Turkish censors vs Netflix, series 1 episode 1

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”100332″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]All that is solid in the Turkish media melted into air over the past year, and much of the entertainment content has migrated from traditional platforms to streaming services like YouTube and Netflix.

Turkey’s watchdogs took notice. In March parliament passed a law that expands the powers of Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), including blocking internet broadcasts. With the new law the state hopes to have some degree of control over online content that it considers dangerous.

This spring, many bulwarks of Turkish media have shape-shifted. In April, Turkey’s biggest media conglomerate, Doğan, changed hands. Foreign media titles with Turkish editions, including the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Al Jazeera, have already pulled out of the Turkish market. Newspaper circulations saw sharp decline.

Meanwhile online streaming services have thrived. Spotify entered Turkey in 2013 and pushed its premium service with a Vodafone deal two years later. On Twitter, BBC’s Turkish service has just short of three million followers. Netflix introduced its Turkish service in 2016. Last year it too signed a deal with Vodafone, and Netflix Turkey pushed its products aggressively, with posters of House of Cards plastered in Istanbul’s subway stations.

Statista, an online statistics website, predicts there will be approximately 397.4 thousand active streaming subscribers to Netflix in Turkey in 2019.

Turkish-owned streaming services also came to the fore. In 2012 Doğuş Media Group launched its video on demand service, puhutv, and there was excitement last year when the channel showed its first series, Fi, based on a best-selling trilogy by Turkish author Azra Kohen. The series quickly became a sensation, largely thanks to scenes featuring nudity and racy sexual encounters.

Puhutv is a free, ad-supported service and watching Fi on Puhutv meant seeing many ads of condoms, dark chocolates and other products linked with pleasure. In just three days, the pilot episode of Fi was viewed more than four and a half million times.

For content producers the Turkish love for the internet means new opportunities for profit. In February a report by Interpress found that the number of internet users increased by 13 percent to 51 million from the past year. Turkey is one of the largest markets for social media networks and it ranks among the top five countries with largest Facebook country populations.

The RTÜK watchdog, which now has great control over streaming services, normally chases television broadcasters. It famously went after popular TV dating shows last year, and producers faced heavy fines accused of violating ‘public morals’. Marriage with Zuhal Topal, Esra Erol and other shows were pulled off the air. A famous dating show duo, Seda Sayan and Uğur Arslan, considered releasing their show Come Here if You’ll Get Married on the internet.

Those dating shows outraged not only conservatives but many other swaths of Turkish society. Feminists considered them an affront to women’s struggle and they signed a petition to ban dating shows en masse. RTUK announced there were around 120 thousand complaints from viewers about the shows.

With the new bill, producers of shows streamed online will need to obtain licenses. “The broadcasts will be supervised the same way RTÜK supervises landline, satellite and cable broadcasts,” reads the new law which gives RTÜK the power to ban shows that don’t get the approval of Turkish Intelligence Agency and the General Directorate of Security.

Family Ties, a recent episode of the US series Designated Survivor angered many viewers when it was broadcast last November. One of the characters in the episode was a thinly veiled representation of Fethullah Gülen, an imam who leads a global Islamist network named Hizmet (‘The Service’).

The Turkish state accuses Hizmet, its US-based leaders and followers in the Turkish Army of masterminding 2016’s failed coup attempt, during which 250 people were killed. Turkey has requested Gülen’s extradition.

But in Family Ties, the Gülen-like character was described as an “activist”, and this led to protests on Twitter in Turkey. Some Turks wanted the show banned. In Turkey Designated Survivor is streamed by Netflix.

In September Netflix will release The Protector, its first Turkish television series by up and coming film director Can Evrenol. “The series follows the epic adventure of Hakan, a young shopkeeper whose modern world gets turned upside down when he learns he’s connected to a secret, ancient order, tasked with protecting Istanbul,” according to a Netflix press release.

“Streaming services give freedom and enthusiasm to directors who are normally reluctant to work for television,” Selin Gürel, a film critic for Milliyet Sanat magazine said.

“Content regulations are unwelcome, but I don’t think anyone would give up telling stories because of them. Directors like Can Evrenol are capable of finding some other way for protecting their style and vision.”

In Gürel’s view, the new regulations will not lead to dramatic changes for Turkish films.

“It is annoying that RTÜK now spreads its control to interactive platforms like Netflix,” said Kerem Akça, a film critic for Posta newspaper. “RTÜK should keep its hands away from paid platforms.”

Akça has high expectations from Evrenol’s new film, but he fears the effects of new regulations on The Protector and future Turkish shows for Netflix can be harmful.

“The real problem is whether RTÜK’s control on content shape-shifts into self-censorship,” Akça said. “Before it does, someone needs to take the necessary steps to avoid content censorship on Netflix.”

But Turkish artists have long found ways of avoiding the censors, and new regulations can even lead to more original thinking.

“This is a new zone for RTÜK,” Gürel, the critic, said. “I am sure that vagueness will be useful for creators, at least for a while.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Press freedom violations in Turkey reported to Mapping Media Freedom since 24 May 2014

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Israeli move to silence Al Jazeera a clear violation of press freedom

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship condemns the decision by the government of Israel to ban Al Jazeera from operating in the country.

