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Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America over licence row

The broadcasters had previously said they would not apply for licences to operate, citing censorship concerns
Turks have increasingly resorted to alternative outlets, some foreign-owned, and social media for news (AFP)

Turkey's media watchdog has blocked access to US-based Voice of America (VOA) and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) for not applying for mandatory licences.

In February, DW and VOA said they would not apply for licences in Turkey as requested by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) under the country's media regulation law, which critics say aims to increase censorship.

Ilhan Tasci, an RTUK board member from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said on Twitter on Thursday that access to DW's Turkish-language service, DW Turkce, and VOA had been blocked by a court decision.

"Access to DW Turkce and Voice of America, which did not apply for licences, has been blocked by the Ankara Criminal Court of Peace, upon the request of the RTUK board," Tasci said.

"Here is your freedom of press and advanced democracy!" he added.

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Middle East Eye has verified that the websites of the two broadcasters were inaccessible in Turkey on Friday.

The vast majority of Turkey's mainstream media outlets are seen as close to the government, with coverage favouring President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his allies. 

Speaking in February, DW director general Peter Limbourg said: “After having subjected the local media outlets in Turkey to such regulation, an attempt is now being made to restrict the reporting of international media services.

"This move does not relate to formal aspects of broadcasting, but to the journalistic content itself. It gives the Turkish authorities the option to block the entire service based on individual, critical reports unless these reports are deleted.

"This would open up the possibility of censorship. We will appeal against this decision and take legal action in the Turkish courts.”

'Censorship bill'

Turks have increasingly resorted to alternative outlets, some foreign-owned, and social media for news.

RTUK, whose policymaking board is dominated by Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies, frequently fines broadcasters that are critical of the government.

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The debate on a draft bill on media laws that was dubbed a "censorship bill" by critics was postponed until parliament reopens in the autumn, an AKP deputy, Mahir Unal, said this week.

Turkey is also among the top jailers of journalists globally and has frequently been criticised by western countries and rights groups over its human rights record. 

The country's law on insulting the president carries a jail sentence of between one and four years.

Last October, Europe's top human rights court called on Turkey to change the legal code after ruling that a person's detention under the law violated freedom of expression.

Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Erdogan in the eight years since he moved from being prime minister to becoming the president.

Rights groups have accused the government of using a failed military coup in 2016 as a pretext to stifle criticism.

The government denies the claims, arguing the measures it takes are necessary due to the gravity of the threats Turkey faces.

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