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Deutsche Welle, Voice of America won’t seek Turkish licences, cite censorship risk

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and U.S.-based Voice of America said they will not apply for licences in Turkey as requested by the country’s media watchdog, a decision that could lead to their websites being blocked there.

The vast majority of Turkey’s mainstream media outlets are seen as close to the government, with coverage favouring President Tayyip Erdogan and his allies. Turks have increasingly resorted to alternative outlets, some foreign-owned, and social media for news.

On Monday, Turkey’s RTUK media watchdog gave Deutsche Welle, Voice of America and Euronews 72 hours to apply for online broadcasting licences to operate in Turkey.

Peter Limbourg, director general of Deutsche Welle, said the move was an attempt to restrict international media, adding that the company would seek restitution through Turkey’s courts.

“(The measure) gives Turkish authorities the option to block the entire service based on individual, critical reports unless these reports are deleted. This would open up the possibility of censorship,” he said.

RTUK, whose policy-making board is dominated by Erdogan’s AK party and its allies, frequently fines broadcasters that are critical of the government.

Last month it fined broadcaster Tele 1 for inciting hatred after journalist Sedef Kabas used a proverb on a TV programme that prosecutors said amounted to insulting the president, which is considered a crime in Turkey. Kabas was jailed pending trial over the comment.

Voice of America said there were concerns that a licence would enable censorship of unfavourable coverage. “VOA could not comply with directives from a regulator to censor or remove content,” it said in a news release.

VOA also shared an article on Twitter regarding ways to view its website if access was blocked.

Expressing concern about the RTUK decision, a U.S. State Department spokesman said on Twitter: “A free media is essential to a robust democracy.”

Tanju Bilgic, his Turkish counterpart, said the licence was a technical requirement and not an obstacle.

Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK board member from the main opposition CHP, said it would apply to a court to ban access to the broadcasters’ websites if they had not sought a licence by a deadline of 1230 GMTon Thursday.

“There is a dominant mindset in Turkey that does not want a voice, thought or different perspective to be expressed other than what the government wants,” he told Reuters.

Western allies and rights groups have accused Erdogan’s government of using a failed military coup in 2016 as a pretext to muzzle dissent. The government denies this. Reuters

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