Turkey has recently enacted a new law on media disinformation, which has sparked widespread concern and criticism from human rights organizations, media freedom advocates, and international bodies such as the United Nations. This is because its definitions of “disinformation” are broad and ambiguous thus, regarded as a potential threat to democracy. International human rights organizations, such as the United Nations, and the European Union, are highly concerned about its potential for abuse and state repression by the government to stifle critical voices and its detrimental effects on freedom of expression.
Turkey has a long history of suppressing freedom of expression, particularly in the media. In recent years, the government has taken increasingly authoritarian measures to control the media, including shutting down critical news outlets, arresting journalists, and imposing censorship. This law is, therefore, part of this broader pattern of repression.
The new media disinformation law, officially known as the “Law on the Protection of the Right to Information,” was enacted on October 14, 2022, and came into effect on October 18, 2022. The law was introduced to combat disinformation and fake news, which the government claims threaten public health, national security, and public order. The law permits the government to censor any content deemed “disinformation” or “propaganda.” It also allows the government to impose fines on media outlets, publishers, and social media accounts for disseminating such content. The government has already used the law to censor news outlets, publications, and social media accounts. Under the law, media outlets and individuals can be fined or imprisoned for disseminating “fake news” or “misinformation” that threatens public health, national security, or public order. The law also allows the government to block or shut down websites and social media accounts that disseminate such content.
One of the main criticisms of the new media disinformation law is the broad and vague definitions of “fake news” and “misinformation.” The law does not provide clear and specific criteria for determining what constitutes disinformation, leaving it open to subjective interpretation and potential abuse by the government to silence critical voices. Furthermore, the law allows the government to designate certain state bodies or institutions as “competent authorities” to enforce the law, giving them broad discretion to determine what constitutes disinformation and to take action against those who disseminate it. This lack of transparency and accountability raises concerns about the law’s potential for arbitrary and biased enforcement.
The new media disinformation law has also been criticized for its compatibility with national and international human rights standards, including the Turkish Constitution and relevant UN and regional human rights treaties that Turkey has ratified. The Turkish Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, the release of the press, and the right to obtain information. The new media disinformation law, however, undermines these rights through its broad and vague definitions. In addition to these concerns, the media disinformation law lacks essential safeguards to protect against abuse. For example, there are no independent oversight mechanisms to ensure that the law is not used to silence critics or punish those who express dissenting views. The lack of safeguards leaves the government with significant discretion to interpret and enforce the law as it sees fit, creating the potential for arbitrary or selective enforcement. This gap threatens human rights because it undermines the rule of law and creates an environment of uncertainty and fear. Thus, the law could further erode the rights of individuals and discourage them from exercising their freedom of expression.
The problem with the new ‘media disinformation law’ is that it does not provide sufficient safeguards to protect freedom of expression and media. In particular, the law does not clearly define what constitutes ‘disinformation’ or ‘false information,’ leaving it open to broad interpretation and potential abuse by the authorities. Furthermore, the law does not provide adequate protection for journalists and other media professionals, particularly vulnerable to prosecution under the law. The law also fails to ensure that any sanctions imposed are proportionate and necessary in a democratic society. The law also threatens media freedom. It permits the government to impose fines on media outlets, publishers, and social media accounts for disseminating content deemed “disinformation” or “propaganda.” These threats could lead to self-censorship as media outlets and organizations fear legal repercussions for publishing content critical of the government. Consequently, the independence of the media gets undermined, leading to a less informed public.
Turkey’s new ‘media disinformation law’ threatens human rights in the country. The law is inconsistent with international human rights standards, as it fails to provide sufficient safeguards to protect freedom of expression and media. Furthermore, the law does not provide adequate protection for journalists and other media professionals, particularly vulnerable to prosecution under the law. These concerns are particularly worrying given Turkey’s history of suppressing freedom of expression and the broader pattern of authoritarianism that the law backs.