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Sputnik Turkey 'Blocked for Providing Alternative, Objective Information'

© Sputnik / Radio Sputnik’s evening program has received an award from the Turkish Journalists' Association “For Advances in Journalism.”
Radio Sputnik’s evening program has received an award from the Turkish Journalists' Association “For Advances in Journalism.” - Sputnik International
Turkish politicians, academics and journalists speak to Sputnik about the implications of the news agency's work being blocked in their country.

Turkish journalists cover their mouths with black ribbons before the trial of Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara representative, outside the courthouse in Istanbul, Friday, April 1, 2016 - Sputnik International
'Short-sighted Childishness' Caused Turkish Government to Block Sputnik
On Friday, Turkish authorities confirmed that they had made a conscious decision to block Sputnik news agency's website from operating in the country, citing "administrative measures."

The decision led to a rash of criticism internationally, and inside Turkey as well. Sputnik Turkey, which continues to operate via social media, has been speaking to respected public figures on the implications of the crackdown on media freedom in their country.

Huseyin Aygun, a lawyer and former MP from the opposition Republican People's Party, said that in his opinion, the decision to close off access to the site was in no way no accident.

"There is no way that the decision to close off access to an informational resource which openly speaks the truth about the policy of the Justice and Development (AKP) government, which has linked itself to the West and NATO and seeks to involve them in new wars and provocations in the region, can be called an accident."

In fact, Aygun suggested, "the decision to block the site is a step which fits perfectly into the overall strategy of the AKP. The authorities decided that they want to silence the voice of objective media; however, they will not be able to do so…Other points of view exist in the world. Sputnik will overcome this obstacle and continue its work."

A man holds up a placard as people demonstrate in support of Turkish daily newspaper Zaman in front the headquarters in Istanbul on March 4, 2016. - Sputnik International
Internet Censorship in Turkey Is Unacceptable - Amnesty International
For his part, Yaman Akdeniz, a lecturer at the faculty of law at Bilgi University well known for his research in the field of internet censorship, explained that from a strictly legal standpoint, the decision to block Sputnik was convoluted and murky.

"On [Sputnik's] websites, which operate in 31 languages, there are millions of publications, videos, and photo materials. No one can say which materials exactly led to the decision to block off access to the resource."

"In fact, it is entirely possible that even the Department of Communications does not know. The law states that 'if the violation cannot be eliminated by blocking the URL address of the page, access to the website as a whole can be blocked.' This is not the case here. Sputnik is an official, internationally reputed news agency acting in accordance with the law. By all appearances, the news agency has become a target of the administration of the prime minister and the government."

Turgay Olcayto, the Chairman of the Turkish Union of Journalists, says that unfortunately, the situation involving Sputnik is part of a much wider pattern.

"Restrictions on the public's access to information follow one after the other. This situation is, undoubtedly, a fair reason for the international community to sharply criticize Turkey. We have called upon authorities to reject this strategy, but in return have seen only a greater tightening of censorship. Every day in Turkey, press freedom, which is the basis of democratic values, comes under new attacks. It is an extremely unfortunate and shameful situation."

Internet server - Sputnik International
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For her part, Denise Yildirim, the editor-in-chief of Aydinlik, a Turkish daily newspaper which has been closed and reopened multiple times through its 95 year history, said that unfortunately, in addition to causing damage to Turkey's image in the world, cutting off access to the Russian news agency will also prolong the crisis in Turkish-Russian relations.

"We believe, first of all, that the decision to block the Sputnik news agency violates the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, and causes a great deal of damage to Turkey's image in the world. Secondly, this decision will serve to negate all efforts to defuse the crisis in bilateral relations which began after the incident with the downed Russian plane."

Ultimately, Yildirim suggested that nothing good can come from the government's decision. "It is not acceptable to introduce such restrictions on websites which do not cause harm to our national unity, and which comply with Turkish law."

Whack-a-Media - Sputnik International
Finally, for his part, Haydar Firat, an expert in the field of communications, explained that Sputnik Turkey is just one of many resources that have fallen victim to an unprecedented level of pressure from the Turkish government, which "does not want to hear alternative, oppositional voices, and seeks to close off the public's access to objective information."

"Never before in its history has Turkey seen such crude and overt pressure put on society" from the government. "This is connected with authorities' desire to establish hegemony in all areas of life – including communications, politics, economics, law. In this context, the government does not want to allow for even the possibility of discussion, the exchange of views, or to receive information from alternative sources."

Ultimately, Firat notes, "this primitive, crude approach is not appropriate for the 21st century. Moreover, it is extremely inefficient. One can put as much pressure as one likes to prohibit or block off access [to these resources], but people will still find ways to get the information which interests them."

At the same time, "those who speak about the need for such methods for the sake of 'protecting national interests' actually do great harm to the country, because the effect of such actions manifests itself in all spheres." By this, the commentator means that a society closed off to the freedom of information will suffer economically and socially as well. "After all, all these processes are closely interconnected."

"If there is no freedom of communication, or respect for the right of citizens to receive information; if journalists are not free to carry out their work, or to express an alternative point of view; if informational resources are blocked, it will be impossible to speak of the development of the Turkish economy in the long term."

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