Changes to Turkey’s press ethics code fear contributing to increased censorship

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The Turkish Press Advertising Agency (BİK), the state body responsible for regulating publicly funded advertisements in the media, has amended the press ethics code, adding vague wording and abstract that risks contributing to increased media censorship in the country, Turkish Minute reported.

The changes to the principles of Article 49 of Law No. 195 on the establishment of the press advertising agency, which come 28 years after they were first set up in 1994, were published in the Official Gazette on Wednesday.

According to Birgün, some of the most striking changes to the principles were made in the article entitled “Respect for national and social values”, which was edited to include expressions that would pave the way for the arbitrary punishment of all newspapers and journalists based on Sharia, a set of religious laws that are part of the Islamic tradition.

“Religious feelings or values ​​considered sacred by religion cannot be abused. Broadcasting against public morals cannot be done. No broadcasts may be made to disrupt the family structure, which is the foundation of society, or against the protection of the family. No broadcasts can be made to weaken the common national and moral values ​​of Turkish society, the edited article said.

The changes also included many phrases restricting the means by which journalists obtain and publish information, such as “Information may not be obtained or published illegally. … No program can be made that … renders ineffective the fight against drugs or stimulants and all kinds of organized crime. Information and visuals on terrorist organizations, their members and their actions cannot be included [in the news] in a way that legitimizes these organizations,” Birgün said.

BİK also placed the websites and social media pages of newspapers in Turkey under its jurisdiction and ordered them to comply with press ethics principles.

Eleven journalists’ unions, including the Broadcasting and Printing Workers’ Union (DİSK BASIN-İŞ), the Association of Turkish Journalists (TGC), the Union of Turkish Journalists (TGS), and the Association of Contemporary Journalists (ÇGD), rejected changes to the principles in a joint statement.

They announced that they would take the vague statements contained in the new principles to court.

“Journalism is not a crime. The press is not your enemy. Get your hands off our pen! they said.

Media ombudsman Faruk Bildirici also told Birgün that some of the principles had been changed to allow the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to punish any dissident journalist it chooses.

“What does ‘unlawful’ mean in the phrase ‘The information may not be obtained or published unlawfully’? In other words, they say: “You can only publish the information that we provide”. “, Bildirici said, adding that anything written about religion, or rather Islam, can be considered a violation of religious values ​​and journalists can be arbitrarily punished for it, according to the new principles.

Bildirici also criticized the term “public morals”, saying that there can be no such concept in the principles. “If you include the phrase ‘public morality’ here, it means that you are making it an opportunity to impose your own morality on all of society.”

Speaking to Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service, Evrensel daily editor Fatih Polat said BİK had become a tool of media censorship under AKP rule. He added that it was “problematic” to change the principles to “keep publications in the shackles of conservative imposition”.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 90% of national media in Turkey, ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, are owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line. .

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