“A free and open media landscape is necessary for the proper functioning of a democratic society. The silencing of Al Jazeera’s networks — whether English or Arabic — is a detriment to the public’s right to information,” Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, said.

The revoking of the press cards belonging to the network’s reporters is a clear violation of press freedom and the right to freedom of expression.

Israel’s decision echoes the move by Saudi Arabia and its allies, who demanded that Qatar shutter the network and other media outlets as part of a list of demands to end a diplomatic crisis.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1502111795096-e5480c80-f680-8″ taxonomies=”449″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Al Jazeera debate at Frontline Club descends into shouting match


Al Jazeera Broadcast Center in Doha, Qatar

Al Jazeera Broadcast Center in Doha, Qatar

A debate at the Frontline Club last night on the future of Al Jazeera and media freedom in the Middle East, following recent calls for the closure of the television network by a group of seven Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, did not go to plan.

The original chair, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner, pulled out of the debate and was replaced by Safa Al Ahmad, a Saudi journalist and filmmaker and the winner of the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Journalism.

According to Arab News, sources within the BBC said Gardner’s decision was because the event was deemed “a propaganda stunt by Qatar and Al Jazeera with no attempt at balance on the panel”. In an email to Arab News, the BBC source allegedly criticised the failure “to invite anyone from the UAE, Saudi, Bahrain or Egypt onto the panel in time”.

A group of 12-15 protesters outside the Frontline Club could be heard during the debate. They chanted, among other things: “Ban Al Jazeera.” They carried Egyptian flags and signs reading: “Al Jazeera Promotes Terrorism.”

This anger was matched inside as audience members aired various grievances, including complaints about the network’s editorial line, its ties to and funding from the state of Qatar, Al Jazeera Arabic’s alleged sectarianism and anti-Shia bias and the treatment of Al Jazeera staff. Some audience members openly supported the calls to ban Al Jazeera.

“Al Jazeera is media prostitution by Qatar,” an audience member shouted at the panel, echoing a protester outside who added that the network wanted to “destroy the Middle East”.

Journalist Ben Flanagan from Arab News, an English-language newspaper published in Saudi Arabia and owned by a member of the House of Saud, put it to the panel that Al Jazeera “has been used as a platform for terrorists and extremists” and asked panelists Giles Trendle, managing director of Al Jazeera English, and Wad Khanfar, the ex-director general of Al Jazeera Media Network: “Do you feel you have blood on your hands?”

During his opening statement, Trendle said: “We are funded by the state of Qatar but we maintain an editorial independence, so there isn’t a lot of direct communication with the channel.”

Khanfar said that while Qatar “is not a charitable organisation”, “the reputation of Al Jazeera and the popularity of Al Jazeera prevented the state of Qatar from using Al Jazeera and they created a healthy distance between us at that time as an editorial newsroom and the state.”

Concerns over the treatment of staff at Al Jazeera almost certainly weren’t eased when Khanfar told Flanagan that if he worked for Khanfar at Al Jazeera he would be fired if he had any objections to interviewing a controversial figure like Osama bin Laden.

“Staff are leaving, but within any organisation there is a certain churn rate,” Trendle later added. “People come and people go.”

At one point an audience member took to the aisle, interrupted Khanfar and shouted something about Al Jazeera’s failure to report on “American involvement” in the 2012 sarin gas attack in Damascus, a conspiracy theory originated by journalist Seymour Hersh and propagated on media outlets such as Alex Jones’ Infowars.

Al Jazeera isn’t the only news outlet Saudi-led coalition’s crosshairs. The London-based Middle East Eye is also on the list. Editor David Hearst, one of last night’s panellists, clarified that the news website is independently funded. “We’re not funded by Qatar,” he said. “If Qatar rolled over, it would have absolutely no effect on us.”

Hearst believes that the reason these Arab states – including Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE – are attacking certain media organisations is that “they are really dead scared of independent criticism or examination of what’s going on,” particularly when such criticism is in Arabic. “They don’t like their own people, Arabs, reading genuinely independent news, and that is what I think started this whole thing off.”

Hearst said that the reach of Al Jazeera, which has an audience 310 million households in more than 100 countries, makes the network, in particular, a threat.

Trendle gave assurances that despite the current pressure, Al Jazeera will not be shutting its doors and remains committed to “balanced, professional” journalism. “It’s kind of business as normal in an abnormal situation,” he said.

“As journalists, we all need to stand together in solidarity against this intimidation, against this bullying. We need to stand against being censored or silenced in any way at all,” Trendle added. “We all need to stand in unison as journalists because journalism is under attack, and in recent years it’s become much clearer that it is coming under attack in a very serious way from governments as well.”

Panellist Marc Owen Jones, a professor at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University, while agreeing with Trendle, added that there needs to be a broader conversation about public service broadcasting.

“How can we have commercial media if it’s funded by weapons manufacturers? If we’re covering health case, we can’t have it funded by Big Pharma? You have to ask questions. Is it problematic to have media channels funded by non-democratic states or authoritarian states in the region if you want to really progress to another level of journalism?”

A proper debate is still to be had as Monday’s shouting match didn’t quite achieve its aim.

Index on Censorship re-iterates its position given by Index magazine editor Rachael Jolley in June: “Al Jazeera and press freedom must not be used as a bargaining chip.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1500396083270-89581cd9-54bd-6″ taxonomies=”449″][/vc_column][/vc_row]