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Broken records: Turkey's state broadcaster bans 'immoral' pop songs

TRT blacklists hundreds of songs for reasons including 'promoting terrorism' and 'immoral content' - the first ban since the 1980s
Demet Akalin, in the video for the song 'Damn You Love', on the TRT blacklist (screengrab)

Turkey's state broadcaster has banned 208 Turkish and Kurdish pop songs for reasons that include "promoting terrorism" and "immoral" content, an opposition MP has revealed.

Atilla Sertel, an MP from the CHP party, asked a parliamentary sub commission monitoring public economic ventures, to explains details of a statement provided to the state audit court by Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) listing 208 songs banned from its airwaves since 2016.

It marks the first time such a widespread ban has been implemented by TRT since the military junta's rule following Turkey's 1980 coup.

"Damn You Love", one of the songs on the banned list

The forbidden list contains 66 Kurdish and 142 Turkish songs, and includes some of Turkey's more renowned pop artists, including the Sila, Demet Akalin and Nukhet Duru. Songs banned include "One Night Only", "Burn With Me" and "I Am Drunk".   

The songs were banned under broadcasting regulation clauses that encompass a wide scope, from promoting terrorism, to harming moral and family values, to promoting and aiding criminal acts.

Shortly after Sertel's revelation, the Twitter account run by TRT's music channel posted a statement denying any sort of ban was in place, other than ones for violating regulations imposed by broadcasting watchdog RTUK, where scenes of people smoking and consuming alcoholic beverages are prohibited.

TRANSLATION: Public announcement. Apart from issues indicated by RTUK (alcohol, tobacco ban etc), there is no question of a ban on any artist by TRT Music Channel. The artists being mentioned continue to appear on our playlists and as live guests on air.

Bekir Bozdag, Turkish deputy prime minister, on Thursday said the issue was being exaggerated.

"It is a legal requirement to take measures against some things like cigarettes etc. The same has been done last year and the year before that," he said.

"Other channels need to do this as well. It is immoral to present this to the public as if it is being done for the first time and as if it is censorship. TRT is doing its job."

RTUK laws require that any scenes showing people smoking or drinking alcohol be blurred or obstructed in some other manner.

Few, if any, of the videos of the songs on the list depict smoking or drinking.

Demet Akalin, one of the artists on the list was unaware she was banned and went on to post the banned song on Twitter after asking for an explanation.

TRANSLATION: Allah, allah. Why and how was I banned?

Akalin's banned song is called Ah ulan sevda, ("Damn You Love" in English), and has scenes containing belly dancing and clothed women in a Turkish bath.

The TRT ban does not affect access to those videos and songs on other platforms.  

Critics have said such bans are indicative of the ruling AKP government's efforts to impose its own views on the public.

They say TRT as a public broadcaster cannot only reflect the views of one section of society whether it be in the field of arts and culture or politics.

The state broadcaster has often come under fire in the past for refusing to allow airtime, or provide minimal airtime, to opposition parties.

Apart from restricting opposition parties, TRT is also believed to have an unofficial blacklist, blocking political commentators and analysts critical of the government's stance and positions on domestic and foreign policy from appearing on its various programmes.

Detractors say such policies contradict the very essence of the broadcaster, which is financed by compulsory public fees added to utility bills, to respect and cater to all sections of society.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.