Turkish regulator criticized for public service video

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Turkish media and LGBTQ groups are questioning the country’s regulator’s decision to classify a video by a coalition of conservative groups as a public service announcement.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) has voted to list a video promoting an event scheduled for Istanbul on Sunday as a public service announcement.

The video shows footage of pride parades in Turkey, as a narrator calls out people who are “against impositions and LGBT propaganda” and want to see an end to “global and imperialist lobbies who want to abolish gender, reduce human generation and destroy the family unit”, to join the gathering.

The video was produced by the Unity in Ideas and Struggle platform, a group of around 150 conservative non-governmental organisations.

Critics, including some RTUK board members, say the video contains hostile language and could lead to attacks on the LGBTQ community.

RTUK did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.

The Unity in Ideas and Struggle platform denied encouraging hate speech. In a tweet, its leader, Kursat Mican, blamed misinformation for the critics on the video.

“This meeting is not against LGBTI+ people,” Mican said in response to an open letter from a parent whose child is gay. “We want to put an end to this trend that threatens the existence of humanity by raising awareness against LGBTI+ propaganda and imposition. We have no other intention than that, beyond that, it is a useless assumption.”

Ilhan Tasci, an opposition member of RTUK’s board who voted against the decision, told VOA he believed the video could lead to hate crimes and should therefore not be released as a as public service announcement.

“If something bad happens to some people in the LGBTQ community tomorrow after this public service announcement making them a target, will the RTUK chairman take responsibility?” Tassi said.

Under the law, RTUK has the power to list informational or educational content from public institutions and non-governmental organizations as public service announcements if it deems it to be in the public interest.

The regulator advises radio and TV stations to run the ads, but media outlets have editorial discretion over what they use.

RTUK shared the video on its website but did not upload it to YouTube, where it often shares PSAs.

FILE – A woman waves a rainbow flag as she marches with others during the LGBTQ Pride March in Istanbul, Turkey, June 26, 2022.

Tasci says the chairman of RTUK has discretion over what is posted on the regulator’s social media accounts.

YouTube’s guidelines define hate speech as content that “incites hatred or violence against groups based on protected attributes such as age, gender, race, caste, religion, orientation or veteran status”. In case of violation, the platform removes the content.

During a panel on Thursday, RTUK chairman Ebubekir Sahin said the media can play a role “in the escalation of hate crimes”. He did not refer to the regulator’s decision at the event.

“It is not possible for us to accept the normalization of hate speech and its imposition on society through the media. Hate speech in mainstream media is on the rise. At the same time, we unfortunately see that new media and social media have the same discourse,” Sahin said.

Several journalism organizations criticized RTUK’s decision.

“Supporting a protest that marginalizes a certain group and supports hostility towards them is certainly not an acceptable attitude. It is a stark contradiction that RTUK is paving the way for an anti-LGBTQ public service announcement to be aired on TV channels,” Gokhan Durmus, president of the Union of Journalists of Turkey, told VOA.

Yildiz Tar, a journalist and coordinator of KAOS GL – an LGBTQ rights organization and news portal – said the decision appears to reflect broader policy in Turkey.

“For a long time, there have been social media lynching calls and campaigns targeting LGBTQ+ people,” Tar told VOA. “With this public service advertisement, the government has declared that ‘these lynching calls and hate speech are our policy’.

“LGBTQ+ people are portrayed as a community that needs to be fought and destroyed in this country,” Tar said.

Kerem Dikmen, KAOS GL’s legal coordinator, said RTUK’s decision contradicts its regulatory role.

“RTUK, as a regulator, must take action to prevent hate speech. But he made and carried out a decision that would spread hate speech, contrary to his full responsibility, and that is completely illegal,” Dikmen told VOA.

“LGBTQ+ people are banned from holding Pride Parades in Turkey, and the police prevent them from having picnics. But this group can have a protest that spreads hate speech, and that’s a political disposition,” Dikmen said.

Pride events have been banned in Turkey since 2015. When a parade was held in Istanbul in 2021, police arrested hundreds of people, including several journalists.

In its 2021 report on human rights in Turkey, the US State Department found that “LGBTQI+ people have faced discrimination, intimidation and violent crimes”.

This story was born in the Turkish service of VOA.

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