INTERPRETING THE CENSOR ON THE INTERNET THROUGH THE THREE OBSESSIONS OF TURKISH RIGHT WING POLICIES

Mutlu Binark,

                                         Baskent University  Faculty of  Communication, binark@baskent.edu.tr

In order to comprehend why the Internet is a political and social formation platform today in Turkey, one should remember that the fundamental instincts orienting the activities of Turkish right wing policies in culture industries are fed by discursive practices such as “preservation of national custom and traditions”, “appropriation of national culture” or “objection to the corruption of national values”. At this point, it should be noted that the discursive practices of the right wing targeting culture industries were gradually fleshed out with “Turkish-Islamic synthesis” after 1980 coup d’état and that the ideologists and culture industries’ instruments that were to popularize these discursive practices were supported by the State itself. It should also be mentioned that this synthesis has greatly evolved in today’s Turkey, cultural and social values deemed appropriate by the right wing policies for citizens are fed by the hegemonic values of Sunni Islam and all of the instruments of culture industry are successfully used as the tools to form/produce a society composed of “pious” people. The construction of “public recreation areas”  such as Wonderland in Ankara and Istanbul Aquarium in İstanbul where lower-middle class and lower class people can meet their needs for leisure time and entertainment; design of spaces producing popular memory such as Miniaturk which generates a historical theme related to Anatolian geography based on Sunni Islamic culture and Neo-Ottomanism narrative; re-discovery of Ramadan entertainments and Ramadan festivities organized through municipalities… Or referral to the Islamization of Constantinople in 1453 through the symbolic denomination of computerized curricula at primary schools as “The Conqueror” (in Turkish ‘Fatih’).  We should also state that capitalist production relations and system of exploitation lie behind this cultural and social design and constitute the paradigm of hegemonic political economy.  In such a situation, it was undoubtedly inevitable that the staff of Justice and Development Party (AKP), namely the practitioners of this conservative and pious rightist discourse for the past ten years, set out to regulate the Internet, one of the new media, as a space of combat and intervention for the implementation of hegemonic political-social-cultural and economic paradigm.  Having placed/positioned citizens within “submission” culture and declared that it has publicly obtained/received the fundamental rights of citizens, AKP government[1] censored the Internet under the name of “secure use”, which is in fact a new type of social and cultural intervention in culture industries. The hegemonic discourse of conservative-pious rightist policy, which has been concretized within AKP government in Turkey today, justifies the intervention in culture industries by triggering and feeding moral panic in public based on three fundamental fears. In fact, it can be said that these three fundamental fears are the fundamental obsessions of right wing policies:   fear of child pornography, fear of the corrosion of the unity and integrity of family under the hegemony of father, suppression and concern created based on the “single” authority’s  saying “it’s only me that know what is right”.

It is necessary to decode the hegemonic discourse of AKP government and of the bureaucrats implementing it within the State mechanism immediately in order to purify our social, cultural, political and economic life from any kind of exploitation and dominance and to democratize our lives. We should clearly show how empty these three obsessions, which are the tools to gain the consent of citizens, are and reveal that the fundamental problems are in fact the problems which are not questioned by this hegemonic discourse at all. What are the problems ignored and excluded from the public space of discussion?

  • Child abuse within families, incest;
  • Child prostitution[2];
  • Child laborer, being obliged to work without insurance as a child;
  • Child brides;
  • Violence against women within families/all types of violence;
  • Familial rape;
  • Marginalization of different sexual identities under the hegemony of heterosexist sexual regime[3] and stigmatization of different sexual identities as “perverse” or “illness” by the minister in charge of women and family[4];
  • Supervision of sexual life within the scope of moral policing;
  • Regular and constant violation of privacy by media;
  • Restrictions imposed by the Ministry of National Education and Presidency of Religious Affairs on sects other than Sunni Islam –primarily Alawism- and the efforts of the State to tame these sects;
  • Donation policies of the Turkish authorities which popularize and normalize submission/obedience culture and deprive and subject people psychologically and economically instead of finding solution ways to strengthen them economically-socially and politically so that they can fight against poverty;
  • Lack of independent media where different political-social- cultural points of views can be expressed[5];
  • Articulation of capital owners to hegemonic political-economic discourse in traditional and mainstream media or  support given by hegemonic political-economic discourse to media ownership;[6]
  • Non-unionization in traditional and mainstream media and undeclared work[7];
  • Security of citizens’ personal data ;
  • Gradual limitation of citizens’ freedom of opinion by hegemonic discourse[8];
  • Exploitation of natural resources such as water, soil, forests and their sales to capital groups against the public benefit .

