Turkey to fight ‘fake news’ with jail term


By AFP

ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament on Thursday approved a tough pre-election law that could see journalists and social media users jailed for up to three years for spreading “fake news”.

The new rules cement the government’s already firm grip on the media eight months before a general election in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan falls at the bottom of the polls.

The Council of Europe said the vague definition of the “disinformation” measure and the accompanying threat of imprisonment could have “a chilling effect and increased self-censorship, especially in view of the upcoming elections in June 2023”. .

The legislation – made up of 40 amendments that each required a separate vote – was proposed by Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AKP party and furiously opposed by Turkey’s main opposition groups.

An MP from the secular CHP party smashed his mobile phone with a hammer in parliament to show how freedom of speech was being destroyed, especially for young people.

“I would like to address my brothers who are 15, 16, 17 and who will decide the fate of Turkey in 2023,” said CHP MP Burak Erbay before pulling out his gavel.

“You only have one freedom left: the phone in your pocket. There’s Instagram, YouTube, Facebook. You communicate there,” he said before the vote.

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“If the law is passed here in parliament, you can smash your phone like this,” he said.

“War on Truth”

Most of Turkey’s newspapers and TV stations fell under the control of government officials and their business allies in a sweeping crackdown following a failed coup in 2016.

But social networks and internet-based media remained largely unchecked, much to Erdogan’s annoyance.

That started to change when Turkey used the threat of heavy penalties to force giants such as Facebook and Twitter to appoint local representatives who can quickly comply with local court orders to remove contentious posts.

Erdogan began asserting around the same time that Turkey’s highly polarized society was particularly vulnerable to false and misleading information.

Social media has “become one of the biggest threats to democracy today,” Erdogan said last December.

The new legislation imposes a criminal penalty on those found guilty of disseminating false or misleading information.

It obliges social networks and websites to communicate the personal data of users suspected of “spreading misleading information”.

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It also allows courts to sentence accredited journalists and regular social media users who “openly spread misleading information” to between one and three years in prison.

The government has also started publishing a weekly “disinformation bulletin” aimed at debunking what it considers to be fake news with “accurate and truthful information”.

Lawmakers rejected repeated attempts by the opposition to water down the legislation ahead of the vote.

“This law declares war on the truth,” said Meral Danis Bektas, MP for the pro-Kurdish opposition party HDP.

“Judicial Harassment”

Turkey was ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the annual media freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) earlier this year.

“Authoritarianism is gaining ground in Turkey, challenging media pluralism,” said RSF. “Every possible means is used to undermine criticism.”

Award-winning media rights activist Veysel Ok said everyone in Turkey was now exposed to potential prosecution for their opinions.

“Members of the opposition, NGOs, bar associations, professional associations, journalists and ordinary citizens… Now all will be subject to judicial harassment,” Ok tweeted.

ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament on Thursday approved a tough pre-election law that could see journalists and social media users jailed for up to three years for spreading “fake news”. The new rules cement the government’s already firm grip on the media eight months before a general election in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan falls at the bottom of the polls. The Council of Europe said the vague definition of the “disinformation” measure and the accompanying threat of imprisonment could have “a chilling effect and increased self-censorship, especially in view of the upcoming elections in June 2023”. . The legislation – made up of 40 amendments that each required a separate vote – was proposed by Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AKP party and furiously opposed by Turkey’s main opposition groups. An MP from the secular CHP party smashed his mobile phone with a hammer in parliament to show how freedom of speech was being destroyed, especially for young people. “I would like to address my brothers who are 15, 16, 17 and who will decide the fate of Turkey in 2023,” said CHP MP Burak Erbay before pulling out his gavel. “You only have one freedom left: the phone in your pocket. There’s Instagram, YouTube, Facebook. You communicate there,” he said before the vote. READ ALSO | Putin suggests turning Turkey into a gas hub for Europe “If the law is passed here in parliament, you can smash your phone like this,” he said. ‘War on the truth’ Most of Turkey’s newspapers and TV channels fell under the control of government officials and their business allies in a sweeping crackdown following a failed coup in 2016. But social media and internet-based media remained largely unchecked – much to Erdogan’s annoyance. That started to change when Turkey used the threat of heavy penalties to force giants such as Facebook and Twitter to appoint local representatives who can quickly comply with local court orders to remove contentious posts. Erdogan began asserting around the same time that Turkey’s highly polarized society was particularly vulnerable to false and misleading information. Social media has “become one of the biggest threats to democracy today,” Erdogan said last December. The new legislation imposes a criminal penalty on those found guilty of disseminating false or misleading information. It obliges social networks and websites to communicate the personal data of users suspected of “spreading misleading information”. READ ALSO | Russia who? Turkey cuts ties with Moscow banks under US pressure. It also allows courts to sentence accredited journalists and regular social media users who “openly disseminate misleading information” to between one and three years in prison. The government has also started publishing a weekly “disinformation bulletin” aimed at debunking what it considers to be fake news with “accurate and truthful information”. Lawmakers rejected repeated attempts by the opposition to water down the legislation ahead of the vote. “This law declares war on the truth,” said Meral Danis Bektas, MP for the pro-Kurdish opposition party HDP. ‘Legal harassment’ Turkey was ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the annual media freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) earlier this year. “Authoritarianism is gaining ground in Turkey, challenging media pluralism,” said RSF. “Every possible means is used to undermine criticism.” Award-winning media rights activist Veysel Ok said everyone in Turkey was now exposed to potential prosecution for their views. “Members of the opposition, NGOs, bar associations, professional associations, journalists and ordinary citizens… Now all will be subject to judicial harassment,” Ok tweeted.

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