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Turkey17 May 2002

Revised media law - Reporters Without Borders deplores repressive turn by Turkish regime

The Turkish authorities pushed measures through parliament on 15 May making the media law even more repressive than before.

Reporters Without Borders deplores the amendments that tighten official control over the national radio and TV monitoring council RTÜK, allow army representatives to be part of it, increase fines for media offences, encroach freedom of expression on the Internet and risk a further narrowing of media ownership.

"These measures fly in the face of the commitments to freedom of expression Turkey has made to the European Union," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard. "We deplore this seriously repressive turn by the Turkish regime in this domain."

The amendments are the first reform of RTÜK since it was set up in April 1994:

-  RTÜK will now include representatives of the National Security Council (MGK, which is chaired by the head of state and made up of the country’s military chiefs), the state-controlled High Council of Education (YÖK), the prime minister and government members. The presence of the two main media organisations does not counterbalance the clear tightening of state control of RTÜK.

-  The new measures expand further the scope of RTÜK as a full-scale media police by adding to the weapons it can use against radio and TV stations, such as warnings, fines, censorship of programmes and suspension of broadcasting. The fines are on average 1,000 times higher than before. Operators of media that continue to broadcast in defiance of RTÜK will face between six months and two years in prison, as well as very heavy fines. The assignment of broadcasting frequencies is now the job of the Telecommunications Council.

-  The area of freedom that the Internet represents for journalists is under threat from RTÜK, which is now authorised to monitor it, especially news portals. Defamation on the Internet and the dissemination of "false news" there will be subject to heavy fines of up to 100 million Turkish pounds (about _70,000). RSF notes that last December, Istanbul’s no.2 magistrates’ court prosecuted the website (site of the magazine Idea Politika) and ordered it to close for having "insulted the armed forces." In February this year, Coskun Ak, the moderator of an Internet forum, was fined € 5,000 for "mocking and insulting state institutions" because he did not remove a message posted on the forum about human rights violations in southeastern Turkey.

Many observers say clauses of the amended law concerning media ownership may narrow control down further.

RSF calls on the European Union to inform the Turkish authorities that this repressive turn away from freedom of expression seriously jeopardises Turkey’s efforts to get closer to the EU.

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