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Turkey Has A New Disinformation Law In Place – Is It Safe For Democracy?

In mid-October, Turkey’s parliament adopted a new law that bestows jail terms for up to three years to journalists and social media users for spreading ‘disinformation.’ This much-criticized bill proposed by President Recep Erdogan comes when the country is preparing for its presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in June 2023. According to Erdogan, this law will protect the country from “rising digital fascism and fake news.” 


The disinformation law is supposed to prevent the spread of false information about the internal and external security, public order, and general well-being of Turkish residents. This tenet is hugely detailed in Article 29 of the law, which is also the most controversial. However, with almost negligible privacy, it also requires social media apps to reveal personal user information to the government, while the platform themselves must come clean with their algorithms. Those who do not comply with the rules under this law will undergo severe consequences, with anonymous accounts facing an increased sentence by 50%. 




What have the critics said?


While the government has strongly argued in favor of this law, citing the need to restrict the “serious threat” posed by disinformation, the move triggered debates on democracy and dissent being in danger in Turkey. The US State Department, for example, has expressed concern over the future of internet use if this law is enacted. According to one of their spokespersons, “the law could severely impact online information and entertainment and place restrictions on media freedom.” The Turkish government has been called on to ensure that their proposed approach to counter disinformation does not trample the ingredients of democracy – namely, free speech and expression. 


From Turkey itself, Faruk Eren, head of a press union, believes that censorship will be applied with this law. “Journalists and ordinary citizens could face prison terms or arrests if they share something that the government does not like and calls a lie on social media,” he said


Where does Turkey rank in press freedom?


The Turkish government’s move to control the public debate and narrative with the introduction of this law has raised critical questions about the country’s approach to press freedom. 


According to data published by the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index 2022, Turkey ranks 149 out of 180 countries. Campaigners would fear a further plummet if the disinformation law were functioning in the state. This is in addition to their journalist body self-censoring broadcast and accurate reporting of the country’s upcoming elections lest they be prisoned. The former editor-in-chief of Turkey’s leading English daily news, Sevgi Akarcesme, believes that Turkey has long been a “hell” for journalists and that it is one of the largest prisons in the world for them. 

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