Image via Wikipedia"The regulations over Internet have a dynamic structure and necessary legal changes are made when problems are detected in implementation."
The above, rather marvellous sentence, was blurted out by a Turkish official when he was responding to the OSCE's strongly worded call for Turkey to reform its Internet legislation a couple of days ago. The call came as the OSCE published its report on media freedom and Internet censorship in Turkey.
If you thought we had it bad in the UAE, spare a thought for the poor old Turks, who have been at various times forbidden to access YouTube, a number of Google sites including Blogger and others, including sites like MySpace and Last.fm. A number of Turkish language news sites are also blocked, particularly, notes the report, those dealing with South-Eastern Turkey. The Turkish government has also blocked Farmville, which is probably no bad thing.
Hitting the old nail on the head, the OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haratzi, said: "Even as some of the content that is deemed 'bad', such as child pornography, must be sanctioned, the law is unfit to achieve this. Instead, by blocking access to entire websites from Turkey, it paralyzes access to numerous modern file sharing or social networks."
The issue is not, let us be clear, pornography. There are a number of provisions for blocking access under Turkish law (stuff like child pornography, incitement to suicide and illegal gaming, for instance), including crimes against Kemal Ataturk. It was, in fact, the existence of a number of videos on YouTube defaming Ataturk that led to the ongoing block of the website.
Along with a worrying rise in the number of sites being blocked overall, the OSCE report also notes a rise in the number of sites being blocked outside of the scope of the Internet law, identifying some 197 sites that have been blocked outside the law in the past year. Blocks were instituted against a number of gay sites, sites like Indymedia Istanbul and a number of news sites as well as advocacy sites for socialist, muslim and Kurdish organisations.
It's a worrying time for the poor old Internet. The increasing ubiquity of the medium and the many ways in which people are finding to use it (including, and I want to be quite clear here that I disapprove, Farmville) appear to be spooking a number of governments. It's not just a Middle Eastern thing, although the recent news from Jordan is a worrying indicator of a tide of thought and opinion among more traditionally minded legislators in our region - the Australians have been going on about instituting wide-ranging blocking powers. And we all know what's been happening in China.
It's all very well slapping freedoms in a constitution. But when people start taking 'freedom' too literally, it appears they need a little help from the law... or even outside the law, in Turkey's case...