Turkey and YouTube: A Contentious Relationship

By: Jillian C. York on 29 August 2008

Turkey has a contentious relationship with popular video-sharing site YouTube. Blocked for the first time in early 2007, YouTube was intermittently available for most of 2007, only to be banned again in January of 2008.

Each time, the block has been in response to political videos. In the case of the most recent block, the videos were said to have insulted Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey; insulting Ataturk is a crime, as is "insulting Turkishness" under the controversial Article 301 of Turkey's penal code.

Turkey is not the only country to block YouTube. According to Rob Faris, Research Director of the Berkman Center, the site has been blocked in various countries over the past two years, including Armenia, Brazil, Burma, China, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. In the cases of several of the aforementioned countries, the site was inaccessible for only a short time; in others, it remains so.

So while there's nothing unique about a government blocking YouTube, the case of Turkey is different for two reasons: The first is that the government was explicit with users as to why the site was blocked; according to The New Anatolian, visitors to the site are greeted with a message in Turkish and English which reads: "Access to www.youtube.com site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2008/55 of T.R. Ankara 12th Criminal Court of Peace." In most other countries, the censorship is more surreptitious, with the government giving little explanation as to the reasons for the block.

What is most unique about this case, however, is what has unfolded over the past month. On August 18, Deborah Ann Dilley of Global Voices Online reported that Turkish bloggers have been protesting the blocks by self-censoring their own sites. According to Dilley, bloggers put up a message reading "Bu siteye eri?im kendi karar?yla engellenmi?tir," which translates roughly into “This site is blocked by [the author's] own choice”. TechCrunch picked up the story, drawing global attention to the protest.

While bloggers were uncertain that the protest would have any effect on the YouTube ban, it was widely reported on Tuesday that the site had been unblocked in Turkey. Turkey's Telecommunications Press Center stated that "Because the content which caused YouTube to be blocked by Ankara's 11th High Criminal Court without any justification was taken off from YouTube, the court decided to permit access to the Web site. YouTube is now online."

As bloggers undoubtedly prepared to rejoice, however, the Telecommunications Press Center rescinded their announcement, stating on their web site that "Several media organs reported that YouTube was accessible from Turkey. These news stories are incorrect and serve to confuse the public. The YouTube Web site was blocked by a court decision and the ban can only be rescinded by another court decision."

Fréderike Geerdink, a Dutch journalist based in Turkey, expressed disappointment in her blog, remarking "Now I see that newspapers have been copying each other’s news without calling anybody in Turkey to just ask if they could access the site again. They would have said: No, youtube is still off-line. And then today’s press anouncement would not have been necessary either: it was officially stated that youtube was still banned."

And yet, news reports reporting YouTube to be unbanned keep coming in; ONI will continue reporting on this story as we learn more about it.