliament according to a quota system based on the number of seats they hold.
Currently, five members of the all-male board come from the AKP, two from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and two from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has no members on the board despite having more seats in parliament than the MHP.
This board practically decides what can and cannot be broadcast in Turkey. TV series are often fined by the board on the grounds that they present materials “damaging the physical, mental and moral development of children and the youth” or “damaging the traditional Turkish family structure.”
That material is sometimes a glass of liquor that was not censored, sometimes a kissing scene (on the lips, of course!) and sometimes nudity.
The supreme board even banned some music videos from being broadcast, leading to an outcry from popular Turkish pop singer Hadise, whose one video was among the banned.
And as if the gauntlet over the television channels was not enough, if a new government-led omnibus bill passes in parliament, RTÜK will be authorized to regulate and monitor every kind of sound and visual broadcast shared online on a regular basis.
That means it will have the authority on broadcasts on YouTube or other online channels and subscription-based streaming services, including the Turkey-based BluTV and global giant Netflix.
The online streaming services provided the movie and TV series sector in Turkey a sigh of relief, supporting many new productions.
BluTv has already broadcast five special TV series, with more others planned, as Netflix started the shooting of its first local series.
If the bill is approved, RTÜK will be able to fine these platforms, too, for content it deems “inappropriate” and even apply to a court to ban access to those websites.
In a country where the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia has been banned for almost a year for some articles among the billions it has, it will be no surprise seeing a blanket ban on Netflix for a 10-second scene in one of the thousands of movies it offers.
One might say it would be absurd to fine a platform where people subscribe for a monthly fee to see the content, but RTÜK is no stranger to absurdity, having in the past fined satellite television provider Digiturk (now Bein) for scenes in the movies it broadcast, forcing the platform to censor movies.
Mr. Kurtulmuş, unfortunately “those days” are not over in Turkey, where we watch what some people sitting at a desk say we can. If you won’t take my word for it, just pick up the phone and call the RTÜK chairman.