In Turkey, all of these problems which are not expressed in hegemonic discursive practices and not allowed to be expressed in mainstream media channels can only be discussed in public space on the Internet, which is a new medium. However, different from what is thought, the Internet is not a space free from censorship.  The law numbered 5651 Regarding the regulation of publications made on Internet and the fighting against the crimes committed via these publications which was approved on 04.05.2007 and put into force after its publication in the Official Gazette dated 23.05.2007 sets ground for blocking Internet access based on the catalogue crimes listed in Article 8.  These bans are implemented via public prosecutors and Telecommunications Internet Board (TIB) that is informed by ihbar.web.

Censor imposed by the State through the decision of Information and Communication Technologies Board

So, what kind of a social and cultural intervention will be made by the bureaucrats implementing the hegemonic discourse in the Internet on 22 August 2011 “Procedures and Principles Draft on Secure Use of Internet” was prepared by the Directorate of Sectorial Competition and Consumer Rights of  Information and Communication Technologies Board in line with the provisions of Article 10 of the Regulation on Consumer Rights in Electronic Communication Sector which came into effect after being published in the Official Gazette dated 28.07.2010 and numbered 27655 as well as the Articles 4, 6 and 50 of the Law numbered 5809. This draft was approved on 22 February 2011 by the decision numbered 2011/DK-10/91 and published under the title of Board Resolutions of ICTB on 4 March 2011.This board resolution censors Internet access in Turkey[9] through Internet Service Providers (ISP), in other words limits “the right to access information”, which is accepted as a fundamental human right by the United Nations. The position determined by the conservative right wing policy for citizens and briefly explained above, is foreseen also for Internet use. One of the important philosophers of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant draws attention to the fact that the most important right and responsibility that the Enlightenment introduced is the individual’s capacity to use his/her own mind with his/her own free will.  It is necessary for an individual to be able to access information sources so that s/he can use his/her own mind with his/her free will. In this respect, what lies behind the conservative and censorial supervision on the Internet can clearly be seen: the will to position citizens only as “loyalists” and/or “subjects” who do nothing but obey.

What do “Procedures and Principles on Secure Use of Internet” introduce? All internet users in Turkey are somehow classified[10]; they are obliged to make a selection among family package, child package, domestic package or standard package. These packages limit Internet access under the guise of protecting users from harmful contents on the Internet. It is the Internet Service Providers (ISP) that limit Internet access in different ratios and at different levels based on the package chosen.  At this point, it should be stated that the conservative and right wing policy lying behind these principles and procedures does not regard its own citizens as individuals and thinks that only itself is capable of acting on behalf of them and that only it is the absolute and “single” authority and believes that “it’s only it that knows what is right”.  In this respect, the capable and omniscient subject is the ICTB and “the esteemed citizens” are those who agree to the bereavement of their freedom of Internet access and right of choice on the Internet “in their best interests”. In this sense, we should point out Ahmet İnsel’s article titled “Muktedir Oluşun İfadeleri” (literally translated ‘Expressions of Capableness’) (2011). In this article, İnsel evaluates the following statement of the Prime Minister R.T Erdoğan “…AK Party has formed a government, come to power. Many things that have been achieved so far are in fact the expressions of our being capable”.  It is obvious that authoritarian and suppressive practices of AKP government that result from its being capable of imposing itself on civilian life and use of fundamental human rights will gradually increase. As a matter of fact, one of the obsessions of conservative rightist policy is the saying that “it’s only me that know what is right” and suppressing its citizens and forcing them to obey based on the power of “being capable”.

Articles 14 and 15 of “Procedures and Principles on Secure Use of Internet authorize ICTB to implement filters. However, in the name of which citizen will ICTB put its black label on the Internet and on which website, social sharing group, dictionary or blog will this label be put? For which political-cultural and economic interest group will this labeling serve and whose political-cultural and economic representation will it make inaccessible and invisible? In fact, putting “black labels” online and decomposing and excluding certain phenomena is the extension of othering individuals based on their ethnicities, religious beliefs, sects, sexual identities, political views offline and regarding them as a source of threat against its existence.

