MSLA co-director Veysel Ok says 'censorship law' will affect everyone

MSLA co-director Veysel Ok said that the 'censorship law' that came to the Parliament will affect not only journalists but everyone.

MSLA Co-director and lawyer Veysel Ok said: "The government is aware of the fact that journalists continue to do their work despite everything, and with this censorship law wants to further strengthen this control mechanism and monopolize information."

The General Assembly discussion of the 'Draft Law Amending the Press Law and Some other Laws', signed by AKP-MHP deputies to "fight disinformation", has been postponed for the time being. For a while, journalists organized "no to the censorship law" actions in the field at the call of professional press organizations. Both the coming of this new law to the Parliament and the arrest of 16 Kurdish journalists in Amed while this law was being discussed in the Justice Committee showed how much freedom of the press is at risk. Media and Legal Studies Association (MSLA) co-director and lawyer Veysel Ok spoke to ANF about the law and why the government needs it.

They want to monopolize information

Lawyer Veysel Ok said: “The AKP government has been trying to contain the media since the 15 July coup attempt. It has changed the capital structure of the mainstream media; now more than 90 percent belongs to pro-government capital. Some opposition media and the Kurdish press were closed at that time. Moreover, internet law has changed several times before. The new law forced media companies to open offices in Turkey and to share the personal information of Turkish users with the state, but these were not enough. The government still hasn't been able to control social media, and despite everything, it is social media and journalism here that set the agenda in Turkey. The government is aware of this, and with this censorship law, it wants to further strengthen this control mechanism and monopolize information.”

Not only journalists

Even before the law was passed, the Directorate of Communications made a statement rejecting the news in the media about the fire in Marmaris. The fire was said to be under control, but local sources confirmed that in fact it was not.

Veysel Ok, recalled that the debate on this law had emerged last year during the fires, and added: “The discussion of this news and information law started with the Bodrum fires last year. At that time, a concept such as "spreading misleading information" was discussed, and it is the same now. The important thing here is this: this situation concerns not only journalists, but also politicians and citizens. In other words, "the crime of spreading misleading information to the public" is not a crime that only journalists will commit. It is a crime that citizens, journalists, politicians, in short, anyone can commit. If this law is enacted, no one in Turkey will be able to publish information that the government does not want or approve, and if they do, they will be subject to judicial harassment.”

Noting that journalism is already under a lot of pressure, Ok listed other possible targets should the law be passed. “If you spread information that the government does not want, from forest fires to the price of the dollar exchange rate, from the Kurdish issue to Syria policy, both your social media account can be closed and you can face up to three years in prison. For example, CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu made a corruption claim on social media, but with the new law he will no longer be able to do so. Journalists are also doing their job on social media. Citizens will not even be able to put forward an opinion other than the official statement of the government on any issue from hazelnut prices to the forest fire in Marmaris.”

No access to news

Ok said, "While the Kurdish journalist or Mezopotamya Agency employee who published the image of a police officer shooting in the air during an arrest in Başkale was put on trial for 'making propaganda and membership in a terrorist organization', with the new law he will also be accused of 'misleading the public opinion'. He will also be prosecuted for 'disseminating false information'. The social media account he posted the news on will be blocked instantly. It seems that our access to such news will disappear completely.”

A law which will undermine elections

Underlining that this law is an election-oriented regulation, Veysel Ok added: “This is the problem of all citizens. Today there is an opposition candidate who could change the government, assuming that he will win the election. If this law passes, the opposition candidate will not be able to make his discourse. This has been tried before in countries like Russia and China. It was partially successful. Of course, there is no possibility of success in the long run. No one can monopolize information, but passing this law before the election affects election security. Tomorrow, the HDP or the CHP will no longer be able to freely express their opinions on social media. It also affects non-governmental organizations. For example, MSLA publishes freedom of expression reports, HRFT reports on torture, and IHD publishes reports on prisons. Even these reports may fall within the scope of misleading the public. That’s why I think we will face a serious problem in Turkey in every respect.”