Turkey’s parliament yesterday approved a tough new media law that provides for up to three years in prison for journalists and social media users spreading false or misleading information. The Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) denounced the law as a move by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to stifle critical voices ahead of the general elections in June 2023. We spoke to EFJ Vice-President Mustafa Kuleli about the impact on journalism and free speech in Turkey.
What will the law passed yesterday change for Turkish journalists?
The purpose of this law is not to fight disinformation but to end factual reporting and freedom of expression. Now that it is passed, the last remnants of the freedom of expression risk being lost. The highly politicised Turkish judiciary has “a stick of censorship” in its hands, allowing courts to hand down jail sentences of up to three years to journalists and regular social media users who allegedly “openly spread misleading information”. Basically, any critical posts on social media could be denounced as “misinformation”. It will provide a legal basis for many abuses by a judiciary, which is already politically controlled and lacks independence. Millions of Internet users in Turkey will risk imprisonment.
What are the most concerning articles of the new proposed law?
Article 29 introduces a new crime of “public dissemination of misleading information” into the Turkish legal system. As this crime is defined in rather vague and open-ended terms, it is unclear how prosecutors will determine “fake news” and those who participate in its dissemination. Social networks and internet sites will be required to hand over personal details of users suspected of “propagating misleading information”. In addition, the law includes concepts such as “disinformation”, “baseless information” and “distorted information” without providing legal definitions. It also refers to “security”, “public order” and “public peace”, which have been used repeatedly against journalists in legal harassment cases. Criminalising such actions might lead to developments that could shake the roots of democracy and the core principles of freedom of expression.
Why is Erdogan’s AKP party introducing this legislation now?
The haste with which this law was passed may indicate that the government’s objective is to increase pressure on journalists and social media users before the elections. The proposal, prepared without consultation with journalists’ organisations and civil society, has been controversial even within the government.