Turkey: Media Legislation
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
Within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the:
Right to freedom of opinion and expression: Article 19 Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
The resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 adopted by the General Assembly came into force on the 10th of September 1978. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified by Turkey on 23 September 2003 and states:
- Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
- The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
- Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
- Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
European Regional Agreements
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
Section 1: Rights and Freedoms
- Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
- The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey (available in pdf here) was ratified in 1982 and amended in 2001. It guarantees freedom of expression at Article 26:
“Everyone has the right to express and disseminate his thoughts and opinion by speech, in writing or in pictures or through other media, individually or collectively. This right includes the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas without interference from official authorities. This provision shall not preclude subjecting transmission by radio, television, cinema, and similar means to a system of licensing”.
Article 26 also defines the restrictions to freedom of expression:
“The exercise of these freedoms may be restricted for the purposes of protecting national security, public order and public safety, the basic characteristics of the Republic and safeguarding the indivisible integrity of the State with its territory and nation, preventing crime, punishing offenders, withholding information duly classified as a state secret, protecting the reputation and rights and private and family life of others, or protecting professional secrets as prescribed by law, or ensuring the proper functioning of the judiciary”.
Article 28 protects freedom of the press:
“The press is free, and shall not be censored. The establishment of a printing house shall not be subject to prior permission or the deposit of a financial guarantee.
The state shall take the necessary measures to ensure freedom of the press and freedom of information”.
Limitations to freedom of the press are also provided in the second part of the article stating that:
“Anyone who writes or prints any news or articles which threaten the internal or external security of the state or the indivisible integrity of the state with its territory and nation, which tend to incite offence, riot or insurrection, or which refer to classified state secrets and anyone who prints or transmits such news or articles to others for the above purposes, shall be held responsible under the law relevant to these offences. Distribution may be suspended as a preventive measure by the decision of a judge, or in the event delay is deemed prejudicial, by the competent authority designated by law”.
The Criminal Code (no.5237, adopted in 2004) sanctions defamation as a criminal offence at Article 125. Defamatory acts can be committed by writing or by use of audio or visual means, thus the law also covers defamation via the Internet.
Several other articles of the code have particular applications to journalists. Article 301 prohibits insults to the Turkish nation, state, parliament, government and president.
Article 226 prohibits the broadcasting of obscene material while Article 216 prohibits incitement to hatred or animosity:
“Anyone who openly incites sections of the population to enmity or hatred towards another group on the basis of social class, race, religion, or sectarian or regional difference, in a manner which may present a clear and imminent danger in terms of public safety shall be sentenced to imprisonment of from one to three years”.
Discouraging people from performing military service is also prohibited and punished with imprisonment for a term of six months to two years (Article 318) and if the act is committed through the medium of the press and media, the penalty is increased by half.
Also of relevance to media is the Anti-Terror Law (also Law to Fight Terrorism, n.3713, pdf here) which gives a detailed definition of terrorism and of terrorist offenders.
Article 6 of the law punishes publication by terrorist organizations with prison sentences from one to three years. If any of the offences indicated in Article 6 are committed by means of mass media, editors-in-chief are punished with a judicial fine. The law also allows suspending the publication of periodicals involving public incitement of crimes within the framework of a terrorist organization from 15 days to one month.
Article 7 states that any person committing propaganda for a terrorist organization shall be punished with imprisonment from one to five years. The same crime committed by means of mass media leads to additional penalties.
The Press Law (Law n.5187, June 2004) has the main objective of arranging and implementing press freedom.
Article 3 of the law guarantees freedom of the press and the right to access to information. The law also provides for protection of journalistic sources. Article 12 states that journalists cannot be forced to reveal sources. The law allows limitations to press freedom when it is necessary to protect interests such as national security, territorial integrity, and state’s secrets. Some provisions also apply to cases of sexual assault, murder or suicide encouragement. According to article 11, editors and translators are considered responsible if the original author is not known or not reachable.
Newspapers and other printed media should publish corrections and replies in cases where the reputation of an individual or his/her honor are slandered or in cases of unfounded allegations (Article 14).
The Internet Law (Law n.5651 on Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publication) enacted in May 2007 allows the government to block websites and provides several content restrictions. Article 8 of the law includes “blocking measures” by stating that “access to websites are subject to blocking if there is sufficient suspicion that certain crimes are being committed on a particular website” Specifically, it lists different types of proscribed content:
- Crimes against Atatürk (Article 8/b)
- Providing place and opportunity for gambling
- Sexual abuse of children
- Encouraging people to commit suicide
- Supplying drugs that are dangerous for health
- Facilitation of the abuse of drugs.
Websites are blocked by court decisions, judicial injunctions or by an order of the Telecommunications Directorate. The directors of hosting and access providers who do not comply with the blocking orders issued through a precautionary injunction by a Public Prosecutor, judge, or a court, could face criminal prosecution and could be imprisoned between 6 months to 2 years under Article 8(10) of the Law. Furthermore, Article 8(11) states that access providers who do not comply with the administrative blocking orders could face financial fines.
The Radio and Television Law (law n.2954) redefined the structure of the TRT, the public service broadcaster in the country. TRT is mainly a state-funded company but also enjoys commercial revenues. The law defines it as an independent public legal entity and its programming does not fall under the supervision of the Radyo ve Televizyon Üst Kurulu, (RTÜK).
The Broadcasting Law (Law on the Establishment of Radio and Television Enterprises and their Media Services, law n.6112) was issued in 2011 to harmonize the Turkish legislation with EU standards. It provides general guidelines related to radio, television and on demand broadcasting regulation. It provides for freedom of media services and at Article 6 states that “the contents and transmission of media services cannot be interfered with beforehand and the contents cannot be audited prior to transmission”. The Articles also list some basic principles to which broadcasters must conform.
Article 8 requires broadcast programmes to respect: “the national and moral values of society, general morality and the protection of the family”. Furthermore it prohibits broadcasts that “discriminate or humiliate people on the basis of their race, colour, language, religion, nationality, sex, disability, political or philosophical opinion, denomination and any such considerations”. Sanctions for violations of the law include warnings and administrative fees to be paid. Suspension of broadcasts is also possible.
Article 18 provides the right of rectification and reply while Article 19 gives the main provisions related to media ownership.
Specific articles of the law, under Section Eleven, establish the Radio and Television Supreme Council and define its characteristics and functioning (see the section about Regulatory Bodies). The Broadcasting Law also defines the process to grant licenses.
The Law on Regulation of the Employee-Employer Relations in the Journalism Profession in the Turkish Media Industry (law n.5953) provides the guidelines for labour regulation in the country. The Freedom of Information Act (law n.4982, issued in 2004) formally guarantees the right to information. According to Article 4 of the law “everyone has the right to information” and furthermore “institutions are required to apply administrative and technical measures to provide every kind of information and document”. Government’s bodies must provide requested information within 15 working days; furthermore they should create specific units for freedom of information charged with dealing with citizens’ requests.
Part four of the law concerns restrictions on the right to information and lists cases in which the state is not obliged to provide information: when they pertain State secrets, when the economic interest of the State is at stake, when it pertains information about State intelligence, or when it contains information about Judicial prosecutions.Back to top