It’s difficult to see the multi-millionaire US podcast host Joe Rogan as the victim of censorship. This month, Forbes reported that he had been offered $100m to switch allegiance from the music streamer Spotify to the right-wing free-speech platform Rumble. To his fans, part of the attraction of this former wrestling commentator is that he represents the American everyman, a fearless straight talker in opposition to the mainstream media.
The reality is that, with 11 million listeners, Rogan far outstrips the audience of the established media. Even the most popular TV news hosts cannot dream of such figures: Tucker Carlson, Fox News’s most popular anchor, averages a mere 3.2 million viewers while Jake Tapper of the liberal network CNN struggles to hit viewing figures of one million.
But there is a free expression issue here. When singer-songwriters Neil Young and Joni Mitchell objected to Rogan including misinformation about the Covid vaccine, they could have simply decided to remove their music from the platform. This would have been consistent with the tradition of the protest singer, from which they both come. The problem was that they appeared to make this an ultimatum, asking Spotify to choose between them and the podcaster.
As a commercial decision this was no contest. But in terms of the free circulation of ideas in a free society, it is more problematic. Wherever possible, we should allow the most uncomfortable debates to take place in the largest possible arena. And Rogan’s arena is certainly large.
The intervention of Young and Mitchell was significant precisely because it sparked debate about the limits of free speech. They were not alone in objecting to the views of Dr Robert Malone, a guest who questioned the effectiveness of mask-wearing and likened the mass-vaccination programme to Nazi Germany. Some 270 scientists also wrote to Spotify to demand they address misinformation on Rogan’s show.
Following the row, Spotify is reported to have removed more than 110 episodes of Rogan’s show where they were seen to spread misinformation or guests used racist slurs. This though is not censorship. Removing content is an editorial decision. Young and Mitchell have succeeded where others have failed in forcing a major media platform to recognise its responsibilities as a publisher.
The pandemic has put a huge strain on our instinct for free speech. But the reality is that the debate between sceptics and adherents to government policy has been, for the most part, open and vibrant. The discussion around the Joe Rogan show has resulted in the podcaster committing himself to providing more balance in future and Spotify acknowledging its role in modifying content.
If nothing else, this episode has at least disabused us of the idea that Rogan is an outsider, let alone a dissident. For better or worse he now is the mainstream media.
[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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Google, which may not be an inherently bad company, nevertheless wields enormous power. Much of this power is not about “search” or even “services” like Gmail, but about data. That data is farmed from many users, who contribute to Google’s hunger for information in return for access to the free and useful services they provide. Google’s primary customers are people needing that data, especially advertisers. Many people would say that we, the users, are in fact the product that Google is selling.
This is where Google have come unstuck. Making their policy simpler to understand is completely reasonable, and even sharing data across their services is a potentially useful idea. But European regulators, starting with the pan-EU data protection grouping called the Article 29 Working Party, don’t like the idea that users are being forced to share data across Google’s services without any ability to stop it.
They are also concerned that the new ways data may be used are not being described upfront. So, if your location data from your Android phone starts helping Google search understand the places you might want to visit, you may not expect this, and be upset or worse if it happens.
The French regulator CNIL has launched an investigation in order to establish if Google have broken EU Data Protection law, and EU Commissioner Viviane Reding has already weighed in to say she believes they have.
This isn’t a good fight for Google. They are already in a battle over the future rights we have over our data with exactly these people. Reding is proposing new protections, like fining companies up to 2 per cent of their income for data breaches, giving us the right to escape from companies like Facebook by getting our data back, and the right to delete our personal data from such companies. All these ideas may become law in the new data protection regulation that Reding is pushing.
Google, Yahoo and many other companies will be arguing against this idea, saying it may damage innovation. They argue that “privacy by default” isn’t needed, that notifying users is enough.
Facebook too, have recently introduced Netflix and Spotify services that failed to ask users if they want to share their listening habits with everyone on Facebook. This might not be the worst privacy violation in the world — but it’s certainly pretty annoying to an awful lot of people.
All of these companies are trying to do legitimate business and need the trust of their users. They also need the trust of governments. Right now, they seem to be actively proving that we really need the protections they claim should be dropped. We should listen to their actions, not their words.
Jim Killock is Executive Director of the Open Rights Group