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'Netflix and chill' in Turkey is now under government supervision

New law allows Turkey's radio and TV watchdog to censor streaming sites like Netflix and demand personal information about customers
Platforms without a license, required under the new law, risk being banned in Turkey (MEE)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkey’s broadcast watchdog has been given the powers to censor online TV platforms and streaming sites like Netfix after a new law went into effect on Thursday.

Advocates say the law is critical for national security and public morality in the country, but critics warn that the rules are being used to control opposition outlets and other platforms.

The law, which was ratified by the parliament last year, requires international streaming giants or online TV networks to establish local companies, open offices in Turkey and purchase government licenses that cost just over $17,000.

'The aim is to create a new control and censure mechanism disguised as licensing'

- Yaman Akdeniz, law professor

It also requires the platforms to hand over personal information about their customers if and when the government makes a request, although the exact parameters of what can be requested are not clarified in the law.

Platforms without a license risk being banned in Turkey. 

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The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) has nine members that are elected by the Turkish parliament based on the number of seats political parties hold. The ruling conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) currently holds the majority with five board members.

Turkish government officials say supervision is needed to protect national security and moral order inside the country while shielding children and future generations from “harm”.

"[Screenwriters] place profanity in scenarios and censor it on TV because they are concerned about RTUK, yet they broadcast them with profanity online. Children watch this swearing on their cell phones," RTUK chairman Ilhan Yerlikaya said last year. "This emerges as a really bad role model for our children." 

'Unlimited powers'

Officials claimed last year that the changes were also necessary in order to comply with European Union regulatory directives. 

RTUK member Ilhan Tasci, who was nominated by the main opposition party CHP and opposes the law, said the board will now have the power to censor profanity and even blur out alcoholic beverages on streaming sites as it already does on regular TV channels.  

'RTUK has unlimited powers when it comes to the internet with this law'

- Ilhan Tasci, RTUK board member 

“RTUK has unlimited powers when it comes to the internet with this law. The board has been supervising music videos by translating foreign lyrics into Turkish and punish them accordingly if necessary. So their limit would be very similar,” he said. 

Experts like Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, believes citizen journalism and independent online news portals that rely on video journalism are also under threat.

“The aim is to create a new control and censure mechanism disguised as licensing. The real target is platforms like Medyascope, Arti Gercek or Deutsche Welle Turkish,” he told Middle East Eye.

Some also believe that the Turkish government is laying the groundwork to garner support for the law by instigating an online debate on Netflix’s depiction of homosexuality earlier this month using internet trolls. 

“Suddenly, people on Twitter and social media site Eksi Sozluk started to talk about what they describe as open promotion of gay lifestyle on Netflix content,” Ahmet Turan Han, a long-time cyber rights activist based in Istanbul, told MEE.

'The law is very vague'

“That’s how they tried to boost public support for the changes. The law is also very vague. You could have YouTube and other social media sites under RTUK authority if you really wanted.”

A Netflix spokesperson, in response to a written inquiry by MEE, said the company is aware of the regulation and following developments closely.

"Turkey is an important country where we want to continue to create joy for our members, partner with Turkish talent and invest in the economy and film industry," the spokesperson said.

This isn't the first time Netflix will be supervised by national authorities. Since 2015, the media authority in the Netherlands has been supervising the company to comply with a local law.

Netflix, according to media reports in February, has 75,000 subscribers in Turkey.

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