The US State Department said the US is “deeply concerned” by the Turkish media regulatory body’s decision to block Voice of America’s Turkish service if it fails to apply for a government licence in 72 hours.
“We call on Turkey to fulfill its obligations and commitments to respect fundamental freedom of expression,” the State Department told VOA Turkish on Tuesday.
The Radio and Television Supreme Council, RTUK, the government agency for monitoring and regulation TV and radio broadcasts, on Tuesday issued a threat to ban VOA Turkish, which is registered with voaturkce.com, formerly known as amerikaninsesi.com, which Turkey had blocked access to in June 2022 due to the website’s failure to apply for a license.
RTUK has given VOA Turkish a 72-hour deadline to apply for a license. If the news outlet does not submit an application, access to voaturkce.com will also be blocked.
In its announcement, RTUK referred to voaturkce.com as an “internet domain name where broadcasting service is provided without obtaining an internet broadcasting license.”
“Respect for freedom of expression is enshrined in Turkey’s constitution and international commitments and obligations,” the US State Department added.
The RTUK says its decision is based on a regulation aiming to increase government controls on online media that was published in the Turkish Official Gazette on August 1, 2019.
Under the regulation, digital platforms and video broadcasting organizations fall under the supervision of RTUK. The regulation has led RTÜK to require organisations to pay fees for licenses. As a result, broadcasting organisations have been forced to remove content deemed inappropriate by RTUK.
In February 2022, RTUK said that Turkish services of VOA, News of the US, Euronews of France and Deutche Welle of Germany, DW, must apply for licences to continue their broadcasts in Turkey.
Euronews compiled with the decision but VOA Turkish and DW Turkish did not apply for licences and did not remove any content that was demanded by the RTUK.
RTUK later fined VOA Turkish and DW Turkish. DW Turkish remains blocked in Turkey. VOA Turkish changed its domain from amerikaninsesi.com to voaturkce.com, and now risks being blocked by the RTUK if it fails to apply for a licence as of Friday.
“It is not possible for VOA to comply with any guidelines aimed at enabling censorship,” VOA Turkish said in a press statement on Tuesday.