Press organizations say government's "Disinformation Law" will lead to heavy censorship

Press organizations in Turkey issued a joint statement regarding the government's "Disinformation Law."

Seven leading journalism organizations in Turkey expressed "concern over a bill on disinformation that we believe could lead to one of the heaviest censorship and self-censorship mechanisms in the history of the Turkish Republic." 

Deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party(MHP) have submitted a "disinformation bill" to the parliament.

Signed by 66 MPs from the two parties, the "Law Proposal on the Amendment of the Press Law and Some Laws" was submitted to the Speaker's Office of the parliament on 26 May. The 31-page draft law contains 39 articles.

The statement signed by the Journalists' Union of Turkey (TGS), International Press Institute's (IPI) National Committee in Turkey, Association of Journalists, Progressive Journalists Association (PJA), Turkish Press Council, Haber-Sen and İzmir Journalists Association (IGC), said that "the bill was prepared behind closed doors by the ruling AKP and the MHP executives and the opinions of the journalists were not consulted."

The statement said: "The bill adds a new crime titled "distributing deceptive information publicly" to the criminal code with prison sentences. It also gives the administration new powers to sanction the media with fines, advertising bans, and bandwidth throttling. If the bill becomes law, it will boost the systematic censorship and self-censorship in Turkey, instead of fighting disinformation. We call for its immediate withdrawal because a media law that fails to reflect the views of journalists and journalism organizations cannot solve the problem of disinformation." 

The press associations said that the bill "cites concepts such as disinformation, fake news, baseless information and distorted information without providing legal definitions and also refers to vague notions like security, public order and public peace. These vague definitions and concepts have been used against journalists in trials. Such an approach leaves the laws open to gross abuse by a judicial system that is already suffering from political capture and a loss of independence. We reject this law proposal."

The press organizations called on all political actors to initiate a dialogue process with journalism organizations to solve the problems such as disinformation and said: "Disinformation is a problem in the whole world. There are many other problems that reduce the quality of journalism in Turkey and harm the public's right to be informed. We invite all political actors to initiate a comprehensive and transparent dialogue process with journalism organizations to create pluralist laws, establish democratic institutions and improve self-regulation that can solve these problems, following the suspension of the current law proposal."


The law proposal said that "the use of social media increasing in parallel with the internet facilitating and accelerating access to news and information" actually represents  a problem.

Negative things about social media are listed as follows:

"New and different social media platforms with different themes are emerging. People spend most of their time on these platforms.

Digitalization leads to a world where personality disorders or psychological diseases are discussed.

Because of the digital world, people face new problems or violations of their personal rights.

Social network providers or other actors playing a role in the background of the digital world [...] resist the legitimate demands of states."

The general justification says the law was prepared to protect people from "swearing, slander, insult, smear, discrediting, hatred and discrimination" because "ill-intentioned people hide their identities" and "create illegal content with fake names and accounts."

The proposal said that "in this context, it is evident that the act of intentionally producing and disseminating fake news (disinformation) has become a serious threat that ... prevents the citizens' rights to access true information.

This threat is also aimed at preventing the exercising of fundamental rights and freedoms, most notably the freedom of expression and freedom of information, by abusing various freedoms. The point that disinformation has reached with the developing technology has made it necessary to fight this threat in order to protect fundamental rights and freedoms."

But the core of the law proposal is in article 29, which is entitled "fighting disinformation." With this arrangement, the offense of "Openly disseminating information that misleads the public" will be added to the Turkish Penal Code.

Those who disseminate false information about the "internal and external security of the country, public order and public health" in a way that "disrupts public peace" will be sentenced to one to three years in prison. If the offense was committed by concealing the real identity or as part of the activities of an organization, the sentence will be increased by half."

The Parliamentary Committee on Justice will start discussing the bill.