The impact of three obsessions on the censor on the Internet

The hegemonic political power in Turkey triggers moral panic through the discursive practice concerning the protection of children and prevention of child pornography and supports this panic through the production of wrongful-missing and malicious media texts. As Stanley Cohen puts it, “moral panic” is the situation, people and groups that are qualified as a threat to social values and benefits and it is presented in a certain format and in a stereotyped way by mass communication tools” (cited from 1980:9, Bremmer 1997:2). Moral panic is in fact a type of social construction, because it reproduces and fosters the society’s existing fears and concerns.  Moral panic can also be defined as follows “Revealing a widespread social problem which is already existing but has remained silent by naming it and even personifying it through examples, putting this problem on the public agenda and experts’ proposing solutions for this problem”.  Moral panic draws people away from critical point of view. The child pornography concern produced and fed by the conservative rightist policy in the whole society, the concern regarding the loss of the unity and integrity of family under the hegemony of father and the fear of obeying the “capable” single authority that is presumed to

know the truth are the examples of such social construction. The conservative rightist hegemonic discourse which reproduces/multiplies these fears and concerns claims that children are harmed by child pornography that is accessible through certain websites, the unity and integrity of families are impaired because of obscene contents, moral values of children and young people are damaged by harmful contents such as online gambling and games, privacy is spoiled because of the use of certain social media such as Facebook. Such discursive practices are continuously presented on the agenda and the moral panic justifying the  necessity of “regulating” the Internet is thus constructed. This moral panic provides a basis on which the public consent can be gained for the censor to be imposed on the Internet.

At this point, we should mention the following: The manager of the project named EU Kids Online that was organized for 25 countries including Turkey, Professor Dr. Sonia Livingstone stated at the Antwerp Conference on 27 May 2010 that researches should be done about the online risks that children may encounter and such researches should be updated constantly. Livingstone warned the researchers against the moral panic that is triggered by especially public institutions and media about the risks children may face with on the Internet. According to Livingstone, the researchers should pay special attention to the following question: “Are online risks more dangerous than the risks in real life?” Besides, Livingstone says that families can be endowed with quality information about the use of Internet if they are informed about the risks and opportunities equally instead of being frightened through online risk stories.[11] Then, why does AKP government and its bureaucrats increasingly emphasize the risks instead of improving various Internet opportunities such as education-learning, content development and sharing, socialization, equal participation of citizens and career development? Why does AKP government and its bureaucrats pay attention positive experiences of Internet use bu children, young people etc. ?

In the text titled “Security Tips” which includes the proposals of the Safer Internet program  developed by the Internet Board, ICTB and TIB in Turkey in 2010 and 2011and supported by European Commission, the following answer is given to the parents who posed the question “What should I do until good filters are developed?” and are open to being influenced by moral panic:

“Filtering the Internet content can support parents and teachers in their giving education to children and young people in the media. Yet, this is not sufficient itself because it cannot intervene in children’s’ using online communication services. The educational supervision/support at school and home will contribute to the education of young people more than technological obstacles do and they will improve Internet and mobile online technologies as they use them.”[12]

Deconstruction of hegemonic discourse: What does “secure use of Internet” really mean?

“If families find filtering necessary, this should be done by the families themselves on their own computers. Those who are responsible for children at first hand are their parents. Total filtering by the State turns children into dependent individuals. Bans give birth to submission culture. However, parents can teach their children what is good and right; as children learn them, they construct their lives on the right values.” Umut Vakfı[13]

Citizens must ask certain questions that would deconstruct “Procedures and Principles on Secure Use of Internet” so that they can appropriate their right to Internet access, which is a human right. What can these questions be?

  • On the basis of which authority and competence does ICTB attempt to implement white and black filters?
  • Why is a uniform type of family and child profile envisaged?
  • To whose interests does a uniform type of family and uniform type of child profile serve?
  • Why is nation-wide mandatory filtering implemented to all households subscribers in Turkey by the State?
  • Why are the users in the standard profile digitally observed by the Internet Service Providers?
  • Why are the Internet Service Providers forced into Internet policing?
  • Why does ICTB want to know who uses which filter?
  • Why is an ICTB-directed Internet access designed for citizens in Turkey?
  • Why is the freedom of Internet access censored?
  • Child pornography is in fact child abuse and this problem can be solved by protecting offline victims -in daily life. Then, why don’t we discuss the real sources and solutions ways and why doesn’t the political will produce solutions for problems such as child abuse and child prostitution?
  • Who is trying to justify the censor imposed by the State and make it necessary and how?

