Turkey, once a sturdy US ally, transformed into an authoritarian country with epic dimensions. Since 2013, Turkey spearheaded human rights violations, clamped down on free media, and imprisoned hundreds of journalists, judiciary personnel, academicians, business people, and people from all walks of life.
Almost every day, Turkey occupies headlines with new stories of persecution and victimization orchestrated by its incumbent regime on the citizens. This may sound strange to Western readers, but the Erdogan regime’s newest authoritarian measures include the expansion of Internet censorship to the extent of shuttering alternative media outlets especially on YouTube.
Things hit rock bottom in Turkey especially in the wake of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt which transformed into a civil coup with the current regime’s implementation of the State of Emergency on July 20, 2016, to be extended consecutively. The New York Times had shared that dreadful night as “As Turkey Coup Unfolded, ‘the Whole Night Felt Like Doomsday” with its readers. Around 250 civilians were killed in a single night during the failed coup attempt, and the Erdogan regime used this coup attempt as an excuse to silence opponents and dissent people since then.
The path leading to the coup was paved long before the coup attempt. The Erdogan regime shut and seized the daily Zaman, then-Turkey’s largest circulated daily, by the sheer police force on March 4, 2016. This assault to the free and opposition media was perpetrated just four months before the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Similar to daily Zaman, many other media outlets voicing opposition in Turkey shared the same fate.
In the home stretch of the failed July 2016 coup attempt, 95 percent of the media in Turkey was placed under the regime's tutelage. 82 million people in Turkey were left with nothing but the government’s mouthpiece dailies, TV channels, and internet trolls. As expected, the regime-tutored media probed nothing about the most critical event in the modern Turkish history but disseminated the propaganda of baseless and unlawful accusations of the Erdogan regime about the so-called perpetrators of the coup attempt. Controlled by the Erdogan regime and funded by a quintette of pro-Erdogan tycoons, these media outlets helped Erdogan manipulate mindsets across Turkey.
In order to tighten his grasp on power and silence his opponents, Erdogan planned everything well as he gradually took control of all public institutions along with the print and broadcast media. However, Erdogan could not calculate one thing. His mouthpiece media had already lost trust in the public’s eye because of their intoxicatingly partisan coverage of the Erdogan regime. This led millions of people to turn to social media, especially online video sites to have alternative news.
Few exiled journalists turned the tide against the pro-regime media with their YouTube videos on the facts about the failed coup attempt, corruption cases, and bad governance of the Erdogan regime. Millions in Turkey watched many videos of these journalists via YouTube. This trend, which has troubled the Erdogan regime a lot, tends to increase in Turkey. Since his declaration of authoritarianism, Erdogan has hated the lack of control on journalists and journalism. This is why he shut down all opposition media outlets and imprisoned the journalists since 2013 to free himself from any dissenting voice.
The latest development of the regime-initiated removal of a YouTube channel titled Bold Medya from YouTube showed once again how difficult it has been difficult for trustworthy journalism to operate — even on alternative media channels — in today’s Turkey. Mr. Fatih Akalan, the Chief Editor of Bold Medya, commented on the closure of their YouTube channel on another YouTube channel, saying, “The way our channel was obscured also showed how YouTube could be politicized by any government keen exploiting the loopholes. We even do not think that YouTube is aware of the latest developments but exploiting the special privileges vested by YouTube only to the state broadcasting organizations, Turkish Radio, and Television TRT launched a vile midnight operation against our channel mentioning so-called copyright infringements and led to suspension and closure of our channel. We have officially contacted YouTube and started a legal procedure to get our channel back”.
According to turkeypurge.com, the Erdogan regime has so far shuttered 189 media outlets and arrested 319 journalists before and after the failed coup attempt. In addition to these, numerous journalists fled the country, fearing purge and imprisonment. Several of such exiled journalists started conducting investigative journalism on social media and online video platforms to inform the public about true news. Within years, the followers and viewers of these platforms crewed by exiled journalists grew in number and drew the attention of Erdogan’s autocratic regime.
Initially, the Erdogan regime looked for an alternative way of blocking all these social media accounts by a statutory decree that required each social media service provider to open an office with resident representatives in Turkey to avoid hefty fines. YouTube has been the only outlet that abided by this demand. This move of YouTube was not really expected, and even the regime was surprised because it would not be needing to deal with each individual account but could block all social media at once with no pain. With YouTube’s announcement of opening an office in Turkey, the regime changed its strategy.
The Erdogan regime started targeting alternative news channels on YouTube and eventually succeeded in obstructing one of the most important opposition channels on YouTube. Mr. Akalan, the Chief Editor of Bold Medya, is sure they will get their channels back. Still, the most important thing is how YouTube will act against the censorship and whether it will continue cooperating with the authoritarian leaders of the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.