Friday. 14.06.2024

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned his government will take measures against media content that it deems harmful to "national and spiritual values," a move that could intensify censorship in an already highly scrutinized industry.

A directive signed by Erdogan and published in the Official Gazette on Saturday warns "necessary measures" would be taken against "harmful content" in "written, oral and visual press and media."

The notice does not specify what kind of steps would be taken but cites "open or covert" messages in recent "adaptations of foreign productions" that undermined family values.

Such productions have had a "destructive impact" on society as well as children and young people, the directive added, without citing any specific examples.

A 2020 law already exerts greater control over social media, forcing platforms to comply with strict conditions or face hefty fines.

In addition, Turkey's media watchdog RTUK has the authority to fine, ban or remove content it deems harmful.

'The masked singer'

RTUK earlier said it had begun an investigation into broadcaster Fox TV's local version of the globally popular programme "The Masked Singer," according to local media.

Some ultra-conservatives have claimed the program disseminates subliminal messages including ones that were Satanic in nature.

RTUK has in the past fined TV stations and streaming services including Netflix over what it alleged was content that promoted LGBTQ rights or was pornographic, immoral or insulting to religious values.

As early as last week, a RTUK official recommended broadcasters not air a song by pop diva Sezen Aksu, citing religious sensitivities. The song refers to Adam and Eve as "ignorants."

Critics say Saturday's notice threatens to increase censorship and stifle dissent.

"Freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution cannot be destroyed. The circular ... means more pressure/censorship," lawyer Veysel Ok tweeted on Saturday.

Lack of freedom of expression

Rights groups have been criticizing Turkey over its lack of freedom of expression and its deteriorating judicial independence amid what they describe as politically-motivated court rulings and a crackdown on dissent.

Erdogan has also replaced both the country's justice minister and the head of its statistics institute, the Official Gazette said on Saturday.

Abdulhamit Gul, who had served as Turkish justice minister since 2017, was replaced by Bekir Bozdag, a member of Erdogan's ruling party, as the new justice minister.

Erdogan has also sacked the head of the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) less than a year after his appointment.

Opposition parties have accused TurkStat of manipulating inflation data in the midst of a currency crisis and major economic instability in Turkey.

The institute denies all such allegations.

The inflation rate for 2021 was 36 per cent, according to official figures, the highest recorded during Erdogan's near 20-year rule.

Independent research groups, however, say the real inflation figure could be as high as 82 per cent.

Erdogan threatens action over media content that 'harms core values'