Alternative Information Technologies Association gave an answer to ICTB in its article titled “We want Secure Use of Internet, too!” (9 May 2011) and demanded the secure use of Internet for all citizens. However, here secure use of Internet refers to an understanding which “protects the personal data, respects privacy, develops the awareness of users against racist and sexist hate speech, excessively violent and aggressive contents, commodification and reification of  the bodies of women-men and children, commercialization of data and users , database matching and hacking, digital surveillance and unqualified and misleading information”. Improvement of new media literacy, particularly Internet literacy, in other words pedagogic solutions lie behind this understanding.

Finally, we should reiterate citizens are passivized by protectionist and preservationist right wing policies through Internet filters foreseen in Articles 14 and 15 of  “Procedures and Principles on Secure Use of Internet” and they are invited to “single truth, single color, single discourse, single Internet”, and common sense. In accordance with Article 1 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights every person has two fundamental features resulting from “being human”: they are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, citizens who use their minds with their free will should oppose to the “Procedures and Principles on Secure Use of Internet” that bereave their freedom of mind and will, deconstruct/decode the hegemonic discourse of hegemonic rightist policy and appropriate their right to Internet access, which is a human right.  As mentioned by the Alternative Information Technologies Association “Citizens are entitled to the right to form their own opinions about a certain subject with their free will and to access information, documents, opinions and ideas so that they can reason. As it can be seen, this right is an integral part of freedom of expression.” (9 May 2011).

As it can be seen above, the regulation on the Internet that will be enforced on 22 August 2011 in Turkey is a clearly political decision and a practice of the social design of conservative rightist policy; it is the bereavement/seizure of citizens’ freedom of personal development, expression and access to information by the “capable” power that constantly says “it is only me who know what is right”.

References:

Binark, M. (2011) “Neye ve Kime Karşı Filtre?” http://www.yenimedyaduzeni.com/neye-ve-kime-karsi-filtre/access date 12 July 2011.

Bremmer, M.A. (1997) Youth and Youth Crime: A Moral Panic-Content Analysis of Four Ontorio Newspapers. The Faculty of Graduate Studies of the University of Guelph, MA thesis.

Cohen, S. (1980) Folk Devils and Moral Panics. Oxford: Martin Robertson.

Çam, Ş. (2003) “Çocuk Pornografisi Tartışmalarına İlişkin Sorular”, İletişim Araştırmaları 1(2): 55-86.

https://yenimedya.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/btknin-aciklamalarina-yanit/

https://yenimedya.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/turkiye%e2%80%99de-internet%e2%80%99i-sansur-etme-mekanizmasi-ve-arkasinda-yatan-zihin-oruntusu-kamuoyunu-yaniltici-kose-yazilari-ve-haberlerine-yanit/access date 12 Temmuz 2011.

İnsel, A. (2011) “Muktedir Oluşun İfadeleri”, Birikim, S.267, 11-14.

Kline, S. (2005) “Is it Time to Rethink Media Panics?”, 78-98. Studies in Modern Chilhood: Society, Agency, Culture. Der. Jens Qvortrup, New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

www.eukidsonline.net

*This article will be published by KaosGl in Fall 2011.


[1] See: Prime Minister’s speech dated 12 June 2011 and titled “Hesaplaşma Değil, Helalleşme Günüdür”. http://www.akparti.org.tr/site/haberler/hesaplasma-degil-helallesme -gunudur/8517.

[2] For example, child prostitution is a problem which feeds also child pornography. Interpol Working Group draws attention to the fact that child pornography is sexual exploitation and abuse of children and proposes finding children who have become victims as a technique to fight against this problem (Çam, 2003:59).

