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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 09:27 GMT 10:27 UK
Turkey tightens controls on the net
Savas Unsal, Managing Director of Superonline
Savas Unsal: Worried he will be driven out of business

Controversial new controls on the internet in Turkey have provoked protests from websites which fear they may be driven out of existence.

The new measures are part of a new wide-ranging broadcasting law which place the internet under the same legislation as the rest of Turkey's media for libel and an offence called "lying news".

Under the new law, websites could face having to be officially registered and send copies of their material to the authorities.

The measures have been condemned by much of the internet sector, from service providers to users, who warn that the whole future of the net in Turkey could be at stake.

Impact on internet sector

Savas Unsal, Managing Director of Superonline, Turkey's largest internet provider, is furious, describing it as a "dirty law".

"There's not going to be a certain direction, no freedom of speech and this is going to impact the local content and local hosting services and eventually the whole internet sector," he said.

Dr Oktay Vural, minister of transport and communications
Dr Vural: Defends the law
"They might easily put me and my chairman out of business."

With around a million subscribers, Superonline has been part of the country's rapidly growing internet sector.

Many burgeoning Turkish internet websites carry criticism of ministers, including material newspapers dare not publish.

But Dr Oktay Vural, Minister of Transport and Communications, insists the measures are not intended to stiffle sites.

"There are no restrictions. It is only that there have been several things which have been forbidden by the law," he said.

"So if these actions were taken through the internet, then the regulations will cover for those actions only. We cannot be an eye in the chatrooms; that is not the aim of that law.

"Let's see what happens. I don't think it will affect the internet. I think time will show the truth," he said.

Media controls

The new law puts the internet under the control of Turkey's Supreme Radio and Television Board.

According to Savas Unsal, that opens the door to the internet facing the similar restrictions as the rest of the country's media.

Turkish newspapers
Turkish newspapers are closely scrutinised
"A judge can tell you to bring a copy of your website whenever you update it to be approved by the local authorities," he said.

The law is unclear what it actually covers. According to Fikret Ilkiz, media lawyer for the Turkish daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet, internet providers could be liable for prosecution for anything written, even in chatrooms.

He also argues that the notion of "lying news" is too ambiguous.

"The biggest problem is that the law is very unclear. The law forbids fake or lie news. But what is this?" he asked.

"The law doesn't define what it is. It just says it's forbidden. And this could apply to chatrooms.

"The way the law is now, it will be defined by many court cases. For now, there is great uncertainty. No one knows what is legal and what is not. It is chaos."

'Ambiguous law'

Reaching a definition of the law by court cases could well be an expensive process for internet providers and users, with fines of up to $195,000 for each offence.

But some critics of the law argue it is deliberately ambiguous. Much of Turkey's legislation governing the control of the media is characterised by catch all phrases.

Now we believe that the internet, and computers in general, provide us with a second chance

Halik Sahin, Bilgi University
The internet until now has been largely exempt from such legislation. Such freedom has allowed it to become a powerful forum for criticising politicians.

Many journalists publish articles on the internet which neither television nor newspapers dare print, due in part to existing legislation.

The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has strongly condemned such legislation. This latest law has also drawn the ire of the EU, with officials calling for its repeal.

That could well happen because Turkey's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer has sent the law to the Constitutional Court, accusing it of breaching the constitution.

The court could take up to a year to make a ruling. In the meantime, the law remains in force.

Internet slowdown

The uncertainty created by the new legislation could prove most damaging of all to Turkey.

Professor Haluk Sahin, who teaches media studies at Istanbul's Bilgi University, warns that Turkey risks repeating the mistakes of the past

"A lot people in Turkey realize that Turkey must not make the mistake of 200 years ago," he says.

"Some 200 years ago, the Ottoman Empire missed the Industrial Revolution. Now, we believe that the internet, and computers in general, provide us with a second chance.

"A new train has arrived. Whether we embark on that train or not is up to us and the younger generations seem determined to do that.

"Unfortunately, the older generations and the politicians do not seem to be of the same mind," he said.

You can hear more about how Turkey is controlling the internet on the BBC World Service programme, Go Digital.

See also:

03 Dec 00 | Europe
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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