A draft bill introduced by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will “destroy the remaining bits of press freedom”, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Deputy Group Co-chair Meral Danış Beştaş told reporters on Wednesday.
The AKP submitted a proposal last week to introduce the crime of ‘disseminating information to misguide the public’, and include websites in the ‘regular publications’ category.
The bill goes against Turkey’s constitution and violates press freedom, Beştaş said.
Instead of professional organisations, press cards will be issued by the Presidential Communications Directorate, which will make it more difficult for journalists who do not follow government guidelines to work, Beştaş said. At the same time, more bodies including foundations and NGOs would be eligible to obtain press cards. “Because they want to keep real journalists from working, while they give cards to whoever they wish.”
Professional organisations and rights advocates were not consulted for the bill, Beştaş said, adding: “This bill gives the government full control of the Internet.”
“The government posits this bill as a disinformation act, but it brings censorship, creating crimes for journalists over vague phrasing,” Turkey’s Journalists’ Union (TGS) Chairman Gökhan Durmuş said in the same meeting.
The carrot is recognition as journalism for Internet media, according to Durmuş, while the stick comes out in the censorship the bill will bring.
“We want the whole proposal to be withdrawn,” Parliament Correspondents Association Chairman Kemal Aktaş said. “We are most insistent on removing the disinformation clause, as it places further pressure on press freedom and freedom of expression.”
The proposed changes could bring about “one of the heaviest censorship and self-censorship mechanisms” in Turkey’s history, press organisations in Turkey said in a joint statement on Friday.
There are many vague laws used to prosecute and imprison journalists in Turkey, and Turkish government will abuse the disinformation clause, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Gulnoza Said said.
Anyone who publicly disseminates false information regarding the internal and external security, public order and general health of the country, with the motive of creating anxiety, fear or panic among the people, in a way that is suitable for disturbing the public peace, will be sentenced to imprisonment from one to three years, according to the draft.
‘Misleading information’ is not defined in the bill, which also expands limitations placed on social media in 2020.
The social media bill made it obligatory for platforms with more than one million users to establish offices in Turkey ran by private persons who are Turkish citizens.