[3] The most striking example of the marginalization of different sexual identities by the hegemonic discourse can be observed in the Vice Prime Minister Bülent Arıç’s stigmatization of citizens protesting against the Internet filters that will be enforced on 22 August 2011 in İstanbul and Ankara on 15 May 2011. Arınç comments on the public expression/civilian action of citizens as follows: “15-20 people held a public demonstration. They carried devises on which it is written “Don’t interfere with my porno”. I should not be on the side of these strange people who say “Don’t interfere with my porno” and draw the picture of middle finger, excuse me, on their devises. They will do it; they will carry something called “gl kaos”. Don’t make me speak more openly. There will also be such people in the society. They will have such views. Yet, this is not the view of 72 million people”. At this point, we should pay attention to the fact that homosexual individuals are stigmatized in Bülent Arınç’s discourse which also calls for moral panic producing the threat of pornography. See: http://www.bianet.org/bianet/ifade-ozgurlugu/130375-arinc-15-20-pornocu-gl-kaos-diye-bir-seyler-tasidi, access date 12 July 2011.

[4]  Homophobia and transphobia fed by heterosexist sexual regime are not pertaining to the discursive practice of the Minister in charge of women- Selma Aliye Kavaf. This is an underlying feature of conservative right wing policy in Turkey, heterosexist sexual regime.

[5] For example, for the decision to withdraw and stop the publication of the newspaper, Azadiya Welat for 15 days see:  http://www.bianet.org/bianet/ifade-ozgurlugu/130746-tgc-azadiya-welatin-kapatilmasini-kinadi, access date  12 July 2011.

[6] That Can Dündar and Banu Güven discontinued their newscast before the general elections held on 12 June 2011 and the program called Basın Odası (literally translated Press Room) in which Nuray Mert, stigmatized by Prime Minister R.T. Erdoğan after the elections, was banned on NTV, the news channel of Doğuş Group, constituted a concrete and recent example of how the capital groups are articulated to hegemonic political will .

[7] See: the research titled TESEV (2011) Türkiye’de Medyanın Ekonomi Politiği: Sektör Analizi. (literally translated Political Economy of Media in Turkey: Sectorial Analysis).

[8] To cite examples from the recent history: The Governor of Sivas, Ali Kolat banned the commemoration of 33 intellectual people massacred at Madımak Hotel in Sivas on 2 July 1993 (http://www.bianet.org/bianet/ifade-ozgurlugu/131284-madimak-anmasina-sorusturma, access date 12 July 2011); Berna Yılmaz and Ferhat Tüzer, two university students were arrested and charged with 15 years of imprisonment because they unfurled a banner on which it was written “We want free education” during the speech of Prime Minister R. T. Erdoğan in Roman Workshop in Abdi İpekçi Sports Hall on 14 March 2010. Although the prosecutor decided that Berna Yılmaz and Ferhat Tüzer enjoyed their constitutional rights and mentioned that in accordance with Articles 24,25 and 33 of the Constitution and European Convention of Human Rights, holding meetings and demonstrations and participating in protests are constitutional rights and these two people used these rights and therefore they cannot be charged for this and they should be acquitted and released, the judges of the court concerned decided on the continuation of their detention. This is also another example of the limitation of the freedom (See: http://www.bianet.org/bianet/ifade-ozgurlugu/130205-pankart-acmaktan-en-az-20-ay-hapis-yatacaklar, access date 12 July 2011). Moreover, it is possible to give more examples like this.

[9] In its general session on 4 June 2011, the United Nations approved the Human Rights Council’s report on “The Improvement and Protection of the Freedom of Opinion and Expression”. The Council of Europe’s decision titled “Protecting and Improving the Universality, Integrity and Openness of the Internet” added Internet access to the European Convention of Human Rights. This decision was approved at the conference of Council of Europe held in Strasbourg on 18-19 April 2011 (https://yenimedya.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/internet%E2%80%99in-evrenselligini-butunlugunu-ve acikligini-korumak-ve-gelistirmek/).

[10] It should be noted that this classification constitutes a discriminatory database in citizens’ use of the Internet.

[11]Besides, technological prevention, in other words filtering is not mentioned among the below mentioned tips proposed in the document titled “Let’s work together for safer internet” that is published for parents within the framework of EU Kids Online project:

  • “Talk with your children; ask them to show you what they are doing on the Internet. The basic element for security is communication.
  • Follow the latest news about Internet security on the following link: http://www.guvenliweb.org.tr
  • Many dangers on the Internet are related to attitude and manners not technology. The best guide in your online and offline world is your life experience.”

[13] www.umut.org.tr, access date 25.05.2011.

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