Following publication of the Establishment of the Digital Media Commission and Amendments to Certain Laws ("Establishment Law") in the Official Gazette dated 28 July 2020 and numbered 31199, a new Digital Media Commission was established under the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
As per the Establishment Law, the Digital Media Commission shall be made up of 17 members appointed by the political parties sitting in parliament in accordance with the percentage of seats held.
The newly established Digital Media Commission has been tasked with reviewing precautions in place to prevent Internet-use that is contrary to law, the right of privacy and other fundamental rights and freedoms or that may be harmful to the physical and psychological development of children, and formulating reports and opinions on the actions to be taken. In this capacity, the Digital Media Commission has also been tasked with the review of proposed legislation and Presidential Decrees with regard to its granted purview.
The Digital Media Commission has also been granted the authority to request information and documentation from content providers, Internet access providers and hosting providers.
The establishment of the Digital Media Commission can be regarded as significant for two reasons. The first is that such a commission can be viewed as a regional reflection of the ongoing global debate into the potential negative impact of digital media and how to offset such negative impacts and provide safer use of such media by the general public. Cyberbullying, cyberstalking, easy and unrestricted access by minors to harmful content are all issues that have gained prominence across the world, with governments trying to strike a balance between the free flow of information on the Internet and the protection of fundamental rights, freedoms and the wellbeing of at-risk citizens.
The Information and Communication Technologies Authority ("ICTA") had previously implemented reviews into the safe use of different digital media. With the board ruling dated 24 August 2011 and numbered 2011/DK-14/461 the ICTA issued guidelines that formed the basis of safe internet use and membership in different safe internet filtering options (such as family profile and child profile options). The establishment and purview of the Digital Media Commission may be seen as a natural continuation of such efforts to ensure safe access and safe use of the Internet and digital media in Turkey.
The second reason of significance can be viewed in light of the recently submitted proposed amendments to the Law on the Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publications (the "Internet Law"). As per the proposed amendments to the Internet Law, increased obligations will be imposed on social network providers offering their services to users in Turkey. Such new obligations include increased fines on failure to adhere to content takedown/access restriction orders and localization requirements in the form of appointing local representatives and taking measures to ensure that the data of Turkish social network users remain in Turkey.
In light of the proposed amendments to the Internet Law, the establishment of the Digital Media Commission may be viewed as an extension of oversight to the use of the Internet in Turkey and an intention to exert increased influence over what content may be viewed as appropriate and safe. Grounds of general public health and safety have previously been utilized by administrative bodies and courts when issuing blocking orders or restrictions on viewing certain forms of content online; even when these instances have been criticised as being disproportionate and therefore bordering on censorship.
While it is undeniable that the proliferation and increased adoption of Internet technologies have introduced many challenges in terms of safe and informed Internet use, time will tell whether the Digital Media Commission will address an important need in moderating and shaping this discourse or whether it will only function as an extension of previous attempts to implement strict controls that tends to favour disproportionate restrictions.
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