This post has been updated TWICE. Update 2: A CNN article sums it up (click here).
The censorship frenzy in Turkey has reached jaw-dropping proportions, between prosecutions of writers and journalists and wholesale banning of websites. The latest victim is sourtimes.org (www.eksisozluk.com) whose host has just received an order to close it down. Sourtimes is a kind of Turkish-language Wicked-pedia, a collaborative dictionary where users add information, but where the main goal is not unvarnished truth, but rather insight based on obscure detail and hilarious send-offs. I use Sourtimes to look up people, about whom the site has all kinds of interesting details contributed by users (here’s the entry on Jenny White). It is a useful resource and at the same time hilarious and infuriating, and sometimes scathing social satire. I suppose it was only a matter of time until the censors, who appear to have no sense of humor as well as no conscience, turned their ax to it.
This is not, however, a soft target. It is an enormously popular website with a large net worth. According to webinformation the 12-year-old sourtimes site is ranked 26th in Turkey with 192,000 daily visitors from several countries. (Worldwide rank 1,479) Half of its users are from Istanbul. Each of the estimated 5,739,480 monthly users views an average of 3 pages per session. The website’s value is estimated at $18 million.
The recent bans have not even had the fig leaf of a court decision, but have come in the form of notices (sometimes emailed) from the government’s Internet Office (TİB, İnternet Daire Başkanlığı) to the hosting companies, ordering them to close down the specified sites (or sites with certain words in their domain names, see my post below) and threatening unspecified punishment if they don’t comply. Is this even legal? Closing down an $18 million company without a court order, just by the flick of a pen or a pixel?
It seems the TIB has rethought its Sourtimes ban, but not rescinded it. They sent another note saying, in effect, “We’ll let you know.” (click here, in Turkish)
Under a decision on “Rules and Procedures of the Safety of Internet Use,” approved by the Prime Ministry’s Information Technologies Board (BTK) in February, Internet users in Turkey will have to choose one of four content-filtering Internet packages: family, children, domestic or standard. The list of websites filtered by each package will be decided by the BTK but will not be made public. The change will be implemented starting Aug. 22. (click here)
Access to thousands of websites is banned in Turkey, based on the Internet Ban Law No. 5651. Reporters without Borders put Turkey in the category of “countries under surveillance” in its latest report on “Internet Enemies.”
TV and radio are also being hyper-regulated, with a recently passed broadcasting law giving the prime minister the authority to temporarily halt broadcasting. It bans “racy” images from the screen and gives the government’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) the right to define the professional and ethical rules that employees must follow. (Long skirts? No kissing?) The new law allows up to 50 percent of a company’s shares to be owned by a foreign company. (click here)
In the 1980s, right after the de facto deregulation of the media (the good old days when the government could no longer control all the new technology: cable, satellite etc) there was a famous skit shown on Turkish television that showed the Turkish army trying to carry out a coup, racing from one radio/TV station to another, but unable to close them all down. If you can’t close down the media, you can’t take over. But now the off-switch is back, only in the hands of the prime minister. How did that happen? It seems the government still doesn’t understand the technology, yet has managed to cow the industry with threats. Someone should write a dissertation on this. Here are the variables: army, state, elected government (aka AKP), technology, judicial system, media. Am I missing anything? Opposition? (Well, there’s the CHP and some demonstrations) Any legal or technological resistance?