Turkey extends censorship rules to streaming services. Critics say political dissent is the real target

For The Los Angeles Times


A brief kiss by two female characters in the animated series “Tales of Arcadia,” a moment that did not generate major criticism from viewers worldwide, became a scandal in Turkey.

Major news outlets like the pro-government Sabah called the July availability of the program on the Netflix streaming service an attempt by what it called a global LGBTQ lobby to promote homosexuality among Turkish children.

And by early August, Turkish authorities had announced that Netflix and other online content providers would be subject to the same censorship rules that exist for broadcast television. Nudity, alcohol consumption, smoking, drug use, gory violence and any other depiction of behavior found to be “against moral values” would not make it past censors, even if the content was viewed through subscription services.

“Regulating these outlets is the least the government can do as part of a larger struggle to save our children and our culture,” said Yildirim Gencer, who heads the Turkey Youth Union, which held protests calling for censorship of shows like “Tales of Arcadia.”

Though presented as a way of policing explicit content, the new rules, which will be enforced starting in September, have raised concerns for freedom-of-speech advocates. They worry the government of authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aims to control an online media landscape that provides space for political criticism no longer seen on traditional media.

Similar concerns have arisen in such places as China, Myanmar and India, where authorities have been known to shut down or disrupt internet service in times of instability rather than allow the flow of information that often includes criticism of the government.

In Turkey, the censorship authority known as the Radio and Television Supreme Council, or RTUK, decides what the people can see with an eye toward national values, which means different things to different people. The vast majority of the country’s 80 million people identify as Sunni Muslim, but follow a wide spectrum of daily practice.

The censorship is part of a larger effort by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to promote a particular notion of the ideal Sunni Muslim citizen, said Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University.

“Their language of morality is a specific understanding on what it means to be Turkish, and not all Turkish citizens are pious Muslims, or Sunnis, or even Muslims at all,” she said, “and for them, seeing alcohol, tobacco and nudity banned is ridiculous.”

In response, a booming online media industry has emerged in Turkey, where dramas and independent news are able to tackle subjects too risky for television.

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