The Internet law and what it means for our democracy [Cihan News Agency (Turkey)]
(Cihan News Agency (Turkey) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- We live in a rapidly transforming world. The way we collect information, read news as well as communicate with each other has changed comprehensively over the last decade. The days when printed media were a primary source of news are gone. We live in a world of smart phones that provide immediate access to information enriched by visual content such as pictures and video. I rarely buy newspapers anymore. I largely obtain my news from Twitter. Even TV is less of a news source for me, although it still maintains its appeal for a large audience due to content other than news.
The new Internet law proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has raised serious concerns regarding press freedom in Turkey. As was stipulated by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Feb. 3, "Parliament is on the verge of voting on radical censorship measures that, if approved, would allow the government to block individual URLs without prior judicial review, mandate Internet data retention for periods of up to two years and consolidate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into a single association, among other changes." The Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TÜSIAD) wrote a letter to the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, the sponsor of the bill, and drew attention to "the fact the Directorate of Telecommunications (TIB) president will have the authority to decide whether there is any violation of the right to privacy that will enable the directorate to act alone, rather than going through the judiciary. This will conflict with the principle of checks and balances."
There is widespread concern in Turkey about the proposed law as Turks are active users of social media. Turkey has a high penetration rate in Facebook and Twitter usage. Furthermore, the bill comes at an ominous time, as Turkey's political scene is currently rattled by large-scale graft allegations. The new Internet bill seems to be designed to curb further leaks of inconvenient information via the Internet. This week, T24, a prominent news portal was asked by TIB to remove a report about a parliamentary question submitted to Parliament last week by Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Umut Oran. In the question, Oran asked about claims of fraud and malpractice during the sale of the Sabah daily and the ATV station, among other outlets.
As the recent CPJ report underlined, "Under the proposed amendments, social media accounts or Web pages could even be blocked without judicial review under some circumstances." This is extremely worrisome and definitely a regression from where we are today. Already, critical reports have emerged from the European Union as well as NGOs sensitive to press freedom issues. It is all the more worrying, as new information demonstrating the extent of the pressure placed on Turkish news stations has been revealed on the Internet.
As was reported by Yavuz Baydar, a prominent journalist sensitive to press freedom issues, the bill also includes a measure that allows for the recording of Internet users' browsing histories and the storage of this information for up to two years. However, the protection of personal data was one of the government's most important promises in the constitutional referendum of Sept. 12, 2010. According to the proposed law, Internet service providers will be fined and Internet access providers will be sentenced to prison if they do not remove content that is deemed to be illegal.
Turkey's democrats are extremely concerned about the proposed Internet law. Given the gross imbalance of reporting on TV as well in the printed media, the Internet is a last resort to ensure a more liberal and balanced public discourse. If the bill is approved and signed by President Abdullah Gül, the proposed law will definitely curtail news and information about the current graft allegations that have become a huge liability going into the local elections on March 30. The proposed Internet law carries the potential to further damage the quality of our fragile democracy and polarize our society leading up to three crucial elections that will define the coming decade. It is high time we all speak up against it.
SUAT KINIKLIOGLU (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CIHAN
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