The blocking of Deutsche Welle’s website in Turkey caused outrage. Turkey cites a lack of license. Critics suspect other motives.

Turkey has blocked the websites of Deutsche Welle (DW) and the US foreign broadcaster Voice of America (VOA), further increasing concerns about press freedom in the country. The DW websites have been blocked in Turkey since Thursday evening, as the German foreign broadcaster announced in Bonn.

The broadcaster’s activities on social media were therefore not affected by the block. Only a short time ago, Russia closed Deutsche Welle’s Moscow office and blocked internet services.

Turkey had been threatening to take such a step for a long time, and now the broadcasting supervisory authority RTÜK has enforced the blocking by court order. She justified this by saying that Deutsche Welle did not have the necessary approval.

A year before the next election

Critics see the step as politically motivated and fear a further erosion of press freedom in Turkey a year before the next elections. The lockdown could also strain Berlin and Washington’s relations with Ankara. A diplomatic dispute between the West and Turkey over Sweden and Finland joining NATO has just been settled.

The federal government expressed reservations on Friday and announced that the message about the blocking had been “taken note of with regret”. Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said: “Our concern about the situation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Turkey continues.”

The German Minister of State for Media Claudia Roth told the German Press Agency about the blocking: “This is bad news for the already restricted freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Turkey.”

Deutsche Welle wants to take action against the ban

Months ago, the control authority had asked foreign broadcasters to apply for a license for internet offerings. According to DW, it did not respond “because licensing would have enabled the Turkish government to censor editorial content.” Director Peter Limbourg said, for example, licensed media are obliged to delete online content that RTÜK deems inappropriate. “This is simply unacceptable for an independent media provider.” Deutsche Welle announced that it would take legal action against the ban.

The Broadcasting Authority defended the blocking as compatible with Turkish law. As soon as a license is applied for, a court can also lift the blockade again. The Islamic conservative government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is based on a regulation that has been in force since 2019. This introduced extensive control of Internet platforms that distribute films, videos or radio content.

Around 35 million hits per month

According to DW, the company’s own offer in Turkey is attracting increasing interest. According to DW, the program received around 35 million hits a month in the first half of 2022 via the website and social media channels on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, seven times as many as in 2018 in the same period.

Turkish media are largely under the direct or indirect control of the government. Internet content is also subject to strict regulation. A draft law is currently being discussed in Parliament that would criminalize the dissemination of alleged false information on the Internet.

For years, Deutsche Welle has been characterized by independent journalistic reporting on “the permanent restrictions on democracy in Turkey”, said the managing director of Reporters Without Borders, Christian Mihr, of the dpa. This is now apparently to be suppressed almost a year before the presidential and parliamentary elections. The elections in Turkey are scheduled for June 2023. Erdogan hopes for re-election.

The chairman of the German journalists’ association DJV, Frank Überall, also rated the move as politically motivated. “The ban on Deutsche Welle cannot be justified by anything other than the sheer arbitrariness of Erdogan’s autocracy.”