The Law on the Amendment of Press Law numbered 7418 and Some Other Laws [“Amendment Law”] published in the Official Gazette No. 31987 dated October 18, 2022. While the amendments adopted mainly in the Press Law significantly expand the scope of this law, the Amendment Law also includes new regulations with regard to online news tools, the number of which are increasing day by day as opposed to printed media.
The Scope of the Press Law is Expanded
The majority of the amendments made in the Press Law concern online news sites and press cards. In this context, while the regulation of press card-related issues was included among the aims of the law, online news sites, journalists, media members and information officers requesting press cards are also included within the scope of the law.
Concordantly, online news sites were included to the definition of “periodical publications”, and specific obligations governing these sites’ operations were established. Therefore, employees who carry out press related activities for online news sites will now be regarded as “media member” within the scope of the law.
One of the obligations introduced in terms of the online news sites is to have a contact page that can be accessed easily from the home page and includes information such as the workplace address, trade name, e-mail address, phone number, and electronic notification address.
In addition, several rules are envisaged in order to control the content published on online news sites. From this point forward, every content on the news site must include the date of their first publication and the date of every other update, in a way that cannot be changed or corrupted. The published contents must be preserved for two years and delivered to the relevant judicial authorities when necessary. A hefty fine will be imposed on the responsible managers of online news sites who violate the delivery and preservation obligation.
In terms of online news sites, there is a separate regulation regarding cases in which the declaration made to the authorities for the publication of periodicals and its annexes do not contain the necessary or true information or the persons responsible for the publication do not comply with the legal requirements. In this instance, the Chief Public Prosecutor's Office will first request that any deficiencies or false information be corrected within a two-week period. If this request is not complied with, the prosecutor's office will apply to the criminal court of first instance in order to obtain a declaratory decision about the incapacity to meet the requirements for an online news site. If the application is accepted, the rights of employees with regard to press cards as well as official announcement and advertisement rights that can be provided to online news sites will be revoked.
Online news sites are also included in the scope of criminal and civil liability provisions in the Press Law, and it is regulated as a condition of procedure that criminal cases related to crimes committed through online news sites are to be filed within four months. The method and duration of publishing the corrections and responses to violations of personal rights on online news sites are also regulated in detail.
Online news sites that started operating before these amendments, on the other hand, are required to fulfill their obligations within three months from the effective date of the Amendment Law, i.e. until January 18, 2023.
New and Comprehensive Press Card Regulations
The press card application, its nature, requirements, types, and grounds for revocation are regulated in the Amendment Law. Accordingly, there are five different types of press cards: task-related, periodic, temporary, freelance, and permanent, all of which will be considered as official identification documents. The applications for press cards will be made to The Directorate of Communications.
There are certain requirements in terms of age, education, legal capacity, commercial activity, and criminal record in order to apply for the press cards, as they can be now applied for by a wider audience. The applications will be evaluated by the Press Cards Commission, which will be established in accordance with the new legislation. The following two situations may result in the revocation of press cards: [i.] if the card holder lacks the qualifications specified in the law or has later lost them; and [ii.] if the card holder acts against the principles of press ethics.
Press cards that were duly issued prior to the Amendment Law will remain valid, provided that they meet the necessary conditions.
Complementary Regulations and “Disinformation Crime”
With a new article added to the Turkish Penal Code No. 523, “publicly disseminating misleading information to the public” became a crime. Publicly disseminating false information about the national security, public order and general health, in a way that is disturbing the public peace, with the sole motive of creating anxiety, fear or panic among the public will result in prison sentence of one to three years. Committing this crime by hiding the real identity of the perpetrator or within the framework of the activities of an organization increases the penalty by half. In addition, the decisions regarding this new crime were added among the decisions that can be appealed as per the Criminal Procedure Code No. 5271.
The Access Providers Association ["Association"] now has a wider scope of duty under Law No. 5651 on the Regulation of Broadcasts Made on the Internet and Combating Crimes Committed Through These Broadcasts, including the rules in other laws regarding the implementation of access-block and content-removal decisions. The distinction between domestic and foreign access providers has been removed with the amendments so as to prevent issues caused by the difficulty in determining the location of the content or hosting provider. Also, the Association is now able to notify the content and hosting providers via e-mail regarding the received court decisions. Additionally, it is stipulated that an access-block or content-removal decision for a content will extend to other websites and platforms if the relevant person applies to the Association.
New Obligations on Social Media Platforms
The Amendment Law sets forth a number of obligations for social network providers. Accordingly, social network providers are required to treat all their users equally and impartially, to create an advertising library, to provide all information on content subject to certain crimes to the judicial authorities through their representative of Turkey, and to take the necessary measures for providing differentiated services specific to children.
Social network providers must meet the conditions regarding representatives based on the amount of daily access and they must regularly submit reports including information such as algorithms, the use of personal data, advertising and transparency policies to the Information and Communication Technologies Authority.
On the other hand, restrictions on internet traffic capacity or ban on advertising up to 6 months may result from failure to comply with the access-block and content-removal decisions. Additionally, those who violate the advertising ban will be fined up to 100,000 Turkish Liras.
The new rules stipulated by the Amendment Law strengthen the controllability of the information posted on social media and news sites, and aims to prevent activities that violate individual rights, which can be easily carried out through internet. However, regarding the crime of publicly disseminating misleading information to the public, discussions are emerging in the context of freedom of press and expression. The implications of these amendments will be seen more clearly with the jurisprudence that is going to be shaped within the upcoming years.
By M. Tarik Guleryuz, Partner, and I.Selin Nacar, Associate, Guleryuz & Partners